Chicago – Parks and Navy Pier

Parks and navy pier are the go to places in Chicago and the most popular and well known.

Millennium Park

Probably most well known for the cloud gate aka the bean of Chicago. IMG_7671.JPG

Not only does this park house the famous mirror bean which you must take a photo with, it also has many other attractions. You can chill out on the lawn in front of the Pritzker pavillion, plan this one ahead as there is always shows or movies on. Bring a blanket, picnic and enjoy the view. Walk around to the crown fountain which is a shallow pool separated by two 50 foot towers. Take a walk around the chase promenade as there is always different art installations free for the public to view.

Grant Park

The grant park connected to the millennium park leads all the way to the museum campus. Along the way you can find the Buckingham fountain which is one of the worlds largest fountains and the art institute as well as sports fields and gardens. This park is also home to most of the food and music festivals on during the summer months, including the grand taste of Chicago and music festivals such as Lollapalooza.

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Lincoln Park

I have touched on the Lincoln park previously when I discussed the zoo that it houses as well as the lily pond and many more. See my previous blog entry on Chicago – Museums and Zoo.

Navy Pier

One of the most visited attractions of Chicago. What is it though, well its everything. Its bars, restaurants, ferris wheel, mini golf, cruises, museums, shops and the list goes on. Its a two part pier in that there is the outdoors area as well as the indoor. Here you can spend a whole day if you wanted. Getting there is a fair walk from the loop, the scenery on the walk to it is nothing spectacular so I would advice to splash out and get a taxi there or the bus even which stops just outside the entrance. From the Pier you can walk on towards the memorial park and onto the beach front along the skyscrapers. There is plenty of water taxi’s and cruises available from the pier itself.

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The Girls

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Publisher : Arrow Books

Summary

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By Lisa Jewell

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is
taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play all swirl together in this gripping novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense.

Review

Screenshot_20170406-211718.jpgThis book was given to me by a friend in work. Reading the summary I was interested and decided to give it a shot. The first section does well to capture interest however this is where it ends for me. The “Before” section that starts then drags out way to long, going into detail that sometimes seem very irrelevant. I got to the stage where I was questioning what this book is really about because it didnt seem to lead in the direction of that gripping first section.

The “After” section I figured would be where the story really picks up. I was wrong. Just when you think that the story will finally start to get interesting and there will be more of that promised suspense. There was none. The book ends without even giving a clear ending, no ending for that matter. Its like the author got bored of writing and decided to half write an ending that doesnt even tie anything up. Ah just leave it at that.

The book has no suspense, nothing gripping, nothing intriguing. No mystery. The language is plain and even dull at times. The word flat comes to mind. There was potential for the story there but at every chance the potential was wasted.

 

Conclusion

Dont bother. I wish I hadnt. Zero stars.

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Lady of the Shades

Genre: Fiction / Horror / Fantasy / Thriller / Crime
Publisher : Orion Books

Summary

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By Darren Shan

Ed, an American author on the hunt for a story for his next book, arrives in London looking for inspiration. A stranger in a strange city, he’s haunted by a deadly secret that refuses to stay buried, and no matter how hard he tries he cannot escape the manifest sins of his past.
What Ed wants is answers, what he finds is something he definitely didn’t bargain for: the beautiful and untouchable Andeanna Menderes. Andeanna is a woman who is dangerously bound to one of London’s most notorious crime lords, and if they are caught together it could mean death for them both.
Ensnared in an illicit affair that can only be conducted in the shadows, Ed’s world is turned upside down as a series of shattering revelations blurs the line between what’s real and what’s not.

Review
Screenshot_20160512-194125.jpgThis was the second time I came across Darren Shan’s adult books. I first picked up his teen books after I seen someone read one and the picture of an axe on the cover when I was only 13. Since then I’ve been a loyal fan of all his work. Don’t make the mistake to think that just because he writes teen books that the adult books wouldn’t be that good. This book is as adult as it gets.

The beginning isn’t gripping, so much so that i thought id hate the book before I even finished a single chapter. Even one of my favourite books is not without flaw and perhaps this is a major one to some.  The story slowly reveals itself. The slow pace is just right to build up to the mayhem that begins in the second half of the book. The fact that this is a standalone, you know the mayhem will be good and Shan doesn’t disappoint.

The characters aren’t overly developed but their story is described just enough for you to follow yet not get too deep. The story line it self is not difficult to follow dispute the twists and turns, and what twists they are!

The only downside for me is that Shan can go too far into the fantasy realm which shatters the illusion of any of this being real and someone looses a little of the appeal especially in books where fantasy of such is not necessary. Perhaps he is just drawn to it.

The ending wowed me to this day i remember how I felt reading that final epic reveal twist plot. My jaw did literally drop I gasped out loud and that’s no exaggeration. For the twists alone I give this book top marks.

Conclusion

If you are a lover of twists, this is the book for you. This book has the most twists and surprises than any thriller Ive ever read. Despite the minor flaws the book does make up for it in the end and sits firmly on my list of re-read and re-read and again. 5 out of 5.

5stars

Chicago – Museums & Zoo

Full disclosure Im a fan of a good museum or aquarium, however i am quite picky since sometimes it can be a bit of “been there done that” surely they are all the same at this stage. Chicago however was an exception for me.

The Museum of Science and Industry

This one is a bit out of the city but easy to get to by 1209279_10151685745962513_1464709010_nbus, just do the research before hand. This is one of the most interactive science museums I have ever been to and easy in the top two best museums for me beating any in Washington DC. The museum is also near University of Chicago and Washington park so there is plenty to see and do around the museum too. I would give this trip a full day, get there early as the place itself is huge…no spoilers but it has an actual submarine!!! The tickets arent sky high either at just $18 per adult but you can also get a discount if you order online beforehand.

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I know i already said this about the museum of science but this was one of the best aquariums I have been to. One of the gems of this place is the jelly fish rooms, thats a must!!! You can just get lost in their movements and there is no many kinds. Petting stingrays and seal shows its all there. Its not just tanks full of water there are jungle like tanks and dont forget a 4D movie just for the fun. The tickets are pricey but well worth the trip, the cost will set you back $40 with a half day worth of fun. Around the aquarium you will also find the Field museum, Adler planetarium and surrounding parks which lead into Grant park and millennium park. From the aquarium itself you can get the water taxi all the way to navy pier which gives you some amazing views of the city skyline from the water. Main tip is get there early, the queue can become huge very quick and in the summer heat its the last thing you’d want to do even if they provide cover.IMG_7792

Lincoln Zoo

Guess what….this one is free. Yes the Chicago zoo is absolutely free and the animals are up closer than most Zoo’s in Europe. It has an interactive farm, bird house and conservatory. One of the little gems of this place is the Alfred Caldwell Lily pond just north of the zoo, its not big but definitely something to see. The public beaches stretch along the side of the zoo which have once again a lovely view of the city skyline rising from the sand.

The Book Thief

Genre: Historical Fiction/ Fiction
Publisher : Knopf Books

Summary

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By Markus Zusak


It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Review

Screenshot_20170319-144716The reason I picked up this book was purely from the initial interest in the title. A book about a book thief intrigued me, what I didnt realise at the time was that it was a historical fiction which I dont often read. Despite the fact that this was a book outside my norm I really enjoyed it.

One of the main things I liked about this book was that it was set during the Holocaust but it didnt revolve itself around that it kept the focus on the main character and what she was experiencing which made the historical part of it far more interesting.

The fact that the book is narrated by death was an interesting take but it also wasn’t as depressing and negative as you might think death would be at narrating. I found the book descriptive enough to set the picture in my mind without boring me with details which not every author can get the balance of right. Although its not a happy story I feel like you can get the happiness from the main characters love of books and to be fair if you know when/where the book is set I don’t see how you cant see how the end plays out.

Conclusion
I found the book interesting and a very easy read. I would recommend this book to friends, however I can also see how this might not be up to everyone’s liking either. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

4stars

Chicago – The Skyscrapers

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This time 4 years ago I finished my last ever college exams and headed over to Chicago for 3 months on a J1. The reason I picked to go to Chicago was through recommendation and Im so glad I listened. Fortunately there is so much to go through when it comes to Chicago that this will not be the last time I write about it. This Chapter will be dedicated to the city and its buildings. Let me just point out that before Chicago I had never seen skyscrapers in real life so the moment we got off the CTA and into the street my jaw dropped. I stood frozen with my mouth open for a good 10 minutes I just couldn’t believe how tall they were!!! IMG_7688

Marina City (Corn Cobs)

First on the list are the iconic corn cob buildings. Even if you have never heard of them you have probably seen them at some point. The best view of these are from the near by bridges such as the one off Dearborn street or else the water taxi which you can get just off Michigan avenue. Interesting fact is that the apartments in those buildings have no interior right angles as each is shaped like a pizza slice.

Willis Tower

If you did get the water taxi to go past the marina city then it will bring you along the river straight to the willis tower. This is the iconic tower with the glass floor on the 103rd floor (sky deck). The building itself is impressive up close as well as from a distance. To visit the sky deck only costs $23 which is not a lot when you get to step out over the city. Im not afraid of highs but I had to have someone hold my hand when I went to sit down on it because you feel like you will just fall through!!! The view of the city from there is spectacular. The willis tower and sky deck are a must see.

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John Hancock Center

This is the 100 story tall black sky scraper off the magnificent mile. The sky scraper offers observation decks with a view of the city and the beach front. The entry to the observation deck only costs $20 with an additional $7 if you want to experience the tilt. However if you are short for cash you can always visit the Bar/Restaurant for a drink with a view just a floor below the observation deck.

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Other notable mentions go to Tribune Tower, Aqua tower and the Crain communications building. One of the best ways to see all the skyscrapers is from the water front, either along the river through the city or across the Chicago harbor. Dont forget you can also visit the observation decks at night for a whole different experience.

Flash and Bones

Genre: Mystery / Fiction / Thriller
Publisher : Arrow Books`
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By Kathy Reichs

Summary

A body is found in a barrel of asphalt next to Lowes Motor Speedway near Charlotte just as 200,000 fans are pouring into town for race week. The next day, a NASCAR crew member shares with Tempe a devastating story. Twelve years earlier his sister, Cyndi Gamble, then a high school senior who wanted to be a professional racecar driver, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette. Lovette kept company with a group of right wing extremists known as the Patriot Posse. Is the body Cyndi’s? Or Cale’s?

At the time of their disappearance, the FBI joined the investigation, but the search was quickly terminated. As Tempe is considering multiple theories, including an FBI cover-up, a surprising, secret substance is found with the body, leaving Tempe to wonder what exactly the government was up to. . . .

Review

The was one of the first Kathy Reichs books I had picked up, although its actually the 14th in the series. As I’ve mentioned in previous Kathy Reichs reviews, each book is its own story and just like I never started from the first book my reviews will follow the same (non) logic and be as jumbled up as the sequence of me reading them.Screenshot_20170319-144930

At the beginning of the book i found myself a little lost in the whole NASCAR world as I’m not familiar with any of it. My lack of interest in NASCAR also made me nearly dose off at parts. The first half of the book seemed a little dull, with very little forensic work described. If you had read her other books this one would seem more like a holiday book from that world, although still within the same theme it moved away from the main personal story of Temperance Brennan so it was refreshing in that sense.

Although it took me a while to get fully into this book, the second half of it was much more promising. This book was definitely one where I didn’t guess who the killer was and I find that’s what keeps me loyal to Kathy Reichs aside from the forensics of course.

Conclusion

Although my review might come off as more negative then positive I did enjoy this book and was left surprised by the ending. I would recommend this book to any crime / mystery lover without a doubt. I would give this a 4 out of 5 as there were parts which could have been better.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

My trip to Amsterdam was for a long weekend away with the girls. Its a place many people speak fondly of and one that i was always interested in visiting. The idea of coffee shops and red light district made seem so exciting. 20160326_152016

As soon as we got to Amsterdam we went straight to Dam square where the main feature has to be the royal palace. While on the square we stopped by tourist information and booked all our touristy sightseeing tour tickets straight away since you get a good discount when you get them in packages. We got tickets for Madam Tussauds, Amsterdam Dungeons, Ice Bar and The Heineken Experience.  Since Madam Tussauds is on Dam place from there you can get great areal shots of the whole square and the royal palace. I have been to London and Edinburgh Dungeons before and loved both experiences however Amsterdam Dungeons weren’t quite up to the same standard and I wouldn’t recommend it. Ice Bar was brilliant, mostly for pictures though and very short experience as you wouldn’t spend too much time in it. The Heineken experience however was the most entertaining brewery tours I have been on, plenty of interactive parts and good flow through the impressive building itself not to mention the view from the roof top bar at the end. I would recommend getting the tickets for these in advance as you get to skip the queue, which can make all the difference if you are only going for a short break. The Heineken experience queues were pretty long in particular.

One of the most popular and must see parts of Amsterdam was the canals. Now you cant miss them when you are walking around but it is quite another thing to see them from the water, plus you get all the history lessons and stories at the same time.

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Cant exactly talk about Amsterdam without a mention of the red light district. Obviously my opinion on it would be the polar opposite to that of most men however for me although it was interesting it also seemed very seedy and quite frankly I felt very uncomfortable in that area walking past all the windows. The district itself is pretty nice along with many bars which are packed full of people but as a woman I didn’t feel comfortable. Although the sex museum is quite the opposite, fun and at a very low price too.

There were many things I wish I had gotten to see but even as small as Amsterdam is a shirt weekend cant guarantee you enough time to see everything. One thing we didn’t get to see was Anne Franks house, the queue (although we went early in the morning) was over an hour long to get in, so the most we got was a view from the outside. One other thing I wish i got to see was Micropia but that’s purely as a microbiologist I guess. The question is would I come back, and to be honest I don’t know if i would. There are other places around Europe that i felt have more to offer, as well as the fact I didn’t like the red light scene or the consistent smell of weed I just don’t think this was a city for me. However I’m glad I got to experience it and make my own mind up about it.

Taboo

Genre: Crime / Mystery / Thriller
Publisher : Simon & Schuster
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By Casey Hill (Melissa & Kevin)

Summary

Forensic Investigator Reilly Steel, Quantico-trained and California born and bred, imagined Dublin to be a far cry from San Francisco, a sleepy backwater where she can lay past ghosts to rest and start anew. She’s arrived in town to drag the Irish crime lab into the 21st century, plus keep tabs on her Irish-born father who’s increasingly seeking solace in the bottle after a family tragedy.

But a brutal serial killer soon puts paid to that. When a young man and woman are found dead in an apartment, the gunshot wounds on their naked bodies suggest a suicide pact. But Reilly’s instincts are screaming that something’s seriously amiss and, as more bodies are discovered, the team soon realise tht a twisted murderer is at work, one who seeks to upset society’s norms in the most sickening way imaginable….

 

Review

img_20170111_195756 I picked up this book in the book shop after reading the summary at the back. I was interested in a crime mystery set in Dublin because up to that point I was only familiar with Chick Lit romantic books set in Dublin. I guess I didn’t have huge expectations at the time and left it on my book shelf for a long time before deciding to get stuck into it.
I don’t know what I was thinking not reading this book sooner. The story is very interesting, the concept of the killer was very intriguing. The book was well written which I had doubts about since the only other book I had read by two authors before this was a disaster.
The story kept you in suspense in the “Ah just one more chapter” way which is always a great sign. The story line kept you guessing and I for one couldn’t have predicted the ending. Plenty of surprises along the way to keep this an exciting one till the very end. I felt like this book could do well as a t.v. series, I could picture it while I read how well it would work.
The Characters were well written, you weren’t overwhelmed with details which allowed you to make up your own details but enough to make the characters their own. The characters kept developing through out the story, the boring stiff was not as boring as you thought towards the end sort of way.

Conclusion

I had a great time reading this, it was an easy read too. After finishing the book I discovered there is 5 more in the series of Reilly Steel so I’m keen to get my hands on those too. I would give this book a  5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend this to any crime lover, its a great book but also easy to read. I would be definitely be looking at these two authors more in the future.

5stars

Dublin

Given the month that it is (St.Patricks Day) I think it was very fitting to talk about Dublin. Ive lived in Dublin for the last 14 years, well the subburbs of Dublin to be precise. Some people never discovered the tourist attractions in their own local area but I had plenty of family/friends visiting that I got the chance to see the tourist side of Dublin. Obviously if you come for St.Patricks day the atmosphere will be completely different so I will describe a time in June I spent the day being a tourist with my cousin.deer-in-phoenix-park-dublin.jpg

Our day started off with Phoenix park. This park has many points of interest including the presidents house, dublin zoo, papal cross, monuments and the local residents wild deer. Although wild the deer are extremely friendly and you can get some stunning photos up close and personal if you happen to stubble past them. The presidents house is open for free tours every saturday to the public. So far so free. The Dublin zoo is vast so don’t expect a quick pop in, at least half a day must be given to this.

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From the phoenix park we headed for the Guinness Store house, where at the top is an observation deck and obviously a free pint of the black stuff is included in your ticket. Tickets can be booked online, and that’s what I would advice to do as its cheaper and no need to queue. If you are a few minutes late for the time you booked, this is not a problem you can still go in. From here the only logical thing to do is stick to the beer as Ireland is known for the love of drink. Some idea’s are; The Brazen Head (Irelands Oldest Pub) with the smoking area covered in cobble stones, Temple Bar (the pub in the area known as temple bar) this one graces most peoples post cards,  the Church (converted chruch into a bar/restaurant), O’Donoghues, The Stags head, Porterhouse…the list can go on to be honest but you get the idea. the-brazen-head

O’Connell street where you can still see the bullet holes in some of the buildings and statues from the 1916 revolution rising. Walk across the ha’penny bridge. Visit St.Stephens green. Go for a riverdancing show. I mean the list does literally go on and on but hey at least thats a few suggestions for you. I’m sure Ill be coming back to this topic with more new mentions.