UK’s Black Country #Photos #BriFri

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!


Day 8 of our England trip was devoted to the Black Country Living Museum, recreating times and spaces of the Industrial Revolution. The presence of coal was a primary force behind the Industrial Revolution.

Chimney with black smoke

A coal fire produces black smoke from the chimney

Our main reason for visiting this museum was to get a good look at a replica of the original Newcomen steam engine.

Steam engine replica

Working replica of the world’s first steam engine. The original was built in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen less than a mile from the Black Country Living Museum.

Detail of the steam engine

A detail of the steam engine

An unexpected highlight of the day was the tour of the limestone mines. The canal system that provided transportation throughout England (another major contributor to the Industrial Revolution) went right into the mine to transport limestone to where it was needed. Without a ledge, horses couldn’t be used to pull the canal boats in the tunnels. Instead, men “legged” the boat along, laying on their backs and walking along the ceiling or wall.

Tunnel with boat and tourists in hard hats

Dudley Canal Tunnel & Limestone Mines, hard hat tour in a narrowboat

Chains were a big need during the Industrial Revolution, so there were many chain makers in the region. Lots of them were backyard workshops with the whole family involved. Women made smaller chains and children helped as well.

making a chain link

Chain maker, working on a link

The Black Country Living Museum is a lively re-creation of a Victorian space, complete with cute shops, but less romantic then many displays about that timeperiod since it focuses on the hard work and black smoke of the early industrial age.



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Overwhelmed? Try the #Reviewathon

Review-a-ThonI can’t actually decide if a Review-a-Thon this weekend will make me feel less overwhelmed or more. I just know that I have a large stack of books that I read in 2014 and want reviewed by the end of the year. Of course, I have lots of other things to do right now, too. But none of them have the great support and fun of conquering the task in a group like the Review-a-Thon. So, I’m going for it. Thanks, Brianna, The Book Vixen, for bringing us this event each month — even December!

Here are the books I want to review:

  • The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
  • The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
  • A Flower for the Queen by Caroline Vermalle
  • The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson
  • The Lost World of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay
  • The Ariadne Objective by Wes Davis
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  • Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

That’s not too much, is it? You can see why I’m feeling overwhelmed. Well, some of them can be short.

Will you be participating in this month’s Review-a-Thon?

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Mid-Month Check-in #ReadersWorkouts

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Welcome to Readers’ Workouts, the weekly event where book lovers share workout stories, goals, successes, and challenges.

I managed to get my exercise about half-way to my monthly goal at the half-way point in the month. I always feel more hopeful when that happens! How is your exercise going in December?

If you are considering New Year’s Resolutions for fitness (or other topics), check out the New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge.

For Readers’ Workouts, talk about your fitness activities on your blog (feel free to grab the logo) and link to your post below or join us in the comments! Be sure to visit the other participants to see how we all did.



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New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge #NewYearBooks

Graphic for New Year's Resolution Reading ChallengeWhat do you want to accomplish in the New Year? Will reading a book help you reach your goal, keep your resolution, or complete your project? Start the year off right by reading books that support your goals, resolutions, and projects.


Whether you want to write a novel, start a new career, or be happier, there are books to aid you in your quest. The New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge is to read one to four books that will stimulate action on your goals. Here are the levels:

Resolved: 1 book
Determined: 2 books
Committed: 3 books
Passionate: 4 books

The books can all support the same resolution — you could read four books on getting organized, for example. Or, read four books to help with four different projects — one book on moving to a foreign country, one book on health and fitness, one book on small business, and one book on knitting (on your way to becoming a healthy expat entrepreneur with great scarves).

The New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge is a short event, running to the end of January (about seven weeks) as we end 2014 and start 2015. Later in the week I’ll announce a full-year challenge for those of us who have “Be Healthier” as one of our New Year’s resolutions.

We will have a link-up every Sunday from now through February 1st to share our book reviews, list posts, and early progress on our 2015 goals.

For the last few years, in conjunction with this challenge, we’ve also done a Read Along. I’m open to suggestions. I would be interested in re-reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield or Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. I perused my Goodreads list earlier today and came up with these titles that might have wide interest:

  • A Blueprint for Your Castle in the Clouds: Make the Inside of Your Head Your Favorite Place to Be by Barbara Sophia Tammes
  • A Short Guide to a Long Life by David B. Agus
  • Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back by Brooks Palmer
  • Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork. Start the Work That Matters by Michael Bungay Stanier
  • Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath, Dan Heath
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
  • Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success by Chip Conley
  • Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way by Dan Buettner

Are any of these books on your TBR? Or, do those titles remind you of books that you would like to read?

