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Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Miss Silver Comes to Stay (Miss Silver mysteries, #15 or 16)

Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth

This was my second Miss Silver mystery; the first one I read was the first in the series, and frankly, it left me dubious about reading the rest, but I found this and one other on the bottom shelf at a local used book store and threw caution to the wind. 


My brief googling has this book at either 15 or 16 in the series, and it shows.  It was so much better!  90% less sappy puppy romance, 100% better plotting and characterisations.  And the writing... the writing felt fresh and a little edgy, in that way that third person POV does when it's done correctly.  An occasional and very subtle breaking of the fourth wall added to that feeling that I was reading a very accomplished writer's work.


I've heard that Wentworth was rather fond of using wills in her story lines, and this one doesn't disprove the rumour, but ... no, I'm not going to go further - I'm not sure it doesn't skirt the boundaries of spoiler-ville.


The mystery plotting... masterful.  I was sucked into the story thoroughly; totally hooked and I missed it all, until it was so late in the game that it made no difference.  I like Miss Silver; she's Miss Marple without the pretence of fluffiness and helplessness, so losing to her didn't bother me in the least.  I only wish she'd stop coughing all the time.  Someone ought to give that woman a cough drop.


I hope the other Miss Silver book I grabbed at the same time is as good, and I'll definitely be taking the time to look at the series' books again, though I might completely break rank with my life long habits and skip the first few books.  Now I know how good she can be, I'd rather not suffer through Wentworth's growing pains if I can avoid it.


This book is the perfect fit for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD: Arsenical Toothpaste.  It is a mystery, and it's main character is a woman over the age of 55.  There should be bonus points for the knitting.  ;-)

The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

A short novella on the joys, growth and enlightenment reading can bring, even to the most enlightened, at any time in life.  It's also an accurate portrayal of the consuming obsession reading can become (truth, as we all well know).  


Layered atop this testimony of the power of the word is another accurate portrayal of the divide that exists between those who read and those that don't.  Those who don't read should be forced to read this book, so that they know just how stupid they are relative to those that do.  When empathy for others and a focus on inner reflection over sartorial splendour are confused with senility and deterioration ... well at least senility is honourable; nothing honourable about ignorance.  But boy, do the readers get their revenge at the end - few books I've read ended with a better closing line.


My only complaint about this wonderful, brilliant little book is the author's conclusion that the natural outgrowth of reading must be to write.  This conceit leaves a rather large ding in my enjoyment of the book.  So is his assertion that to merely read is to be merely a spectator.  Both are flagrantly wrong, although how an author could naturally fall into such a self-supporting perspective is obvious.  Most readers will read their entire lives without every having a moment's urge to write, and I'd bet quite a few, like myself, often read and then go out and do.  I mean, I can't be the only person who's propped a book about knot tying in the crook of a tree, simultaneously reading about how to tie a knot, while actually trying to tie said knot, am I?


If you share either of my complaints, don't let it stop you from reading this book given the opportunity.  It's worth the small aggravations and disagreements to experience this charming, thoughtful and beautifully written novella.  


One final note:  Being Queen would suck.  There are not enough books and private libraries in all the holdings of the British monarchy that would make referring always to oneself in the neutral third person worth it.  If one had to constantly refer to oneself as one, one would send oneself's own head to the chopping block.  Ho-ly hell.

One Corpse Too Many (Brother Cadfael, #2)

One Corpse Too Many  - Ellis Peters

I had doubts starting this one, because it starts off slow.  Really slow.  Like, omg, this book is never, ever going to end.  This was largely due to the history dump Peters gives the reader in the beginning; the boring-to-me kind of history about battles and wars and political shenanigans.  


Then the dead body is found in the pile, and Cadfael gets his new assistant and stuff starts happening.  Midway through I was loving this story; "cat and mouse" comes to mind, but it's really much more "cat vs cat" because Cadfael is up against a man as clever as he is and there's no mouse in this plot.  The almost-the-end/climax-but-not was magnificent; the machinations were making me positively giddy, and yet the mystery itself continued.  Once Cadfael figured out who the murderer was, I admit I felt a bit knuckle-headed because the possibility never even entered my mind.  I can only tell myself I was entirely too caught up it the sub-plot of cat-n-cat and wasn't paying attention. 


