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7/7 Bombings

Hands down, the scariest moment I've had abroad was being in London on a bus the moment that another bus and a subway train was bombed on July 7, 2005.

I actually should have been on the Picadilly line--the one that got bombed--but I had a field trip that day, and so, took the bus that morning. I knew something was wrong when people kept pouring onto the bus--it seemed so much busier than normal morning rush hour. I was almost to my destination, Trafalgar Square, when a woman comes running down from the second story of the double-decker bus yelling, "There's a bomb on a bus!" She was so scared that she wrenched open the doors to the bus while the bus was still moving. Luckily, it was approaching our stop, so she didn't get hurt.

Everyone quickly got off of the bus. As soon as I stood on the pavement, I head sirens. So many sirens. I haven't ever heard that many sirens in my life--and I hope I never do again. They seemed like they went on and on and on for hours that day. That's one of the most vivid things I remember.

I met my teacher at the foot of the National Gallery--there were only 6 of the 8 students in my class, and she didn't have any cell phone service. We were all scared because no one knew what had happened yet. The National Gallery closed, so we headed just across the street to the Crypt Cafe at St.-Martin's-in-the-Fields Church. My teacher bought us hot cocoa to calm us down while she tried to get anyone from the school on the phone.

Finally, she got through to another teacher, who took my class over from Julie, my teacher. She had to walk for miles and miles to get home to her family because all of the public transportation had been shut down. My teacher led us from central London, past Buckingham Palace, through Belgravia to our resident hall in Chelsea. It seemed like we walked for days, but it really wasn't more than two hours or so. The other teacher tried to keep us moving, and didn't want us to get distracted by tv or radio, so we still were unsure about exactly what had happened. Everyone we walked past was panicking, running all over, so we knew, whatever it was, was very, very bad.

By the time I got back to the residence hall, it was 2:30 in the afternoon--I'd left for school around 8 AM. My roommate had called my parents when the bombings happened (around 9 AM UK time, 4 AM US time), so they were completely panicked by the time I was able to call them. Turns out, the American Embassy had called them to let them know I was missing for those 7 hours. I cannot even imagine getting that call as a parent.

Luckily, everyone in my school was safe and sound; some of them had gotten stuck on the subway, and others had been asked to stay in the school building until the buildings around the bus bombings had been searched.

Not everyone was lucky. Over 50 Londoners lost their lives that day--many on a double decker bus near Russel Square and others on a Picadilly line subway. Over 700 others were injured in the bombings.

I hope I never have to go through anything like that again.

Tailgating in Tiger Town

Landon and I are both Clemson University alums, and we were SO excited for the opportunity to head back up to Clemson for Homecoming this weekend. We left right after work so we could have dinner with Landon's parents who live not too far from the Clemson campus. Since we hadn't been up to see his parents in TEN MONTHS (!!), it was nice to be able to spend time with them this weekend, too.

Saturday dawned bright and early...and pretty chilly. I love fall, but the weather around here is so weird in October. What do I wear when it is 49 in the morning, 80 mid-day and 55 after the game? Ugh. I settled on my skinny jeans, a white t-shirt and an orange and white striped 3/4-length shirt.
We had the BEST time at our tailgate--Landon's parents were there, along with several of our friends from undergrad: Tim and Kelly Anne, Tori and Furphy, and Shawn and his girlfriend Whitney. It's so weird to me that we've all been gone from Clemson for three-to-five years!


Sam and Nann are deep in conversation at the tailgate.

Yummy, yummy food

Tim and Kelly Anne celebrating a particularly good throw in Cornhole.

Landon says, "Go Tigers!"

Tori does her best to score!

Aww, how cute! The newlyweds walk to the stadium

The view from our tailgating spot

Just before the start of the game

Half-time show

Clemson won, we ate so much delicious food and we got to see Landon's parents. Definitely a successful weekend!

Weekend at Fort McKinley, Georgia

My family is (and always has been) big on family outings. As kids, my sister and I were packed up each summer for our family vacation. Sometimes, we'd go to Disney World; other times, it was Canada, Pennsylvania or California. My parents included us on the planning, so we learned about the history of the places we'd see and thus, were a little more prepared to appreciate the things we were to see soon.

We still keep up the tradition of the family vacation even though we're much older and we've expanded (hello, son-in-law Landon!). Since college, we've gone to Louisiana, Disney World (as much as things change, they stay the same!) and the North Carolina mountains. I can count myself among the lucky few who enjoy spending time with their families, and have the means and time to do so.

This weekend, we headed off in true family-vacation style to Richmond Hill, Georgia, where we rented a cabin for a few days. We stayed at Fort McKinley State Park on the outskirts of Richmond Hill, and it was so pretty! It was so much fun to have some time to relax before school starts back next week.