The link-up below is for sign-up posts. They are a great way to introduce The New Year’s Resolution Challenge to others and to declare what books you’ll be reading to support your resolutions, goals, and projects in 2015.



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Birmingham, UK #BriFri

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!


Our first order of business in Birmingham was ThinkTank, the science museum, where we spent the whole day learning about steam engines. Our second day, then, was devoted to getting oriented in Birmingham. One of the things we loved about the city center was the many blocks of streets that had been converted to pedestrian-only. This area was a magnet for street musicians and diverse crowds, with all manners of international dress and language.

A local researcher helped us find the International Convention Center with its tour boat dock. On the way, he showed us the new library and suggested we ask for a tour brochure (I managed that later in the week).

The boat tour had recorded commentary (not our favorite format), but it was informative about the history and future of canals in Birmingham.

Canal Tour Boat, Birmingham

Touring Bimingham’s canals by boat

After the tour, we walked along the canal to an area we’d seen with multiple restaurants. We ended up choosing a pan-Asian place where Rick had the best curry of our whole trip.

Curry and sambal

My entree was a Malaysian dish called Sambal.

Later in the day, we joined the throngs of shoppers along the pedestrianized streets. Waterstone’s is a big bookstore chain in the UK.

Waterstones, Birmingham

This Waterstones was in a building that appeared to be an old bank.

Waterstone's Birmingham

The beautiful interior




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New-to-Me Authors #Top10Tuesday #AMonthofFaves

A Month of FavoritesWatch out for nested memes!

Today’s topic for A Month of Favorites at Girlxoxo, Traveling with T and Estella’s Revenge is to do the Top Ten Tuesday meme at The Broke and the Bookish.

The Top Ten Tuesday topic is:  Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2014.


The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay

Sinclair McKay. I read The Secret Lives of Codebreakers before our England trip and I’m currently reading The Lost World of Bletchley Park in advance of the movie The Imitation Game. Our visit to Bletchley Park was one of my favorite days in England.


Slated by Teri TerryTeri Terry. The YA trilogy that began with Slated hit the spot when I was looking for some lighter reading set in England.


The Occasional Diamond Thief by J. A. McLachlanJ.A. McLachlan. I don’t read much science fiction, but I loved the worlds and characters in Walls of Wind and The Occasional Diamond Thief. I hardly knew I was reading science fiction because I got so caught up in the story.


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen SimonsonHelen Simonson. I haven’t reviewed it yet, but I enjoyed Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand that I recently finished.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel JoyceRachel Joyce. Judith of Leeswammes’ Blog recommended The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry when I mentioned an interest in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I ended up reading about Harold Fry first.


Doomsday Book by Connie WillisConnie Willis. I read Doomsday Book while in England and really enjoyed both the near-future Oxford setting and the time-travel back to the plague years. Blackout is high on my To Be Read list.


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal HurstonZora Neale Hurston. I’m kind of embarrassed that she’s a new author to me, but I hadn’t read her before our book club picked Their Eyes Were Watching God. Our book group doesn’t read many classics or repeat many authors, but Dust Tracks on a Road is on our list for this year, so I guess I wasn’t the only one pleased to discover this author.


London Under by Peter AckroydPeter Ackroyd. I had stacks of his books checked out of the library at one point, but I only got to two of them: Newton and London Under. I hope to get to more in 2015.


Quicksilver by Neal StephensonNeal Stephenson. It took me forever to read Quicksilver, but I couldn’t stop reading it. I took Cryptonomicon to England with me and read that much more quickly (helped along by an 8-hour plane ride. I haven’t reviewed it yet, but I enjoyed it. Anathema is on my physical TBR stack, but the library is going to want it back before I get to it, so I’ll have to make another run at that one. These books are a bit like climbing a mountain — it takes some planning and preparation!


Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger. I read the first two books in the Finishing School series for YA and thought they were so fun that I started the Parasol Protectorate series. I’m currently reading Timeless, the fifth book of the series. I’m hoping to write a review of the whole series before the end of 2014. These are a very funny take on a world with vampires and werewolves. If I get Timeless done, I’ll have read seven books by this author this year — and all on my phone, my slowest medium for reading. Gail Carriger is my find of the year!


That’s my list! Who were your favorite new-to-you authors in 2014?