That's what I'm telling myself anyway.


These are excellent mysteries for anyone who wants something more serious than a cozy, but doesn't want hard-core thrillers or crime stories.  Enjoying history is a plus, but not necessary save for the first few chapters.  There are 20 books in this series and if each of them are this meaty, I'll be reading them for years to come, because they aren't the kind I can binge read.  Yay!


This book works for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD: Stabbed with a sword.  Primarily, it takes place during the middle ages, but it also is set in the midst of a civil war and the text is chock full of the word "sword".

Searching and the (almost dead) ASIN bug

We all know the ASIN bug that stopped us being able to add ASINs to most kindle editions published in 2017 and 2018 was finally stomped by BookLikes last month.  YAY!




Its ghost is haunting us in the form of search:  Kindle books can now be added to the database, but those published in 2017-18 can't be searched; they're invisible.  This sounds like a minor-to-moderate inconvenience, until you search for a book, get the "No Book Found!" message, which leads to the second current BookLikes issue:  the Amazon feeds are currently down, so the auto-import-on-search function is not working.  


Knowing this, you try to add the 'missing' edition, only to get through the whole page, click submit and get the hair-pulling message "Book with that ASIN already exists".  This upgrades the bug to a big pain in the ass.


BookLikes is aware of it and have said both in their last Thursday post, and in the bug reports thread that they're working on it. 


In the meantime, what to do?  Well once you've tried to following:

1.  Search by title, or title/author to see if the book comes up.


2.  Go to the author's page and look for it in the list of their books (keeping in mind that it might be sub-listed under another edition; ie Jane Austen's page might list the paperback of Emma and your kindle edition might be listed under the paperback's "Other editions".)


3.  If you have access to the ebook ISBN, try searching for that: you might luck out and find it because the ebook and kindle records have been combined (in error).


and you've had no luck finding it, then your options depend on your personal level of stubbornness:  


For the determined amongst you, you can use/install the ShelveIt widget (located on your shelf page - it looks like a tiny book icon up in the upper right area of the page; drag that to your bookmarks bar on your browser).   Because of the feed issues, the widget currently only works with Amazon.co.uk, but other than the hassle of remembering to type .co.uk instead of .com, or .de, etc. it works just fine.  At this point you can go to Amazon.co.uk, enter the ASIN, and if it shows up, you can use the ShelveIt widget; the widget will see that the page already exists and load it for you in your browser's window.


For those that just want their damned book, you can post your ASINs below in the comments.  I've had limited luck finding a few invisible books by using one or two librarian cheats.  I CANNOT guarantee that I can find it for you, or how fast I can respond, but if you post the ASINs, I'll try my best to hunt down the pages for you and I'll post the links in reply.  




Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega, #5)

Burn Bright - Patricia Briggs

I love this series; I love it even more than the Mercy Thompson series.  I think it's because I find Charles far more interesting than Adam.  


Burn Bright ticked all the right boxes for me too; its entire setting was in Aspen Creek, which was a nice change from the previous books, where they were always somewhere new, with a new cast of supporting characters each time.  In Burn Bright, we get more information about the Marrok's pack, and a smidgen more insight into Bran (some of it I'm not sure I like knowing - tiny bit of ick).  I also enjoyed the small mysteries to solve along the way that aded up to the big plot point - I felt like it kept the pace fast without feeling ridiculous.  


Each of the books in this series and the Mercy Thompson series all work together, each one contributing to one of many over-arching plots she's got developing in this universe.  It makes it impossible to be able to recommend reading this series out of order, or honestly, without reading the Mercy Thompson series as well.  The latter isn't strictly necessary, but it'll definitely enhance the reading experience.


This book works for the Kill Your Darling games COD card:  Killing Curse.  Witches, magic and curses are all significant parts of the book and the series.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness - Peter Godfrey-Smith Other Minds - Peter Godfrey-Smith

I don't know quite how to rate this one, so I went for 4 stars.  This is likely to be more a collection of disparate thoughts rather than a cohesive review of any kind.


