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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.

Murder in the Bookshop

Murder in the Bookshop - Carolyn Wells

A re-issued 'classic' that I really, truly wanted to love, but am rating 3 stars only because I feel like I have to give it the benefit of the doubt.  The writing might have been farcical; it might have meant to be satiric.


If it was either of those things, I didn't get it.  Instead the writing came across as profoundly amateurish and at times, dare I say it, twee.


I've been sitting on writing this review for weeks, and of course I've forgotten a lot of relevant bits, but amongst the things I can remember:


The scene of the crime is an antiquarian bookshop, which the deceased and his librarian have just broken into.  When the owner of the shop appears to find the man dead, the librarian standing over the body, he assures the police that 1.) no way the librarian did it, and they should just skip investigating him, and 2.) yes, they broke into his shop, but he was sure they had a very good reason.


If this had been written by a man, we'd have called him a misogynist.  There's a lot of something akin to mansplaining going on here, where the deceased's wife should be a suspect but really isn't - or, at least, the PI investigating the case can't bring himself to suspect her, because she's so wonderful, and fragile, and beautiful.  Nothing in the text would give testament to the former two, and the latter - who knows?  


The 'mastermind' was a joke.  Think villain from Scooby Doo kind of joke.  And don't even start me on the finale.  If not for those meddling kids...


Everything, in fact, was so blown out of proportion that I have to believe I've missed something; some tone, rhythm, inside information contained in the writing.  Otherwise there's no way this is something that qualifies to be re-issued.


Other evidence that I'm missing something here:  there's a short story at the end about a mystery concerning a first edition Shakespeare that is good.  Clever, if simple, and much more competently written; the only female character is the mind behind the solution too.


So in short, I don't know what the hell I read; tread at your own risk.

I got my socks!

HUGE thanks to Obsidian Blue for the awesome, Halloween gloriousness that are my new socks:



I can't wait to wear them!


(Funny story:  my mother-in-law came in just before I took the picture, saw them and thought they were infant onesies; asked if I had any surprising news for her... HA!)

Not quite bats in the belfry ...

... so much as rainbows shooting out of my fireplace.  But it started out kind of spooky, was totally disgusting, and involved mysterious bones.


So kind of a perfect pre-party story for our upcoming Halloween Bingo.  The tale:


I came home from work yesterday and MT told me "I stopped by the house this morning, and I heard noises in the bedroom fireplace, but it's been quiet since."  


Err... ok.  


Later, just as we were getting ready to go to bed, I look over and the cats are riveted on the fireplace. RIVETED.


If you've never seen a cat laser in on what should be an inanimate object, staring at it with an intensity that should burn a hole through it, believe me when I tell you, it's creepy as hell.


Then I hear the scratching ...


... and then a squeaking ...  and a flapping sound.


Now, I'm not squeamish about anything except roaches, and there was no way I was going to let anything die in my walls again; omg the smell.  So I looked over at MT and said 'get the tools'.


Our fireplace is a 120 year old, cast iron and marble, coal burning fireplace, and it hasn't been used in at least 50 years, probably longer.  It's been shut up all that time, and frankly I had never really looked too closely at it because we knew it was filled with detritus, mostly disintegrated brick and mortar.  And we had to get into it and get whatever was in there out. (See :'omg, the smell', above).


Whatever was in there wasn't happy, either.  It would rustle and scratch around, and started screaming at me, and every time it moved a cascade of dirt and ... stuff would rain down on the floor.


After about an hour of poking and prodding and generally quaking at the though of shit, we'll have to pull the marble off the wall to get the fireplace out, I found the old flue lid.  We didn't know it was the old flue lid at first because there was so much dirt on top of it, it wouldn't move, and was doing a fantastic impression of being welded into place.  But I - and whatever was in there - was desperate (I think MT just wanted it to be over so he could go to bed), and without anymore thought to the rain of filth that was going to descend, I heaved, dug around with a long file to loosen lets-not-think-about-what, and generally forced the lid to open.


Once I got it open about 3 inches or so, I needed to stop, dig myself out of the filth, and at least clean my hands (they were dirty beyond reason).  I jammed a rock into the crevice (one that was, helpfully, amongst the pile of debris) and went off to 'wash up'.  When I came back, there was a head sticking out of the crevice.


The head of a Rainbow Lorikeet.


