Veronica Speedwell is a great role model

28186322It’s always refreshing to have a female character who is strong, independent, knows her mind and speaks her mind. Especially when you throw them into London 1887. A time when it is frowned upon for women to have their own thoughts, to actually be educated and smarter than some men.

In the Veronica Speedwell Mystery Series by Deanna Raybourn, Ms. Speedwell is a feisty independent woman who travels on her own, doesn’t give a crap what people think, is educated, has an active sex life and she doesn’t apologize for anything.  Sometimes she gets herself into trouble because of these traits and I wouldn’t want her any other way.

Even though these books could stand on their own, I recommend starting with A Curious Beginning to understand how Veronica and Stoker (Revelstoke Templeton-Vane) end up together and continue working together in book two.

Book one starts with Veronica returning to a ransacked bungalow with an intruder running away.  She takes chase and as the intruder is about to murder her, a stranger scares the intruder away and insists Veronica must come with him. He promises to protect her and will give information about the mother she never knew.

Since Veronica just buried her aunt, who she loved with and has nothing keeping her at the bungalow, she goes with him. He drops her off with Stoker and is soon murdered before he can tell Veronica about her mother and leaving her alone with grumpy Stoker who is also a stranger.  They are soon on the run trying to find out why someone is trying to kill her when she isn’t an important person. She is only a hunter of butterflies.  This story takes them across the country and joining a traveling circus where Stoker is a knife thrower and Veronica his assistant.

30008834A Perilous undertaking finds Ms. Speedwell and Stoker pulled into finding out if Miles Ramsforth really did murder Artemisia before he hangs in a week. The person who requests their help is not who she says she is and Veronica immediately recognizes her true identity. Of course, Sir Hugo Montgomerie, the head of Special Branch of Scotland Yard, does not like Veronica and Stoker trying to prove the wrong many is going to be executed. It will show that Scotland Yard is not doing their job correctly. The ambitious Inspector Mornaday is back again. Veronica drives both of them crazy.

This book is filled with the same humor, suspense and excitement as the first book.  I find Veronica and Stoker’s friendship refreshing.  There is some sexual tension between them but she won’t act on it because she refuses to have sex with a countryman. Stoker is a certified medical surgeon who has left his profession to hunt for animals abroad and stuffs them for his clients. He is a physically strong man covered with tattoos and scars from his travels.

In book two we get a deeper insight into both Veronica and Stoker’s families and learn why Stoker has distanced himself from his family. This series is entertaining and so well written I was pulled into the lives of the characters and lost myself in the story. I think I found a new historical mystery series.  This series should be added to every must read list.

Book Description:

A Curious Beginning (Book One)
In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

A Perilous Undertaking (Book Two)
Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries…

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed….

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Quirky English female protagonists are my favorite characters

30634785I absolutely love Sophie Kinsella.  She can take a female character, make her quirky and insecure and by the end of the book, the protagonist is still quirky but has become a stronger woman.

In My Not So Perfect Life, Katherine/Katie Brenner has moved to London to make something of herself in branding (advertising).  Since she grew up on a farm, she has changed her name to Cat and has lost her Somerset accent.  After struggling in two unpaid internships, Katie/Cat has finally secured a paying position as an admin doing mindless things like entering names into a database or coloring her boss’ roots.  What Katie really enjoys is the creative aspect of branding and wants to share her ideas.

Katie’s boss is a real number.  Demeter comes across as a classic bitch boss who doesn’t even “see” her employees.  Then Katie meets a hot rich guy who she has chemistry with immediately.  A guy who is the son of the owner.  Someone who Katie feels is out of her league.

To make it seem like life in London is fantastic and that she has tons of friends, Katie takes pictures of other people’s food and drinks pretending on Instagram that she is having the time of her life.

Meanwhile Katie’s father and stepmother decide to set up a glamping resort on their farm.  Katie helps set up their website and creates a brochure that she shares with Demeter.  Soon she loses her job and after sending out tons of resumes, she heads back to Somerset to take a “sabbatical” for a few weeks until she can secure a job.