Most people are not going to find Other Minds a 'popular' science book.  It's not dry, but it is dense.  The author merges what is currently known in evolutionary science with philosophy, and has written what is largely a thought experiment on the concept of consciousness and it's origins, and not just for the octopus; this covers all life.  Octopuses get more page time than other creatures, but still only make up about ... 40%, maybe 50%?  Not quite what I was expecting, but I was willing to go with it.


I listened to the audiobook, although I have the hardcover as well.  The narrator, Peter Noble, does an excellent job with the narration; his voice is crisp and clear and he reads it as though he has a thorough grasp of the material. 


But ... I don't know if it was me or if the title of the book was too open to interpretation, but I did not realise how deeply philosophical the material was - this made the audiobook very challenging for me; I'm not a fan of other people's thought experiments in general, so I really struggled with a wandering mind as I listened to this book.  I understood the general concepts he covered, but whole sections of the narration would just wash right over me before I'd realise my consciousness checked out.  


Conclusion: I'd have been better off reading the physical edition, I think.  It's a very well written book, but it's heavy material for someone like me, for whom listening requires a conscience effort.  I'll likely re-read my hardcover sometime soon, so I can determine how much I missed, and give my mind a chance to reinforce some of the points I found most interesting.

A Brush with Shadows (Lady Darby, #6)

A Brush with Shadows - Anna Lee Huber

I'll put it out there: the recent books don't have the edginess that the first few books had, and this one had Gage's tragic past laid somewhat thickly on the ground, but I still thoroughly enjoy them.  I can imagine once you marry off your protagonist it becomes difficult to defy conventions quite so easily; some tropes become unavoidable.  


Still, the characters continue to please, and Huber did fitting justice to the Dartmoor moors; Gage's tragi-angst wasn't the only thing thick on the ground:  thick fog, heavy mist, unrelenting rain, a formidable dark, gloomy manor, and a hint of the supernatural - the moors wouldn't be the moors without them and they were all here in spades.


The mystery was pretty darn good too.  Was a crime committed?  Is the heir playing his usual games?  Why is everybody hiding everything?  In the end, crimes were definitely committed and while the murderer came out of nowhere for me, in spite of the name occurring to me in relation to a tangential plot element, I don't feel like it was a cheat on the part of the author.  I can't say she necessarily played fair in the strictest sense of the word, but I don't feel like she pulled any rabbits out her hat either.


I'm a fan, and I'll eagerly buy her next one.


This book will work for the Kill Your Darlings cards for Victim: Easy Rawlings and Victim: Ariadne Oliver.  Not sure which I'll use it for yet though.

The Flat Book Society: Nominations are open for July group read.

The Flat Book Society's May read is A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup and will begin on May 1st.


The voting list has been cleared (although I added two books to get it started) and is now open for nominations for our July 2018 read.


Please keep in mind that we're aiming for a list containing 10-15 books.  You may vote for books anytime you'd like, and you can vote for multiple books, but be aware that others might add new books after you've voted, so check back often to make sure you don't miss out on voting for any favorites.




I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

I wasn't sure what I was going to get when I started this book; obviously microbes, but was it going to be dry and academic, or worse, evangelical 'omg-microbes-are-the-answer-to-everything!'?


Luckily I got neither.  Instead Yong's book was, from start to finish, utterly fascinating; never too arcane and never to simplistic, he found the sweet spot of science writing, creating an engaging narrative that never talks down to the reader.  Anyone with an average vocabulary and an interest in the symbiotic world can pick up this book without feeling intimidated.  


Microbes (bacteria, viruses, etc.) are everywhere.  Everywhere.  And bad news for the germaphobes:  this is a good and necessary thing.  Life on Earth simply could not exist without these microscopic machines.  Plants and animals depend on bacteria for nutrients they can't get from food on their own, for turning on specific and necessary genes in the DNA, even for protecting them from other bacteria gone rogue.  