Who promptly started flying all over the bedroom, screaming what I'm assuming was along the lines of: "I'M FINALLY FREE!" (this would have been almost 12 hours after MT first heard him in the chimney).


he loved my picture railing


It took an hour to get him out of the fireplace, and another 2 hours to get him back outside; it was dark and he didn't really want to go.  But he did, and it was a happy ending for us all.


Or was it?


I woke up this morning to find my cats ... you guessed it - staring at the fireplace.  RIVETED.   


And I heard a tiny squeak.  


I called into work and told them I'd be out, but hoped I'd just heard the birds on the roof, and the dirt on the hearth was just all the crap I hadn't gotten out the night before, settling back in.  But as I continued to clean, I heard it again.  Cheep. And again; cheep.


Bowing to the inevitable, I got the tools, the vacuum and the garbage bags back out and went to battle with the flue again.


Oh god, the dirt, the cobwebs, the bones.


This time, though, I was able to get the flue open enough to be able to see into it with the flashlight, and ... 





We think they were probably in there all night (I woke up this morning before sunrise) but we were in such a hurry to stop the cascade of filth we just shut the flue as soon as the first Lorikeet came out.  Because, really, who expects there to be 3 OF THEM??


The bad news (not really) is that they didn't come barrelling out like their buddy had (we named him Roddy), so I had to leave them alone until I heard the first one start screeching.  He was easy - he wanted out the window, so I opened it, and out he flew.  The last one was a hold out though.  It took another 45 minutes or so before he/she would come out, and then was totally content hanging out on the books:



Eventually, he heard his friends calling out the window and he made his way out.  No one seemed the worse for wear after their misadventure, and my fireplace is 100% cleaner than it was and is probably 90% bone free.  And MT and I will not have to move out because something died in our walls.  


AND, I can say Rainbows flew out of my fireplace.


Happy Halloween Bingo!

Slaying It (Chicagoland Vampires epilogue novella)

Slaying It - Chloe Neill

A fun little post-series catch up for Chicagoland Series fans.  Merit's ready to pop out the first vampire baby in recorded history when a rogue vampire attempts to kidnap her and hold her for ransom.  This is merely the prop, however, for the resolution of Jonas' HEA.  I never disliked Jonas, but never felt as though his story was a dangling thread, so mostly I enjoyed this story for the snarky dialogue that Neil is so very good at.


And yes, I realise this will probably have been perfect for a Halloween square of some sort; I just really wanted to check something out with my new library card before they changed their mind and took it back.

Bingo Pre-party 2019: Prompt 3

The Haunted Grange Of Goresthorpe -  Arthur Conan Doyle The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore The Haunting of Maddy Clare - Simone St. James An Inquiry Into Love and Death - Simone St. James Silence for the Dead - Simone St. James The Broken Girls - Simone St. James


8/3/2019: Favorite Ghostly Tales


I love ghost stories, but they have to be just ghost stories - no veering into psychological horror, or slasher type stories.  My imagination is too impressionable and I value my sleep and the ability to stay home alone without sedation.  For this reason, my ghost story collection is small.


The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde has made several lists already.  I used to faithfully watch the US adaptation (b/c it was the only one aired in my area), and when I finally read the book I was bowled over by the hilarity; the tv adaptation focused on the ghost's redemption, and in doing so, short-changed the viewers.  As almost always, the book is better.


The Haunted Grange Of Goresthorpe by Arthur Conan Doyle is one of the first stories he ever wrote, and Holmes 'aficionados' consider it an amateur effort.  Horsefeathers.  It's delightfully spooky and creepy, especially given its short length.


The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James, and all the other books I've listed by her, are the only ghost stories I've read by a current author.  I love her writing; she writes a tale that is spooky and a little hair-raising in the best old-fashioned sense.  For me, her books are just scary enough to make me wonder if I'll sleep that night, but not so scary that I actually can't.  There's an element of romance to most of them, but I don't care, because the ghosts get center stage.


Now I must check St. James' website... surely it must be time for a new book?

Bingo Pre-party 2019: Prompt 2


8/2/2019: Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies or Other?


In order of preference:  Other (Witches), Vampires, Werewolves and I've never read a zombie book, and unless White Trash Zombie falls out of the sky, into my lap, I doubt I ever will.