The glamping takes off and of course Katie’s former evil boss shows up with her family.  The book gets even more hilarious and I found myself laughing out loud.  This book is highly entertaining and even though sometimes I wanted to smack Katie on the back of the head, I was entertained the entire time.  If you like quirky English female leads and want to laugh, pick up this book.

Book Description:
Part love story, part workplace dramedy, part witty critique of the false judgments we make in a social-media-obsessed world, this is New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella’s most timely and sharply observed novel yet.

Everywhere Katie Brenner looks, someone else is living the life she longs for, particularly her boss, Demeter Farlowe. Demeter is brilliant and creative, lives with her perfect family in a posh townhouse, and wears the coolest clothes. Katie’s life, meanwhile, is a daily struggle—from her dismal rental to her oddball flatmates to the tense office politics she’s trying to negotiate. The final, demeaning straw comes when Demeter makes Katie dye her roots in the office. No wonder Katie takes refuge in not-quite-true Instagram posts, especially as she’s desperate to make her dad proud.

Then, just as she’s finding her feet—not to mention a possible new romance—the worst happens. Demeter fires Katie. Shattered but determined to stay positive, Katie retreats to her family’s farm in Somerset to help them set up a vacation business. London has never seemed so far away—until Demeter unexpectedly turns up as a guest. Secrets are spilled and relationships rejiggered, and as the stakes for Katie’s future get higher, she must question her own assumptions about what makes for a truly meaningful life.

Sophie Kinsella is celebrated for her vibrant, relatable characters and her great storytelling gifts. Now she returns with all of the wit, warmth, and wisdom that are the hallmarks of her bestsellers to spin this fresh, modern story about presenting the perfect life when the reality is far from the image.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Does your father’s past affect your life?

21936844Jonathan Sweetwater has it all.  A wife he loves, two beautiful children and an amazing job that gives him privileges like playing basketball with Michael Jordan.  What he didn’t have was his father, Senator Percy Sweetwater, in his life since his 9th birthday.

Jonathan is the main protagonist of My Father’s Wives by ESPN’s Mike & Mike co-host Mike Greenberg.  The title first made me think this was about polygamy but actually it is about Jonathan wanting to learn more about his dead father, so he sets out to meet all of his father’s wives and ask them questions about his father.

One day Jonathan arrives home early from work to change his clothes before picking up his kids from school.  While home, he sees his wife Claire having an affair in their spare bedroom.  This sets into motion Jonathan visiting his father’s five wives to find out more about his father.  What he doesn’t expect to find along the way is himself.

This story takes place in about a week or 2 of Jonathan’s life.  He travels all around the United States and to London to meet these women who he’s never met before.  I found this story very fascinating and well written.  Mike surprised me with how enjoyable this book was.  I found myself pulled into Jonathan’s life and I cared about what was happening in his marriage and in his life.  This book is well worth the read.

Book Description:

The co-host of ESPN’s Mike and Mike follows up his New York Times bestseller All You Could Ask For with this poignant story of one man’s search to understand himself, his marriage, and his father

“Mike is as clever, astute, and perceptive as he is brilliant. . . . I can’t wait to see what he does next.”—Jane Green, author of Tempting Fate

Jonathan Sweetwater has been blessed with money, a fulfilling career, great kids and Claire, his smart, gorgeous, sophisticated wife. But there is one thing Jonathan never had: a relationship with his father.

Percival Sweetwater III has been absent from his son’s life since Jonathan was nine years old. A five-term U.S. senator, now dead, Percy was beloved by presidents, his constituents, and women alike, especially the five women who married him after Jonathan’s mother.

Jonathan hasn’t thought about Percy or the hole he left in his life for years. Dedicated to Claire and his family, he’s nothing like his serial monogamist father. But then Jonathan discovers evidence that everything in his marriage may not be as perfect as he thought. Hurt and uncertain what to do, he knows that the only way to move forward is to go back.

On this quest for understanding—about himself, about manhood, about marriage—Jonathan decides to track down his father’s five ex-wives. His journey will take him from cosmopolitan cities to the mile-high mountains to a tropical island—and ultimately back to confront the one thing Jonathan has that his father never did: home.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Take a ride to The Other Side of Midnight

22467404The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James takes the reader into the world of psychics in London during 1925.  Ellie Winter finds lost items for people.  She can touch a person, have them think of the item they have lost and can tell them where the item is located.  She can also touch an item from someone or a person and see things about that person’s past.