Top Ten Tuesday

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Readers’ Workouts — December 9

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Welcome to Readers’ Workouts, the weekly event where book lovers share workout stories, goals, successes, and challenges.

I’m off to a mixed start on my exercise in December — a bit behind on my minutes, but a bit ahead on the number of strength-training workouts. I’m feeling confident that I can catch up this week. We have a couple of social engagements, but I’ll be able to exercise around those.

Is your December proving to be a busy month? How are you fitting exercise in?

For Readers’ Workouts, talk about your fitness activities on your blog (feel free to grab the logo) and link to your post below or join us in the comments! Be sure to visit the other participants to see how we all did.



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The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers #BookReview

Book: The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers
Genre: Mystery novel
Publisher: A Harvest Book / Harcourt, Inc.
Publication date: 1934
Pages: 397

Source: Library

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

I love this cover — and it fits quite nicely with the story inside.

Summary: Lord Peter Wimsey and his manservant have a car accident on a snowy New Year’s Eve, taking refuge in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. For the vicar and the community, though, Lord Peter’s accident is their good fortune. They planned to ring in the New Year with a full peal of Kent Treble Bob Majors, a feat that will take nine hours — the whole night. Unfortunately, the village has been visited by a bout of influenza and they don’t have enough healthy bell-ringers to do the job. But it turns out that among Lord Peter’s many and varied experiences, bell-ringing (particularly the Treble Bob) is one of them.

Thoughts: One of the things I like about older mysteries, particularly Sayers, is that they take the time to set the scene. The mystery in The Nine Tailors is slow to start, but we have all the fascinating material about British bell-ringing to distract us while we learn about the village and the characters within it, who will prove to have more complicated stories than it first appears.

Sayers describes better than I have managed what makes the British style of bell-ringing so different:

The art of change-ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully-tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English camponologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, only fit for foreigners; the proper use of bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations. p. 22.

I like bells, and got to hear them four times while we visited England (three Sunday mornings and one Tuesday night rehearsal). Mind you, I also like bagpipes, accordions, and drums — any instrument that is loud and raucous and tied to a culture makes me happy when I hear it.

Sayers also has an obvious appreciation for bells in this story, but being a mystery writer she finds the dark side. Bells have an air of mystery and capriciousness about them. Learning to ring tower bells begins with safety lessons — a bell left in the wrong state can unexpectedly pull up a rope along with anyone unwittingly hanging on it. As Lord Peter says at one point:

Bells are like cats and mirrors–they’re always queer, and it doesn’t do to think too much about them. p. 323

Appeal: Mystery lovers and anyone who likes a good story about life in an English village will appreciate this novel.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Picking Favorites

A Month of FavoritesThe first week of “A Month of Favorites” ends with a request to choose a favorite list that someone else wrote this week for the event. That’s fun!

I got a kick out of MG’s list yesterday on Reading is not the Challenge, linking 6 books together into a fun little story.

“A Month of Favorites” is being run by Girlxoxo, Traveling with T and Estella’s Revenge. The link-up, today, is at Girlxoxo.

Signature of Joy Weese Moll

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Steam Engines, Galore! #BriFri

British Isles Friday logoWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British-themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!


On our first full day in Birmingham, we spent the day at ThinkTank, the city’s science museum. There are many exhibits, but we were there for one: steam engines.

Early steam engines were incorporated into public works projects, like sewage removal or gas systems. They came with attractive paint jobs and woodwork to please the government officials in charge of procuring them. One of the things that fascinated us about these steam engines was how long they were used for. This one was still in use in 1957. Can you imagine any machine built today that will still be working in 73 years?

Watt steam engine

Sewage Pumping Engine

James Watt, between 1883 and 1884

“It raised sewage from the drains so that it could be discharged when the tide would carry it out to sea.”

Steam engine with wheels

Portable steam engine, 1894

“towed by a horse or traction engine, and connected by belt to drive saws and rock crushers”

I got fascinated by the governors, early safety switches, on steam engines. Here, Rick played with a demonstration of how a governor works. When it spins fast, the balls swing up and a valve closes, stopping the supply of steam and slowing down the engine.

A demonstration at ThinkTank in Birmingham, England

Spin the governor just fast enough, but not too fast!

Many of the engines were rigged up so that they moved — very helpful in understanding how they worked. Here is a video of an agricultural engine of unknown manufacturer that was still being used in 1951.

Steam engines were an important part of British history. Do you find them as fascinating as we do? Or, is that just because we’re geeky engineering types?



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