Witches and Vampires are the closest in preference; thinking about it a bit, I suspect it's because both are generally depicted as intelligent and sometimes downright cerebral.  I don't like stupid, off the page or on.   Werewolves, for this reason, come in a more distant third - not that most of the ones I read are stupid by any measure, just that their supernatural 'power' is more primal/instinctive. Further, at least in the books I read, lycanthropy is generally thrust upon a victim unwillingly and result in a lot of rage and violence.  This is also certainly true of vampirism in at least half the stories, but there's a greater preponderance of characters that choose vampirism as an acceptable cost of immortality, and self-control is always a requirement.  If I'm going to read about paranormal characters, I prefer them to be refined and civilised.


My issues with zombies has already been perfectly summed up by Chris's Fish Place, in her most for the same prompt: Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, or something else.  Seriously, she nailed it.  Thanks Chris! :)



It was either this or I was moving back to the USA...

As many of you know, I am perennially pissed-off with the lack of audio rights in Australia, constantly frustrated every time I try to find an audiobook either at my library or online, only to be told "sorry, this book is not available in your country".  


The last straw was Kevin Hearn and Delilah Dawson's Kill the Farm Boy, which has come highly recommended by several people specifically in audio.  And it cannot be had here in the land that audio publishing forgot.


So a couple of days ago, I did some serious googling on US public libraries that allow non-residents to purchase a library card.  Almost none of them allow out-of-country memberships, but I found two that do:  Orange County Library System in Florida, and Philadelphia Free Library.  


I went with OCLS, because frankly, they responded to my application first.  The fee is $125 a year, which is steep, but works out to about $10 bucks a month, which is cheaper than Audible, and I go through at least 12 audiobooks a year.


Everything went through this morning, and I spent 2 giddy hours going through my Libby app and placing holds with wild abandon.  First up:  Kill the Farm Boy, of course. 


Color me a very happy camper.  May all that is good and bright heap blessings upon the Orange County Library System.

Bewitched and Betrothed (Witchcraft Mystery, #10)

Bewitched and Betrothed - Juliet Blackwell

Lily's wedding to Sailor is fast approaching, but a kidnapping outside her shop on Haight Street and a murder on Alcatraz prove distracting and threaten to jeopardise a lot more than her upcoming nuptials.  


I read this right on the heels - literally, as I was on the plane when I started it - of our day-long layover in San Francisco.  This was a definite plus, as so many of the places she mentions in the book were places I had just visited.  


I've always enjoyed this series, and I'm a little bummed that this one reads like it might be the last; the series arc comes to an end, and all sorts of loose ends are tied off.  On the other hand, it was a good story, even if the villain was recycled from a previous story, and the face of villain was fairly obvious early on.  I love the characters, and at this point I'm probably devoted to them more than I am to solving the mystery.


Hopefully there are more books to look forward to in this series, but if not, at least it feels like it ended in a good place.

An Artless Demise (Lady Darby, #7)

An Artless Demise - Anna Lee Huber

I thoroughly enjoy this series, and I enjoyed this one too, but I think it might be the one I liked least.


Anyone who has read the earlier books in the series will readily agree that Lady Darby has had an unarguably difficult and painful past.  Her first husband, a famous anatomist, forced her to attend his human dissections to draw the illustrations required for his planned masterwork on the human anatomy.  When her part was revealed upon his death, she was vilified and run out of London. Now she's back, in love, married, and pregnant, and her timing is awful; burkers have been caught attempting to sell the body of a dead boy to anatomists, and it's obvious he did not meet his end naturally.  Then the nobs start getting killed in the streets of Mayfair and everyone is looking at Lady Darby again.


It's a great story, but unfortunately, Kiera's wallowing just a bit.  Not as much as your average historical heroine cliche, but more than what I'd expect from this strong and talented character.  Call it a justifiable response to the equivalent of PTSD, but she became a victim, and it was a bit disappointing, given all the adventures she's had.  Usually, this wouldn't be as big of a stand out as it is this time, but the murderer was obvious to me from the start, so I had nothing to distract me from Kiera's sudden-onset mousiness.  She gets her mojo back in the end, so that's something.


In spite of my nit-picking, it was still an enjoyable read overall, and I look forward to the next one.

The Beyond (Devil's Isle, #4)

The Beyond - Chloe Neill

For my tastes, this series isn't quite as strong as her Chicagoland Vampire series, in terms of either storyline or writing.  Not that it's badly written, just that it doesn't quite nail the rich, humorous dialog Neil achieved with Merit and the gang.