We stopped at the Old Sheldon Church in Yemassee, SC, which was burned during the Civil War.

Later on Saturday, we went to Wormsloe Plantation in Skidway Island, GA, just outside of Savannah.
Give me a screened-in porch, a wooden rocker, a glass of tea and a book, and I'm a happy gal.

What I Think: Review of Jeffrey Deaver's The Twelfth Card

I've been a big fan of Jeffrey Deaver for some time now, but I've never done a review of his work...until now!

My mom recently let me borrow a new paperback of Deaver's The Twelfth Card, which features Deaver's most famous characters, Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs. You may have seen the movie adaptation of Deaver's first Lincoln Rhyme novel, The Bone Collector, that starred Denzel Washington as Lincoln Rhyme and Angelina Jolie as Rhyme's protege and girlfriend, Amelia Sachs.

In The Twelfth Card, these characters are the same that I've come to know and love. Rhyme and Sachs, along with their usual crew of NYPD officers, specialists and technicians, tackle the attempted murder case of 16-year-old Geneva Settle. They begin to believe that Geneva's brush with death may be tied to an article she was reading about the arrest and trial of her ancestor, Charles--who lived one hundred and forty years before. So, what in the world does a Harlem teenager have to do with a century old trial? Lincoln and Sachs quickly discover that the past isn't always past. Their desire to set the story straight, while catching the killer, is compounded by the fact that Rhyme is a paraplegic who is confined to his cherry red wheelchair. Sachs often has to be his eyes, ears, hands and feet at the crime scenes they investigate.

And in true Jeffrey Deaver fashion, the story twists and turns. And then twists some more. Just when you think they've figured everything out--BAM!--another plot twist.

While these murder mysteries/ thrillers might not be high literature, they sure are fun. The Twelfth Card reads like it's an action movie, and the suspense doesn't let up until the very end.

On the flipside, if you're easily offended by coarse language, you might want to seek entertainment elsewhere--there are many unsavory (and some savory) characters that need some help expanding their vocabulary. This is fairly true of all the Deaver books (as well as all of the James Patterson thrillers).

If you're searching for something to discuss in your Ph.D. level English class, you'll want to pass this one by. However, if you're looking for a fun and suspenseful escape from reality--and you like Criminal Minds or CSI:--then you should give The Twelfth Card, or any of Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme books, a try this summer.

Like this book? Check these out:

  • James Patterson's Alex Cross series
  • Patricia Cornwell's Blowfly (my favorite of the Kay Scarpetta series)
  • Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series (the Alphabet books)

Marathon Weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

This past weekend, Landon and I journeyed up to Myrtle Beach for his first ever marathon. We met up with Landon's sister, Ashlan, and Ashlan's husband, Jason, who were nice enough to let us stay at their beach house. Ashlan ran the half-marathon and Jason ran the marathon with Landon.

The weather all weekend was GORGEOUS, so the four of us took full advantage of it. We went shopping on Friday at one of Myrtle Beach's outlets, and I got some black shorts from the J. Crew outlet (I love, love, love them and wish I had gotten pairs in many other colors!!). Then, Jason drove Landon and I to the beach so I could take a few pics at sunset. The light was amazing, and I was so happy to get some great shots:

We all sat down to a spaghetti dinner that Ashlan made--yum! Everyone else was preparing for the race, but I carb loaded for emotional support! Very, very early on Saturday, Landon, Ashlan and Jason got ready up and left for the race; I had no intentions of getting up at 4:30 AM. I did, however, meet up with them later on after Ashlan had finished her race. Together we waited for Jason and Landon, which was quite the nerve-wracking experience because they took longer than they estimated to finish, so Ashlan and I were really worried when we didn't see them after their proposed 4 hours and 15 minutes. Landon finished in just under 5 hours, which he was very happy with--I'm so proud of him for finishing! He and Jason were really salty (from sweating so much) and sore, but otherwise unscathed.
resting after the (very) long race
the hard-earned marathon medal!
After the race, we hit up Five Guys for lunch; when we returned to the beach house, everyone showered and then prompted fell asleep.

Even Maggie and Miller, Ashlan and Jason's dogs, decided it was time for a nap!
My afternoon consisted of 1) taking the golf cart to the beach so I could take more pictures and 2) reading magazines on the porch in the 75 degree weather.

Then, on Sunday morning, we all took the dogs for a walk on the beach. It was much chillier Sunday than it was earlier in the weekend.

What I Think: Review of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City

Recently, I read Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, which intertwines two separate plot lines: one about the architects who made the 1893 Chicago's World Fair possible, and the other about "America's First Serial Killer," Dr. H. H. Holmes.

