Thursday, October 8, 2015

London-on-a-Dime (Free Tours)

Way back in the '70s, my father owned a dog-eared copy of Europe on $5 a Day. He loved planning frugal trips for his family of six and Mom aided and abetted him by packing peanut butter and Tang in her purse to provide cheap meals. We stayed in dingy hostels, never bought souvenirs, and NEVER took any form of transportation if walking was feasible.

When my husband and I traveled to England recently for our 30th anniversary, my dad would have been proud. We pinched pennies so hard  you could practically hear them scream. But we had so much fun that I decided to devote a few posts to how we did it in case someone else needs suggestions.

On our first day in London, we took the free Sandeman's Tour. It was a three hour walking tour of Westminster (half of it in the rain), but it showed us how easy it was to walk around the city. Check the website for meeting times and places. My travel book said our tour was at 3 p.m., but when I checked online it was at 2.

Almost all museums in London are free, but did you know that many of the museums offer free tours? The museums are so loaded with artifacts that you don't know where to start, so a guided tour, focusing on a specific exhibit, was extremely helpful. Our favorite free tour (at the Victoria and Albert Museum) lasted just over an hour and took us through the Medieval and Renaissance rooms. The guide was terrific. We also took a half hour free tour at the British Museum on Assyrian history. Later we returned to that same museum armed with a pdf we had downloaded from the internet, "The Bible and the British Museum." This self-guided tour took us through the Assyrian and Persian rooms, pointing out archeological finds that confirmed biblical accounts. Unfortunately the second half was hard to follow since some of the exhibits had been moved and we couldn't follow the map. Still, it was great to see biblical history verified.

Lastly, we took a train to Oxford to do the C.S. Lewis tour. We felt deflated when we discovered it was only on Wednesdays. BUT all was not lost. I was in Blackwell's bookstore (where the tour originates) and looked down and saw an Oxford tour booklet for 3 pounds (about 5 dollars). The subtitle said "Self-guided Walking Tour" so I snatched it up and Dan and I wandered the streets of Oxford at our leisure, stopping in at restaurants and book shops as we followed the map around the city. Lovely! (The tours from Blackwells normally cost 8 pounds (about $12 each).

No trip to Oxford would be complete without a trip to the Eagle and Child Pub where the Inklings met weekly. This stop was not on our walking tour, so we sauntered across town to enjoy a glass of non-alcoholic ginger beer and to browse in a nearby book store.

Incidentally, we took one very expensive tour to Canterbury Cathedral, but these free ones are what we'll remember the longest.

(Future posts will be about dining and book shopping.)

Friday, September 25, 2015

A City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge

I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Goudge. Imagine my disappointment when I visited England recently and couldn't find her books anywhere. But I had City of Bells in my luggage, so all was not lost.

It's the story of Jocelyn Irvin who has returned from the Boer War (1899-1902) with a lame leg. Reluctant to face a lot of people, he travels to Torminster, a quiet town where his grandfather lives. He begins to rebuild his life by opening a book shop and making new friends.

Although City of Bells left me bewildered at times, I enjoyed the characters and their passion for books. They playfully referred to Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights as "Jane" and "Emily."

On page 105 Grandfather says this about books: In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. Yes. They find it widens life. We're all greeedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can't give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience life vicariously. 

My enthusiasm for the book was dampened by the mystical thread about "thought transference," in which several characters send thoughts to each other across the miles. It seemed sort of silly in an otherwise serious story.

My favorite Goudge title is The Dean's Watch, but I've enjoyed the Damerosehay trilogy (The Bird in the TreePilgrim's Inn, and The Heart of the Family), I Saw Three Ships, and Island Magic. I did not like Middle Window, so not all of her books are created equal. But she's one of the best writers of light novels with deep themes.

I'm delighted that more of her books are becoming available for Kindle, although they are expensive (in the ten dollar range).

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Giveaway Winner

The winner of On the Shoulders of Hobbits is Michelle Morin. Congratulations!

Stay tuned for the next giveaway in October.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Heroes and Legends in Literature

I purchased Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature with a free credit from

Professor Thomas Shippey (who is a Cambridge-educated expert on Medieval literature and a leading world scholar on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien) gives each of the 24 lectures. Each talk offers important insights into the world's great works of literature and why their heroes have lived on in our hearts and imaginations. How could I not love this series when it started out with a most unlikely hero, Frodo Baggins? Shippey explains why the world needed such a hero at that time in history.

Some of the lectures share additional, unknown information about famous characters (such as Robin Hood). Others walk the listener through the character's most famous story (Odysseus). I enjoyed the variety (In Lecture 16 he explains how people gained a taste for lighter reading. In Lecture 22 he talks about fairy tales and their modern feminist versions.) Although the final lectures include people that I would not have selected as literary heroes (Celie from The Color Purple and Winston Smith from 1984, for example), Shippey argues convincingly for their importance.

Shippey's enthusiasm for his subject keeps you listening. It doesn't hurt that he has a marvelous British voice and dry sense of humor. Although he deals with several indiscreet protagonists, he manages to keep the lectures at a PG level. I appreciated that he wasn't too politically correct to note when a character was helped by faith in God.

I've been listening to this off-and-on for three months and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a refresher course on books I'd already read, and whetted my appetite for some of the others, except for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which sounds horrific. I have my doubts about that choice, but figure it was added to appeal to 21st century readers. Otherwise these lectures are highly recommended to literature fans.

(They are ridiculously expensive on the Great Courses site, but are $30 at Amazon/Audible.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Andrew Murray E-book Deals

Andrew Murray is a wonderful remedy to all the religious fluff that's available in present-day bookstores. Two of his books on prayer are available for 99 cents until September 30th. Worth a look.

Believing Prayer and Teach Me To Pray

Friday, September 11, 2015

Worthwhile Books Facebook Page and Book Giveaway

I love using Blogger, but am annoyed with how long it takes for my posts to publish. Often when I post about a free e-book, it is no longer free by the time my readers get the notice in their inbox.

So I decided to start a facebook page for instant postings; I also wanted a place to put quotes and thoughts about words without cluttering up the blog.

I'll be giving away books in the coming weeks and will be promoting them here and via the facebook page. The giveaways are limited to a United States address.

This week's book is On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, which I reviewed here. To enter the giveaway "like" and leave a comment on the Worthwhile Books facebook page.

I'll choose a winner by September 25th. If you don't do facebook, just leave a comment here or send me an e-mail and I'll enter your name in the drawing.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Wealthy widow, Emily Ingelthorpe, has recently remarried and her sons view the new husband, Alfred, as a fortune hunter. As the novel begins Emily is surrounded by her young husband, her sons and their wives, and several other house guests. When she is a found dead, guest Captain Arthur Hastings contacts his friend Hercule Poirot to help solve the case.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is my third Christie novel and it's a great cozy mystery. The writing is lovely; and Christie does a marvelous job of throwing the reader off the scent of the real killer. Plus, Poirot's fastidiousness is laugh-out-loud funny.

I listened to the version which was marvelously done by David Suchet. (I have to admit that listening to the book sometimes made it difficult to differentiate between the dizzying array of characters.) If you've ever watched the BBC Poirot mysteries you'll especially love the audio version of this novel. Suchet does a wonderful job with all the voices and made me feel quite nostalgic for Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings.

This is the book that introduced Poirot to the world. What a happy incident.

It's available for 99 cents on Kindle and for 2.95 at Audible. (Sadly, the Suchet version is no longer available.)