This one reads as though it might be the final book in the series, and it wraps up all the loose ends nicely, with Claire and Liam venturing beyond the veil into the fae beyond to retrieve an artefact that may help them finally defeat the fae that have waged war on the city of New Orleans.  There's a small, bittersweet moment at the end, but generally, everyone gets their happily ever afters or, at least, happily-for-nows if Neil has plans for a 5th book.


Not quite Ilona Andrews or Patricia Briggs level of UF, but I enjoy Neil's writing; she offers a slightly less gritty, and very enjoyable, brand of urban fantasy.

Bingo Pre-party 2019: I'll go first!

Moonlight Reader has added something new to Halloween Bingo, amping up the anticipation for the 2019 game kick-off.  This had, for me, unexpected results, as seen below.  But first, as it's August 1st here, the first question:



Mystery or Horror?  Ths one isn't going to be a very interesting - or surprising - answer coming from me.  Mystery.  Oh my god, mystery.  I can't do horror in any form except mildly scary ghost stories.  And psychological horror?  Forget it.  No disrespect to lovers of either genre, but I'd rather read a bodice ripper; I'd be just as disinterested, but at least I'd sleep without waking in screaming terror.


A combination of my recent vacation and a general year-long decline of my reading mojo had me fizzling out rather dramatically in Booklikes-opoly, but I'm looking forward.  Specifically to Halloween Bingo, of course.   It started with putting my TBR Brother Cadfael books in order, but I started thinking they'd be good for Halloween Bingo.  I started eyeing the bookcase they were in, thinking of past bingo prompts, started doing a bit of shuffling, and in no time at all, I had created a Halloween Bingo 2019 TBR bookshelf:


with an unexpected photo bomb by Carlito.


Everything in the book case and the small pile on the right is a potential fit for potential Halloween Bingo prompts (the piles on the left are the foothills of the general TBR range). There's a whole other shelf of possible MMP books, but the majority of anything mystery, UF, paranormal, etc. is here.  Hopefully, this will make it easier to find titles amidst the sprawling, foundation-crippling mountain range I'm optimistically claiming I'm going to read someday.


Only 30 more days 'till Halloween Bingo!

Aunti Poldi and the Sicilian Lions (Aunti Poldi, #1)

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions - Mario Giordano, John Brownjohn

I bought this book one day, because I was busting for the bathroom and the Library was the closest public one; I felt a little bad about just going in to use the facilities, so I popped into the FOTL shop (again) and picked this one up.


Meh.  It wasn't bad or great; it had it's moments, but while I liked the narrator (Aunti Poldi's nephew), and Poldi's sisters-in-law, I didn't really care for Aunt Poldi, probably because she was a drunk.  The author attempts to make her desire to drink herself to death sound romantic, and–weirdly–funny, but it just comes across as: she's a bleeding drunk.


The mystery was good though; I didn't see the solution coming at all and it held my attention when the MC failed to.


I read this for space #19 as the cover is easily 50% blue.

Paris by the Book

Paris by the Book - Liam Callanan

This one tries to suggest it's a mystery, but really it's not.  I categorise it as general fiction, as a woman and her two daughters follow a trail to Paris in hopes of finding her missing husband, who went for a run one morning and never came back.


I'm probably rating it a little higher than I would have right after I finished it.  Overall I have a feeling that the book is good, but thinking back to specifics, I remember I found the MC to be too remote, or too ... flighty?  to really know enough to decide if I liked her or not.  She just sort of floated along, while her two daughters came across as way too well adjusted and independent to be as affected by their father's disappearance as events in the book would have you believe.


I can't say much more without giving the plot away, but suffice it to say it's a decent read, and the premise sounds like heaven - move to Paris to run a small bookshop.  Sure - sign me up.  At least for a year or two.



The Frangipani Tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #1)

The Frangipani Tree Mystery - Ovidia Yu

The first in a series set in Singapore in 1936, featuring SuLin, an English educated amateur sleuth, who becomes a governess to the family of Singapore's acting governor, in an effort to discover who killed the first one.


Definitely a series that's striving to keep off the beaten path of mainstream mysteries, and I think it not only succeeds at that, but also as a solid, well-written first book.  It's not perfect; it drags a bit in the first half, and the culprit was obvious in that it's-always-the-one-you-least-expect kind of way.  But the characters are engaging, and once the story got going, I found I looked forward to picking the book back up again after a break.  There's a hint of maybe a romantic entanglement between SuLin and the Inspector, but she's only 16 in this book, so it's only the vaguest of allusions.