I'd first heard about H.H. Holmes when I read Caleb Carr's The Alienist, in which the narrator's grandmother is deathly afraid that Dr. Holmes will escape before he is hung and kill her. A fictional novel is an odd place to first discover a bit of American true crime, but sometimes, information comes to you in odd ways! I've never read much non-fiction (outside of the required textbooks and theory articles in school), but this book convinced me that I've left an entire genre neglected for far too long.

When I checked out Devil in the White City from the library, the librarian told me it read just like fiction, even though the book is 100% true and meticulously researched.

He wasn't kidding. I read the entire thing over just two days--I couldn't find out what happened fast enough. Larson writes in an easy, often humorous style, and thus, the book is accessible to pretty much any reader.

While I originally picked up the book because of the H.H. Holmes link, I found myself quickly becoming interested in the seemingly impossible task set before the architects of the Colombian World Fair (so named as in honor of Christopher Columbus' 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World).

These two seemingly unrelated portions of American history are linked by their collective location--Chicago--and the time period--the 1893 Fair. Holmes actually capitalized on the overwhelming success of the fair by offering boarding house rooms for rent just a few miles from the fairgrounds, and many of his visitors didn't check out.

My complaints about this book are few. The thing that bothered me the most was the desire of the author to occasionally wax poetic on minutiae--menus of the architects' meetings, lists of materials required to complete the World Fair exhibitions, etc. While Larson was trying to show the scope of the building efforts, the inclusion of such slowed down the otherwise entertaining and compelling narrative.

Another complaint: while the book (for the most part) rotated from H.H. Holmes chapter to World Fair chapter, there were instances where there were two or three World Fair chapters back-to-back. I couldn't figure out if this was because Larson was more interested in the World Fair portion of the book, or if he didn't think he had enough material on Holmes to include an equal number of chapters on him.

My final critique? There just weren't enough pictures!

While I may sound like a child who has had to make the jump from picture books to chapter books, I am a visual learner, and found myself searching the internet as I read for a visual portrayal of a building or person being described in the text. Many non-fiction books have a section in the middle of photographs, and I believe this book would have greatly benefited by such an insert.

That being said, the documentary "H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer" provided me with those visual bits of information that helped to fill the holes left from reading the book. Much of the same ground is covered as in the Holmes portions of the Devil in the White City, but hearing the information at the same time as an old photograph was being shown heightened the learning experience for me. If you have Netflix, there is an instant watch version of this film; you might be able to find a copy at your local library as well.

Definitely a must read!

What I Think: Review of Patrick McGrath's The Grotesque

*one of my ongoing series of blog posts that looks at the books I read*

One of my absolutely favorite twentieth-century British books is Patrick McGrath's Spider, which is suspenseful, well-written and shocking. Based on my experience with this book, I decided to branch out into other McGrath novels, and I was delighted to find The Grotesque (his very first novel) in Ed's Editions (an amazing used bookstore that you MUST visit if you live in or visit Columbia, SC).

I had a new McGrath, which was good, but I'd also bought about 8 other books, which was bad because The Grotesque got shuffled to the bottom of my books pile. I put it by my bedstand, where many of my books come and go at times, but this one stayed. And stayed. And stayed. It seemed that I would read about ten pages, get distracted and put the book down for another week. Usually, I'm a voracious reader that can finish an "easy" book (a Michael Crichton, James Patterson, etc.) in a matter of hours if I put my mind to it (I read fast more out of necessity than anything else...going to English grad school kind of drills it into you). The Grotesque topped out at around 200 pages, which would normally fall into the "easy" category for me, yet it was taking weeks and weeks and weeks for me to get through it. Why?

I was originally very excited about this particular title because 1) the author and 2) the title. The grotesque--as in the literary element--is found throughout the Gothic movement, my favorite of all favorites and the topic of my masters thesis. The story line caught my eye, too: eccentric English gentleman becomes completely handicapped as a result of a terrible accident, and then ponders the mysterious disappearance (and, as we discover later, death) of his daughter's suitor. The narrator is convinced that the butler is behind all of the nefarious activities...but could it really be that the pre-accident gentleman is the true culprit?

This book is what I consider "quiet"--there aren't any major surprises or super gory scenes. If this was made into a movie, it would be moody and dramatic with enough ambiguity at the end to keep the audience guessing. Quiet books aren't always bad; in fact, some of them can be very, very good (see The Time Traveler's Wife and Atonement). This book seemed to try to hard to be clever, but, in truth, much of it had already been done. The who-dun-it aspect was never emphasized enough for me, and honestly, the narrator protested his innocence a bit much to truly make the ending ambiguous. McGrath is a skilled writer, but this novel doesn't come close to the chilling atmosphere and richly painted characters of his later works like Spider or Asylum.

If you like this, I would recommend:

  • Peter Ackroyd, Hawksmoor
  • Patrick McGrath, Spider
  • Patrick McGrath, Asylum
  • Iain M. Banks, The Wasp Factory