Yong starts at the beginning of humans' awareness that there is life we cannot see.  Typically these beginning chapters are the deadliest for me, as I get bored with the 'background' and impatient to get to the 'good stuff', but Yong made sure even the boring background was the 'good stuff'.  I was never bored reading this book.


Left to my own devices, this review would go on forever, because there's just so much worth discussing, so I'm going to short-circuit myself and say this:  I Contain Multitudes is a great book for learning how microbes help make all life possible; it's a 50/50 split, more or less, of information on microbe/human and microbes/other flora and fauna symbioses.  It's easy to read, it's entertaining, and for at least myself, it was laugh out loud funny in one part.  I finished with a much better understanding of the microbial world and my own digestive system (for now, I'm going to resist the temptation of probiotic supplements).


A very worth-while read and one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone with an interest.



Reading progress update: I've read 235 out of 354 pages.

I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

I'm almost done, but I started laughing so hard on page 234, I had to take a break.


I'm never going to look at shampoo the same way again.

Ewok cat helps with the (wet) laundry...

I feel damp.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Yes, I've finally read it.  I'd managed to not read TKAM for decades because there was never a copy at hand and frankly, I was never interested enough to make any effort to acquire one.  Until, as some of you know, I was at a library book sale last year and made an impulsive grab of a copy for $1, which turned out to be one of those 1-in-1000 freak instances of a first edition sliding under the radar.  It's a well loved first edition, but even so, it's worth considerably more than $1.


Now, I have a rule: I don't keep books in my library I don't intend to read.  So, when I told my husband about my unbelievably lucky find his response was SELL IT.  SELL IT NOW!  But I didn't want to sell it, which meant I had to read it.  And here we are. 


I'm not going to waste anybody's time by trying to review To Kill a Mockingbird on the coattails of the millions of others who've read and reviewed it over the years.  I will just say this:  it was good.  Of course it was good.  But after all the hype surrounding this book I was surprised by the following:  it's a much slower-paced book than I expected; years go by in this book.  The brief bursts of humor: Scout's dry delivery made me chuckle a few times.  And finally, this book isn't just about one plot; there are two stories running parallel, and though they intertwine at the end, they are distinct.  There were a few other things - not really surprises, just very salient points and choices Lee makes that I found interesting and filed away for future conversations with friends.


I enjoyed this book enormously and I'm glad I read it.  Do I think it's one of the be-all-end-all books I've ever read?  No, sorry.  But I can't think of any reason on Earth I'd ever actively steer anyone away from reading it.  I can't think of anyone or any circumstance which I'd be saying "eh, maybe this one wouldn't be for you".  I think it's for everyone and since we've yet to learn the lessons it teaches, it's a book that should be read again and again.


This book applies to so. many. cards. for the Kill Your Darlings game, and I have no idea yet what I'll use it for.  

Hardcore Twenty-four (Stephanie Plum, #24)

Hardcore Twenty-Four - Janet Evanovich

Why yes, I'm still reading these.  No, Stephanie hasn't chosen Morelli or Ranger.  Yes, she's still destroying every car she touches, and no, she's still not all that good at her job.


In a world where if feels like I'm constantly pissed off because someone has changed their stock/location/rules, the constancy that is Stephanie Plum is a welcome relief and when Evanovich is on her game, the humor is worth the static world of the Burg (Berg?).  


I'd say Evanovich is on her game for Twenty-four.  Diesel makes an appearance, which leaves me wondering if his spin off series has died a premature death.  Zombies are also a big part of the plot and that plot is ... yech.   Just... yech.  


It occurred to me while reading this book why the love triangle doesn't bother me:  neither the Stephanie/Ranger nor the Stephanie/Morelli dynamic is very deep.  There's love, yes, but nobody is deeply emotionally attached.  Instead there's a lot of affection, respect (ok, maybe not a LOT), and humor.  Everybody involved is satisfied with the status quo, and since I've never been all that insistent that sex be about love, I too am happy with the status quo.