I'll definitely be looking for the other books in the series.  I'm looking forward to immersing myself again in 1930's Singapore.



The Unboxing: 2019 Edition

FedEx got their act together a day later than scheduled and delivered my box of goodies from the States.


*Cue the stripper music*






That's the entire haul, including MT's books there on the left.  My books, close enough to see most of the titles:


Some of those appeared in an earlier book haul post, before I got stuck into holiday mode and fell off the internet.  Some are upgrades from paperbacks.  Some are new to me authors.  Some of them I've already read during my holiday and the reviews are forthcoming.


On my last day, for those that saw my earlier post and thought: Oh hell no, I'm not looking at all those pics, we spent the day in San Francisco enjoying a 12 hour layover.  We stumbled upon City Lights Books and of course I bought a couple of books:



The one on top was waiting for me when I got home - I'd ordered it from the author and forgotten all about it.  Surprise!  :)


I just now noticed I bought two books from a famously progressive bookstore that have "War" in the title.  Freudian much?  :D

Non-fiction 'essential' history list

I'm not sure how essential these are; keep in mind I'm not a fan of typical history.  I'm more interested in the history of how people lived, rather than how they died, though the latter is arguably more important to humanity's future; if only we could learn from it.  I'm also far more interested in natural history, so the following is an eclectic mix.  Chris's Fish Place and Themis-Athena will undoubtably know they can cull whatever they deem to be less than a good fit.


Hiroshima - John Hersey:  I was just reminded of this book, read during my university days.  It left an indelible mark on my memory for a number of reasons, and it's one of those books that everyone, but everyone, should be made to read.  


A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union - Rick Smolan,David Elliot Cohen:  This might be cheating, as it's purely a book of photography, without any narrative to speak of.  But the book captures the failed experiment that was the USSR, undeniably a huge shaper of history. 


The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time - Keith Houston: A history of our collective obsession; from papyrus to perfect binding and everything in between.


A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions - Mark Forsyth:  Frivolous, perhaps, but fun.  A slim volume packed full of the history of Christmas.


The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland - Jim DeFede:  This is not really the best written book; it's author's background in journalism is achingly obvious in this long form, but the substance completely overshadows the style.  In the wake of people at their worst, this is the story of people at their very, very best.  


Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies - Harold Holzer:  This is a great read for the history-reluctant.  It's not oversized, it's easy reading, and it humanises our greatest president.  


One Summer: America, 1927 - Bill Bryson:  Micro-history that illustrates how much the world can change in one small season, written in an engaging style that's also perfect for the history reluctant. 


The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris - Tilar J. Mazzeo:  I found this interesting, not for the famous people who lived at the Ritz during the war, but the story really came alive for me after the occupation of the hotel.  How people not only coped but overcame is, to me, far more fascinating that battle plans.  


The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York - Deborah Blum:  Aside from being relieved not to have lived in NYC during the Jazz Age, I thought this was also an interesting read about the establishment of forensic medicine in the US.


Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum - Richard Fortey: Not sure if this strictly fits or not, but it's a great read about the British Natural History museum.


The Illuminated Declaration of Independence - Thomas Jefferson:  No explanation needed, I hope.


Butter: A Rich History - Elaine Khosrova:  Don't laugh; it's a far more fascinating read than you'd think.


The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World - James Barron:  So is this one, and I'm not really a fan of stamps.  


Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat - Bee Wilson:  I had one gripe about the author's ignorance about the US's adoption, and lack thereof, of the metric system, but otherwise, it's a fascinating look at why we eat the way we do, and how it's changed us even at a physiological level.


Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation - Judith Mackrell:  Women getting it done with style.


Stephen Fry's Incomplete & Utter History of Classical Music - Tim Lihoreau,and Stephen Fry:  An excellent overview.


Tea, Coffee & Chocolate: How We Fell in Love with Caffeine - Melanie King: for the caffeine addicts; how we got them and who we can thank for it.


At Home: A Short History of Private Life - Bill Bryson:  A good introduction to one of the things we take for granted: our shelter.  Also, if you were ambivalent about keeping the toilet seat lid down before you read this, you won't be afterwards.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot:  A must read; Is there any single person in history who has saved more people and lingered more deeply in obscurity?


Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow:  entertaining AND informative.  Might make it hard to like Wagner's music, if you ever did.