Ellie’s friend, Gloria Sutter, is a psychic who helps people contact their loved ones who were killed in the war.  Gloria is found murdered while on location conducting a séance.  Gloria’s brother George soon arrives with a note from Gloria asking Ellie to find her on the other side.  He asks Ellie to help him find Gloria’s killer.

Soon Ellie is teamed up with James Hawley who works for the New Society, a company that tries to debunk psychics.  Several years ago, James tested Ellie’s Mom to prove she was a fake.  Gloria deliberately ruined Ellie’s Mom’s reputation when she encouraged her to participate in the test.  His report said she failed and was a fake, which was shared publicly.  Shortly afterwards Ellie’s Mom died and then Ellie and Gloria’s relationship fell apart.  Once Ellie’s Mom died, Ellie took over the business as being The Fantastique.

Ellie soon finds herself being followed by a strange man, and feels that her life could be in danger as more people turn up dead after she talks to them.  Ellie was reluctant at first to help George but soon her curiosity gets the better of her.

St. James does a wonderful job of making Ellie an intelligent and brave women who doesn’t back down even when she feels her life is in danger.  This book is filled with lots of action, suspense and twists and turns.  The question is “who really killed Gloria and why.”  And why did she go on location to conduct a séance when that was against her policy.  I highly recommend this book if you want to be entertained.

Book description:

London, 1925.  Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War.  Now she’s been murdered at one of her own séances, after leaving a message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.

Ellie doesn’t contact the dead—at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items.  Still, she can’t refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known.  Now Ellie must delve into Gloria’s secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes.  Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.

As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria’s life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria’s circle.  And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

The Tea Plantation is great historical fiction

In 1875 London, The Tea Plantation starts with Edmund Bainbridge looking for a bride.  He23151432 spots Alexandria Ellsworth across the room and decides she is what he has been looking for in a wife.  Alexandria says yes to escape the gossip of London and the fact that it will be hard for her to find a suitable husband after the broken engagement.

After the wedding, Alexandria and Edmund head to his tea plantation in Ceylon by India.  It takes months on a boat to get there.  It’s nothing like anything Alexandria is used to.  Ceylon is very tropical and rural.  Edmund has not consummated the marriage since the wedding, which has puzzled Alexandria.

Once in Ceylon, Alexandria realizes her marriage isn’t what she thought it would be and she found a new friend in Edmund’s half-brother Julian, someone who is the polar opposite of Edmund.  This book has some surprises and a dark story.  Back in 1875, when a woman married a man, she became his property and she didn’t have many rights.  She had to do what her husband said.  Alexandria soon realizes that she needs to do something drastic before she ends up dead.

This is Nicola Italia’s second historical fiction.  It’s well written, descriptive and pulls you into the story making you care for the characters.  A very enjoyable story.

Book description:

In Victorian era London, educated beauty Alexandria Ellsworth hastily accepts a marriage proposal after a broken engagement leaves her reputation in question.  She knows little of her intended husband Edmund Bainbridge but is assured that he will offer her a comfortable, secure life.

When Edmund spots the green-eyed beauty at a posh London tea room he decides she and no other will be his wife and he whisks her away to his tea plantation in Ceylon.  However once in Ceylon, Edmund loses interest in his new bride and becomes distant and cold neglecting her for long periods of time.

Meanwhile Alex falls in love with the beauty of Ceylon and its people.  One evening she stumbles into a stranger in the Ceylon forest and is shocked to discover that the handsome stranger who holds her in his arms is the overseer of the plantation, Julian Bainbridge; her husband’s half-brother.

She is drawn to the dark, attractive Julian as her husband continues to neglect her.  As Julian and Alexandria fight their feelings for each other Edmund begins to spiral out of control hiding a dark, ugly secret that threatens to destroy everyone.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Trains, planes and bumps in the road

My friend Debbie is someone you don’t want to travel with.  Don’t get me wrong, she is a ton of fun.  But she rarely has a smooth trip.  It’s like every time Debbie flies, the travel angels are on break.  She has experienced delayed flights, canceled flights, mechanical issues, no plane at the gate, and really bad turbulence.

