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jenn

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.

The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel - Simone St. James

I am not a fan of horror, but I'm a big fan of old-fashioned ghost stories, when read in broad daylight.  I've been a big fan of Simone St. James' ghost stories since I first found The Haunting of Maddy Claire, the first of ... five?... historical ghost stories.  She branched off in a new direction with The Broken Girls, going with a dual time-line plot, which I read hesitantly, but enjoyed thoroughly.  The Sun Down Motel is another such book: a dual time-line mystery firmly rooted around a haunted place, this time a hotel that was pretty much doomed before it ever opened its doors.

 

I'm still a fan of St. James - I think this was a riveting read, and I devoured it in 2 sittings (daylight hours, all of them), but it wasn't as good as some of her others for two reasons, both purely subjective.  The first was the heavy handedness of the message: that women have always been, and sadly will always be, to some extent, vulnerable and expendable.  This is as unavoidable a fact as it is an inexcusable one, but more subtle writing would have had more powerful an impact.  Instead, there were times - just a few - that I felt like I was the choir and I was being preached at.  This wasn't a massive issue; it was just enough to pull me out of my head and the story a time or two.

 

The second reason is almost silly:  the ghosts.  They were almost exactly my right level of scary, but, and it took me some time to figure this out, they didn't have quite the effect on me as the ghosts in her previous books, because they never really focused on the main characters.  These hauntings were almost the remnant-kind: they were there acting in an endless loop, whether anyone witnessed or not, although there was a trigger.  The main ghost communicated with the historical time-line mc, but only once without being pushed into it by Viv.  The other ghosts communicated with the present day mc, Carly, but benignly.  They were spooky, absolutely, but at a remove, so that they fell just short of spine-tingling.

 

And I guess, as I write this I was left unsatisfied by Nick's story; it felt like it should be going somewhere and it didn't.  I'm also disappointed that there was never an explanation for the present-day entry in the guest book of one James March who registered the day Carly and Nick had their first real experience with the Sun Down Motel.  That was a BIG little thing to leave hanging with no follow up.

 

But overall, it was a good story; I liked that both Viv and Carly had solid friendships in their timelines; I liked that Nick was her support from pretty much page 1, and I liked the investigatory process of the mystery plot, even if I thought Viv was a reckless idiot.  The story sucked me in, and I remain a solid fan of St. James' books.

 



Urban Aviary: A Modern Guide to City Birds

Urban Aviary: A Modern Guide to City Birds - Stephen Moss

I bought this because it was pretty.  The author takes us on a whirlwind tour across the world, highlighting one bird in each major city that has, despite all the odds, thrived.  Each gets one page, and the facing page is a watercolour of the bird, done by Marc Martin, and each is astonishingly wonderful in its simplicity and detail.

 

As a bonus to the eye-candy, I learned quite a bit about a range of birds; even the ones I'd already heard of had facts that were new to me, so it's a win all around.  



Consider the Platypus

Consider the Platypus: Evolution through Biology's Most Baffling Beasts - Rodica Prato, Maggie Ryan Sandford

I had this book on my list to buy long before it was published, so when I did buy it a few months ago, I was surprised:  I was expecting the book to be about the platypus.  Silly me.

 

It is, instead, a book about the animals that display aspects of evolution in its most baffling forms, or animals through whom are knowledge of evolution and homo sapiens has been advanced.  It's cheekily written, and could almost be used as a supplemental text for introductory classes in high-school, though it's nowhere near comprehensive enough.  Each animal gets between 2-4 pages, with a generous, though not excessive, illustrations.

 

I learned a bit about just about everything, and learned about a few creatures I'd never really heard of before.  Light, enjoyable to read, and something that is easily picked up and digested in small bits.



The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow

The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow - Anna Katharine Green

It's a long-term goal of mine to read all of Anna Katherine Green's mysteries and this one has been sitting on my shelves for awhile now.  

 

AKG was, and is, considered a strong mystery writer, but as is true of most every writer, her work is sometimes better than others.  This was one of the ones that wasn't quite so great, though still an enjoyable read.  I imagine Green was going for what we'd call today a police procedural, as the murderer isn't kept a mystery; the reader is made privy to the information the same time Inspector Gryce first voices his suspicions.  I'm not a procedural fan, as it contains less puzzle than I prefer.  There was also a plot twist that was either poorly hidden, or I'm too jaded, but I called it from the first.  Her reveal of it, though, would have knocked my socks off if I hadn't guessed early on.