The topper for me though, was the scene involving the groundhog.  To say more would be to spoil it for anyone who might someday read it, except to say, even though I saw it coming a mile away, I still laughed till I cried.  And that's why I'm still reading these books.  


Hardcore Twenty-four met the criteria for the Kill Your Darlings Cause of Death card:  Revolver:  Read a book that involves a character that carries a gun.  Stephanie rarely has a gun, but every other character in the book carries at least one, including her grandmother.

How to change editions

This one is for Linda Hilton - although I hope it will be helpful to everyone.


I've put off doing this particular how-to because there's a small but highly annoying flaw in the process at it stands.  It only affects books that have many editions in similar formats though, and I'll point it out when we get there.


First, to do this you must have the list view of your shelves turned on.


Underneath each title is a small "change edition" link:



Once you click on that, a small search box pops up:



Ideally, for the shortest possible process, search by ISBN or ASIN if you have it.  You can search by title/author, but you're likely to get the same kind of results you'd get if you used the general search, meaning you'll have to find the book you're looking for amongst many results.



Once you've done your search and found the book in the results, click on the book cover to see all the available editions you can switch to:



As noted in the screenshot, the green background indicates the book you currently have shelved.  I deliberately chose a book for this post that had very few editions to make it clear how to do this, so in this example, I simply click on the hardcover I want to switch to.


This is where the flaw comes in:  Imagine doing this for Pride & Prejudice.  LOTS of editions; hundreds, actually.  Notice in the screenshot that the information under each edition does NOT include the ISBN or ASIN number.  Now imagine trying to search through 500+ editions of P&P to find the one you have and being forced to rely on covers, or page numbers - both of which are highly prone to inaccuracy.  I've run into this many times and have had to go through the 'change edition' steps multiple times to find the edition I'm looking for (switching editions / checking the ISBN / not a match / repeat change edition, etc.).


BookLikes knows this is a problem and has it on the list of changes planned; I've been told it's even near the top of the list.  


Moving on... Once you find your edition, click the cover.  You'll get an "Are you sure?" message:



Click ok and wait a few beats ... you'll see your shelf update to reflect the new edition:



That's it.  Super easy unless you're trying to change editions of very popular books.  Hopefully adding ISBN/ASIN information to the editions pop-up will happen sooner rather than later.

The Camelot Caper

The Camelot Caper - Elizabeth Peters

If you've ever read a romantic suspense title by Elizabeth Peters, you'll know what you're getting here.  If you haven't, expect a lot of narrative banter, outstanding atmosphere and setting, outstanding if superficial characterisations, a vintage version of insta-love, and an insanely silly plot that is nevertheless well researched and intricately laid out.  The villains are never a surprise, but their motives - at least for me - almost always are.


The Camelot Caper starts off in the midst of action, as Jess is on a random bus going to an unknown destination in England, escaping from men who are pursuing her for unknown reasons.  No build up, just bang!  Except then we're subjected to the flash back necessary to catch the reader up and I find that device dull, dull, dull.  I dislike the hurry-up-and-wait feel of it, so while the book started off great, it immediately bogged down for me until page 35 or so, when everyone gets on the same page (so to speak), and the silly bits of the plot start to kick in.  The scene on the bus might be one of Peters' best comic efforts I've yet read.


The rest is fast pace and fun and even though Peters' characters step in it at every opportunity, almost constantly putting themselves in peril, the writing at least made the constant beatings thrilling in a way not dissimilar to roller coasters designed for kids (Big Thunder Mountain at Disney World, for example).  That might sound like I'm damning the book with faint praise, but Big Thunder Mountain is just my speed:  fun without being terrifying and leaving me just a tiny bit exhilarated at the end.  The Camelot Caper is definitely a "C" ticket ride, at least.


This book qualifies for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD card "Antique Hunting Rifle":  the setting is never dated, though it was first published in 1969, but Elizabeth Peters first name shares an "E" with "rifle'.

LitHub launches a site for Crime and Mystery Fans

Just read about CrimeReads in Otto Penzler's Mysterious Books newsletter.  I enjoy LitHub's site, so this seems like a promising off shoot.