There has to be a red flag by her name from Homeland Security, because she usually is stopped at security and searched.  She has been wanded, patted down, swabbed, x-rayed and her bags usually are searched every time.  One time, flying home from a conference in LA, she forgot there was a water gun in her carry-on.  That was an interesting search!

This summer my daughter and I went to Europe and I felt like Debbie was traveling with me.  My issues started right away with the first flight from Kansas City.  It was delayed by an hour, which was not good since I had to get to the O’Hare International Terminal for my Copenhagen flight, still doable.

Once we arrived in Chicago, it took around 25 minutes to find a ground crew to bring the ramp to the plane.  As I sat there, I knew I would be cutting it close since there was a tram to get from my terminal to the international terminal.  There were other people making comments like “my plane just left” and “my flight left five minutes ago.”

I did the OJ Simpson Hertz dash through the airport with a few stops and starts since it was really confusing how to get to the international terminal.  By the time I got there, I had five minutes before the flight took off.  The security area was dark, which was not a good sign and then I was told they already booked me on another flight.  That flight didn’t leave until the next night at 10 p.m, just like my current flight.  Hello hotel at 1 a.m. with no luggage.  At least I wasn’t the only one.  There were hundreds of people standing on the hotel curb with pink slips for hotel.

The very first flight delay caused a ripple effect – one that included an international call to my daughter to have her change our Copenhagen hotel room to the next night.  Luckily they switched us with no extra cost and upgraded our room.

The delay also made us miss our train the next morning to Berlin, which cut our Berlin visit from two and a half days down to one.  Visiting Berlin had to be very compact.  We figured out a game plan from our guide book and hit everything we wanted to see.  But it was stopping at locations like the Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Plaz- where Hitler marched the soldiers and gave his speeches and staying a short time at each location.  We took a few minutes to soak it all in and then it was “ready to go?” “Yup, are you?” “Yup, let’s hit the next location.”  We did take time to see everything in the HolocaustMuseum and the Pergamonmuseum.

My daughter in our sleeper cabin on the train to Paris.

Oh but “Debbie” was still with us.  Our original train from Copenhagen to Berlin didn’t arrive as it had mechanical issues.  So for an hour we sat on the floor of the entrance of a train until we could get on one that was correct.  Then from Berlin we took a sleeper train to Paris, which arrived in Paris an hour late due to mechanical issues in the night.

Luckily this was the last of our mechanical issues.  The rest of our “Griswold” vacation was more tourist error.  Every time we left the hotel in Paris we would turn the wrong way on Saint Germaine.  We wouldn’t realize it until usually four blocks into the walk.  One day we were headed to Notre Dame and ended up at the Louvre first so we toured and then headed to Notre Dame only to realize we were about five blocks from Notre Dame had we gone the other way.

Our plane in Edinburgh. It was pouring and we had to walk in the rain.

We even got pulled to the side in Birmingham, England for our connecting flight to Edinburgh, Scotland because they thought we were “the French people” and they needed to fill out paperwork on us.  Never did figure out why they thought we were French.  I think Edinburgh might have been our last blip of confusion when we headed out of the hotel and went the wrong way trying to find the castle.  Once we figured it out, we had to walk back past the hotel, which turned into a good thing as we needed to pick up jackets.

Once we hit London, we knew the city and underground system so it was a piece of cake.  We just had to deal with our hotel keys never working and taking the local bus system from Heathrow to our hotel every time we wanted to use the underground system.  But what’s a European vacation without little bumps to make it interesting.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat.

Summer Olympics are worth every penny

I’m in a funk.  I turn on the TV and no Summer Olympics to be found.  I know they are over.  But do they have to be over?  Do they really have to last for only two weeks?  Do they really have to be every four years?

Team USA.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched the summer and winter Olympics.  From the opening ceremonies to the closing ceremonies, I’m glued to the TV trying to catch as much as possible.  Back before the VCR, I had to stay up late to catch events being shown live in the middle of the night.  It was the middle of the night when I watched the 1980 Men’s Ice Hockey team win the gold.  At least now I have a DVR, so I can record shows and watch when I want to watch.