 

Overall, I enjoyed it and look forward to acquiring more of her work.  



Tales from Margaritaville

Tales from Margaritaville: Fictional Facts and Factual Fictions - Jimmy Buffett

A recent re-read for me, though I dare not try to add the dates, as I'm afraid BL will blow my original dates out.

 

I love these stories and continue to love them every time I read them.  They remind me of my home, and their eccentric and quirky.  What I didn't remember from previous re-reads was the Australian thread that runs through both the book and many of the stories.  Buffett opens with a quote from Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, in an introduction titled "Walkabout", and at least one - two? - stories include references to aboriginal myth.  A small thing, but a nice parallel for a Florida girl on a decade-plus walkabout down under. 



Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit (Kopp Sisters, #4)

Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit - Amy Stewart

I always enjoy these books; they're soothing reads in many ways, as Stewart doesn't try to over dramatise or create more suspense than history dictates.  (This series is based on the real events and life of Constance Kopp.)  This 4th instalment surrounds the election for Sheriff, a pivotal point for Constance, because the sitting sheriff - the one that was bold enough to hire a woman - has hit his term limit and can run.

 

It's a bittersweet story with an interesting ending.  I look forward to finding out how the Kopp sisters fare.



Airs Above the Ground

Airs Above the Ground - Mary Stewart

Not her best work, but a fun read nonetheless.  More a straight up mystery than romantic suspense, and while the plot villain was obvious, Stewart at least had some fun misleading the reader about the plot itself.

 

Aside:  I bought this years ago at a FOTL sale for a dollar; when I finished reading it, I saw that it was published and printed 3 blocks from where I live now.  On its site now sits a 'home improvement store' - Bunnings, the Aussie answer to Home Depot.  A place a spit and swear about every time I have to visit it.  Now, it seems, I have even more reason to dislike it - I'd rather the book publishers were still there.



Booklikes-opoly 2020; Pandemic edition / audit update #1

Given that I'm already behind on posts, it seems my decision to audit was a good one. After finishing Amethyst Dreams for square 6, I rolled a 7 and landed on the Robot square. I made a note of it on my RL board, and rolled again, getting aand landing on a Chance square:

 

  

I decided on Why Shoot a Butler? because I wasn't in the mood for non-fiction, and it was on my TBR.  Which it shouldn't have been, because I'd already read it, but never mind, I enjoyed reading it again.

 

Rolling again, I got a 5 and landed on the Cat Square, made a note and rolled again, getting a 6, which landed me on space 27.  For this one, I"m going to do a re-read again, but this time on purpose.  I'm choosing the anthology from Jimmy Buffet, Tales from Margaritaville, which feature a short story called Take Another Road, about a man named Tully Mars; it's definitely a tale of a hero's journey - if a somewhat eccentric one.  

 



Why Shoot a Butler?

Why Shoot A Butler? - Georgette Heyer

An accidental re-read, but an enjoyable one.  As I started reading it, I remembered my frustration the first time around with the slow, purposefully vague start, but once into it, I enjoyed the banter and the mystery again - and had no recollection as to whodunnit.



Amethyst Dreams

Amethyst Dreams - Phyllis A. Whitney

Like a lot of other authors who write romantic suspense, Whitney was very hit and miss.  Most of the misses I've read are the ones she wrote in her later years, and this isn't an exception.  The woman could still write well - her island setting came alive - but the plot was soft and sentimental, and the resolution was not a resolution at all.  In fact it was completely unrealistic, unless the poor dead woman meant less than nothing to her family.



For Themis

Since I've been working remotely the last 2.5 months, this is what my workspace has looked like:

 

 

I had to put that stool next to the desk for 'lito; I tried 'putting it away' this past weekend and Monday morning he was pawing and scolding at me until I went and got it again.  He stays there all morning, until MT gets home from his current half days at his office.  

 

Easter-cat's domain is between the screens, where I find her waiting for me every morning:

 

Once MT gets home at noon, Carlito relocates to MT's lap:



Booklikes-opoly 2020; low key edition

2020 has, so far, brought many things: fire, plague, and I hear a swarm of 17-year cicadas are due any moment to the Eastern seaboard of the US.  Good times.  In the midst of this, I'm in a reading slump, so while I love and look forward to the BookLikes games, I've decided I'm probably not prepared to commit - but I don't want to miss out either.  So, I've got my board setup:

 

 

and I found a little copper pot to use as a marker.  I'm going to try to play, with the caveat that I'm not going to report/track $ earned; I'll be auditing, rather than playing.  This way I can play without any pressure to be responsible, or rule-abiding.  Hopefully it'll help me get excited about reading again.

 

My first role of the dice was a 6, which lands me on one of the prescient Stay-cation space.  My choice is Phyllis A. Whitney's Amethyst Dreams.  It takes place in my home country (USA) and has been on my TBR shelves for a couple of years now, since I bought it on a trip home to FL last summer.



Cotillion

Cotillion - Georgette Heyer

I was in the mood for a light read and while I was perusing my TBR piles, boxes, and shelves, I came across this and remembered that Lillelara had recently read it and enjoyed it.

 

I definitely enjoyed The Grand Sophy better, but this one got me through without complaint.  I struggled to really feel invested in the story or any of the characters though; it seemed to missing just that little bit of depth - or else my reading slump had dulled my reading sense, rendering everything a bit duller.  Given Heyer's hit and miss record, either is possible.  Or perhaps a bit of both:  the final scene at Rattray's rectory perked me right up; in that moment, the characters popped to life for me and I cared about what happened next.  

 

I haven't read even close to Heyer's entire backlist, but I'd firmly place this midway on a scale of those I've read so far.



Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables  - L.M. Montgomery

Yes, this is my first time reading it.  I was book shopping back in January with my 9 year old niece and she was pressuring me to read Little Women, which isn't going to happen, and in a panic, I volunteered to read Anne of Green Gables instead.

 

Keeping in mind that I'm 40 years beyond the target audience for this book, omg, it's so twee.  468 pages and about 368 of them so twee and precious I almost gave up and dnf'd it.  Suffice it to say, I identified most strongly with Marilla.  But if I skimmed the gratuitous expository narrative, there was a charming story that kept me going (after a 3 month hiatus).  And as Anne grew up, the story got progressively easier to read.  That part of the story earned it the extra half star.

 

The reasons this book is a classic are clear, though I'm confident I wouldn't have been much more enamoured of this book when I was in its target audience; even as a child I lacked the requisite imagination to feel like Anne was a kindred spirit, and Heidi pretty much killed the orphan sub-genre for me anyway.  But I have one niece for whom this book might be a perfect fit, and I'll be holding in on my shelf for her next visit, assuming that happens before she's old enough to drive, given current border closures.  Or maybe I'll just send it to her in the post.



Love and Death Among the Cheetahs (Royal Spyness, #13)

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs - Rhys Bowen

The author starts this instalment with an apology in advance; the book is set in Africa - Kenya - during the late 20's/early 30's, a time when race relations and the views of the British Empire (as were the rest of the world) were shameful.

 

This had me braced for difficult reading, but I have to say, that was not the disclaimer I needed.  In true cozy style, Bowen acknowledged the dichotomy and inequality between white and black without really verbalising it.  What caught me unawares (and shouldn't have; I can only wonder if the pre-apology diverted me), was the casual references to hunting big game.  Of course it was a thing back then, and of course I should have seen it coming.  

 

The other unexpected part of the story was the behaviour of the upper class in Kenya; a risqué path for a cozy, but done well by the author, and based on actual events and a real person: Lady Idina Sackville.  Bowen closes with a short bibliography of texts she used in an effort to write about the times accurately.

 

All in all, another enjoyable instalment in a long-running series that has remained fairly strong throughout, balancing cheeky naiveté and interesting murder plots.



A Sprig of Sea Lavender

A Sprig of Sea Lavender - J.R.L. Anderson

I bought this a few years ago, when Otto Penzler was selling his collection through his bookshop, Mysterious Books.  It's a review copy of an author I'd never heard of, but the short catalog blurb made it sound interesting: mysterious death on a train, unknown works by Gainsborough, Turner and Constable found with the body, along with a  sprig of - you guessed it - sea lavender. 

 

This is a mid-century mystery, and it suffered from the usual quirks of that age:  instant, yet chaste, romance, and a complete disregard of the fair-play rules of mystery plotting.  As such, the reader, by the end, is presented with a fait accompli in both the romance and the mystery's resolution, without having any idea whatsoever how the main character got there, although he does explain it all at the very end.  

 

By today's standards, it's all a bit thin, naive and 2 dimensional, but I had fun with it nevertheless.  It wasn't trying to be anything other than an entertaining mystery and, while I've read others that are greater successes, it generally achieved its goal.