I always have to watch the opening and closing ceremonies, especially when the countries march in.  It’s fun to see the outfits and names of the countries.  I’ve even delayed going out to watch the teams march in.

One of my bucket list items has been to attend both the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics at least once.  This summer I finally crossed the Summer Olympics off my list as my daughter and I attended the Summer Olympics in London for three days.

Working for an organization that hosts several sporting events, it was interesting for me to see how a sporting event this size functioned.  I tried to observe the signage, volunteers, venue, hosts, athletes and London in general.  I think London did a fantastic job, even though there were worries about security.

Me and my daughter.

We arrived in London on July 27 via train from northern England, which was the day of the Opening Ceremonies.  King’s Cross train station was busy, but nothing we haven’t seen before.  It’s the main train station in London so it should be busy.  After all, it IS where the Hogwarts students board their train.

Since we spent time in Europe before arriving in London, I had our Olympic tickets held at will call so they wouldn’t be sent to the house after I had flown to Europe.  We purchased our tickets through www.cosport.com, which is an official ticket reseller for the Olympics.  Their website is easy to use and their will call in London was easy.  We did stand in line for over two hours, but there were so many people who also had their tickets held at will call.  The people in line were fun, exchanging stories of where they were from and what sport they were attending.  We saw a guy with a huge stack of Judo tickets and another with a bunch of tennis tickets.  We had three sessions, the first two Men’s Gymnastics sessions and the first Women’s Gymnastics session.

After picking up our tickets on Friday, July 27, we decided to find a place to eat so we could watch the Opening Ceremony.  Right after we arrived on the street from the underground, the flyover went right over us.  We totally forgot what time it was.  It flew over at 8:12 or as Europe says 20:12.  That was really exciting to see them go right over us.  We then went into a bar and grill and watched the entire ceremony with the other diners.  At one point I showed a guy how to get ketchup out of a new bottle.  I think he was from Russia.  Every family sitting around us did not speak English, which I found quite fun.

One thing we realized once we came home, NBC did not show the entire Opening Ceremony.  The BBC showed the entire event with no commercials.  NBC cut out a big portion.  Maybe they should show it without the commercials.  I also noticed, after watching the Closing Ceremony live online, NBC again cut out chunks of the show to fit in commercials.

At the gymnastics, there was a video shown at the beginning of each session with the rock band Muse singing behind different images of past Olympics.  I fell in love with the song as it really got the audience pumped up for competition.  Before the competition, up and coming gymnasts demonstrated each apparatus along with gymnasts who showed different gymnastic skills.  One guy was balancing on one hand on the head of another gymnast.  The gymnast who was the “base” then moved around on the floor with the guy upside down balancing on one hand.  It was amazing to watch the abilities of these kids.

We were sitting so close at all the sessions that when we got back to the hotel and turned on the BBC we saw ourselves.  It was exciting to see most of the men’s teams.  We saw USA, Great Britain, Japan and China, along with many other teams.  We saw the teams and individuals who medaled.  When we came back home, watching the gymnasts we saw live compete on TV had a whole different meaning.  I felt invested in their chances.  I wanted them to win, even the Great Britain male gymnasts.  Even watching the sand volleyball took on a whole different meaning since we saw the outdoor stadium from the London Eye.

Before the Olympics started, it was all over the news how London didn’t have enough security, but we didn’t see an issue.  Going through security was smooth, the volunteers were nice and there were volunteers everywhere.  They had people stationed at the airport, train stations and underground handing out city maps and answering questions.  There was signage everywhere.  When you were in the underground, you knew which train to take just by the pink Olympic signs.

It’s hard to describe the excitement of being at the Olympics.  The trill of seeing the athletes walk into the arena, being able to pick out the families in the audience, meeting people sitting around you, on the underground and at the different restaurants.  Just being in London.  There are different events you can see better on TV instead of at the actual event.  But actually attending the Olympics was something special.  So special, we hope to attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.  Are you in?

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat.