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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 Mystery of the Lost C├ęzanne (Verlaque and Bonnet, #5)

The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne - M.L. Longworth

Something went wrong somewhere in this book, and I don't know what it was or where it happened.  Ok, yes, I know where part of it went wrong; I knew who the murderer was reaching page 80, but that shouldn't have mattered much to my overall enjoyment.

 

The book is about the discovery of a lost painting of Cézanne's, which right away I love; I even enjoy the flashback POV chapters, a device that I'm at best ambivalent about.  The setting is Aix en Provence and it sounds as wonderful as it always has in Longworth's books, and Verlaque and Bonnet get more and more likeable with each book.  

 

But at some point after about 2/3 of the way through, it fizzled.  I don't like to say it's because there was no perilous climax, but it might be.  Everything was tied up neatly at the end, but it still felt unfinished, or more accurately, un-satisfying. 

 

Still an enjoyable read I always wanted to get back to, but not nearly as well constructed as the previous 4.



Perfect timing book haul

I'm sitting at home on a random Tuesday feeling sorry for myself, instead of being at work, because of stupid back issues.  This happened to me at the exact same time last year and rather than miss the rare plant show, I went anyway and made my back a thousand times worse.  This weekend is the rare plant show, so I'm laying around as immobile as possible today in hopes that come this weekend, my back will be better and I won't have to hobble around the show looking like an old crone.

 

Anyway, the point is, MT stopped by the house during his work errands to drop off a box that had arrived for me from Mysterious Books in NYC.  Yay - books!  The perfect distraction!  And this box came with built-in further distractions in the form of a catalog, so I can pity shop my way through my back pain!  Woo Hoo!  ;-)

 

Here's my haul:

 

 

The top three are books by authors of the Golden Age of Crime fiction, part of my vintage mysteries project and The Detection Club's un-official bingo game-thats-not-a-game.  Guess what my Halloween read is going to be this year?  (Hint: it's not the first two.)

 

The Barbara Michaels and Gilman books were impulse buys:  I know Michaels can be hit or miss, but I can't resist reading whatever she's written anyway, and I liked Gilman's Kaleidoscope so I caved to curiosity.  Dunning's Booked to Die was a cheapie I threw in because I found one of the later books at a book sale and it's a read-in-order thing.

 

That Murder in the Bookshop is the catalog.  150 pages of mysteries involving books or bookstores or libraries, all for sale.  It appears Otto Penzler is selling off his personal collection.  Hoo boy...someone hide my wallet.



The Flat Book Society - 15 days until Forensics by Val McDermid read!

Forensics: An Anatomy of Crime - Val McDermid

Bestselling crime author Val McDermid will draw on interviews with top-level professionals to delve, in her own inimitable style, into the questions and mysteries that surround this fascinating science. How is evidence collected from a brutal crime scene? What happens at an autopsy? What techniques, from blood spatter and DNA analysis to entomology, do such experts use? How far can we trust forensic evidence?

 

Any and all are invited to participate; group discussions will be in The Flat Book Society group, but there are always spontaneous discussions on the status updates too.  

 

More info on the group can be found by clicking on Huggins, our mascot:

 



Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

My real life book club chose this as the October read, and I admit, I've never before read this Christie classic.  My contrary nature, I suppose.  Plus, I knew how it ended, which dimmed the urgency of reading it.  So too did my dislike of Poirot.

 

Well, I've read it now and it's as brilliant as every person has ever said it is.  And there were two bonuses for me:  Poirot wasn't as annoying as I've found him in other books - he was, in fact, quite tolerable.  And Mrs. Hubbard blew me away.  Did. not. see. that. coming.

 

Since I knew how it ended, I tasked myself with trying to pick up all the clues.  Of all of them, I missed only two, I think.  Or at least, only two of the obvious clues.  I suspect if I re-read it I'd find a whole host of character related clues that sailed right over my head.

 

If you haven't read this yet and you think you might someday be interested, please take my advice and do not let anyone tell you how it ends.  Avoid reading any more reviews, and just read the book.  It will be so much better, so much more brilliant, if you don't know what is coming.



The Golden Age of Murder

The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards

What started out strong for the first couple of parts, started struggling towards the middle and by the end it strongly resembled the book that was soon to follow it: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books; with paragraphs and chapters stuffed with titles and authors.

 

Still, it's all relative, because The Golden Age of Murder remains very readable and very interesting from start to finish.  It just wasn't as strong at the end as it was at the beginning and as a result, my 4 star rating of what I thought was going to be a 5 star read.

 

A few minor things did bother me though, in no particular order:

 

- Edwards assumes the reader knows their dates.  This reader is crap with dates, but excellent at reading comprehension, so usually an author gives a date and I can infer the dates of later events.  BUT Edwards bounces back and forth on the timeline, so he'll give a date, but then refer back to earlier events for a few paragraphs, then bounce ahead to future events, never stating any additional dates.  This became painfully irritating when he started discussing King Edward's abdication, as he bounced between events that happened before his coronation, after his abdication, during his reign, etc.  

 

I should not need supplementary reading in order to make Edwards' narrative flow correctly.

 

- Edwards' bias for some authors over others is pretty obvious.  Which is ok - although I question how ok when someone is aiming to write an authoritative historical text.  His contempt for Christianna Brand is glaring and he's outright snarky about the Coles' political beliefs, coming just short of calling them hypocrites.  He seems to start out liking Anthony Berkeley, but by the end it's all pity, and perhaps a polite disgust (to be fair, I'm not sure there's much else to feel about Berkeley by the end, it sounds like his was a life wasted for want of a good psychiatrist).  

 

He treated Christie the most objectively, and towards the end goes so far as to offer up some very rational theories for her 11 day disappearance, but at all times it's clear he has a lot of respect and admiration for her.  But Edwards saves the most blatant bias for Dorothy L. Sayers; I'd go so far as to speculate that he crushes on Sayers.  He's downright romantic about her throughout the book, constantly reminding the reader about her deep, dark secret and the heavy burden of guilt and responsibility she always carried with her, not to mention that drunken lout of a husband she had strung 'round her neck her whole life.  And that leads me to my last gripe:

 

 - Towards the end, Edwards does that thing that drives me insane: he speculates ahead of the facts and presents it as truth.  It's not often (maybe he just rushed the end?), but several times he presents his interpretation of a book's themes, or an author's motivation, as truth without providing evidence.  

 

The most egregious example was in the last chapter when he (again) tells the reader how big a burden Sayers carried with her throughout her life. I'm going to put the rest of it in a spoiler tag; skip the spoiler if you know nothing at all about Sayers and would like to find out for yourself, or if you just don't care that much about the whole thing, because I do go on and on.

 

 

He addresses the question: Why, after Mac finally adopted John Anthony, did she not bring John Anthony home to live with them?  He tells the reader it is her guilt and fear of public shame over her youthful indiscretion that prohibited her from doing so.  

 

Nobody knows why she didn't bring him home, because she never once wrote about John Anthony or discussed John Anthony with anybody.  Ever.  Not even John Anthony.

 

But if I were in Sayers shoes, shame/guilt/embarrassment might have had a place in my reasoning, but they would be dwarfed by the fact that I was married to a great big alcoholic who suffered from great big mood swings and PTSD, and I was never home.  Edwards' romantic notions of self-flagellation via guilt and shame is nonsense.  A much more rational theory is that Sayers didn't want to pull John Anthony out of a happy home environment he was born into so she could stuff him in a house as dysfunctional and unhappy as the one she was living in, just so she could come out of the closet as a mom.

 

I don't doubt for a second that Martin Edwards knows his stuff - far, far better than I know it, but he's trying to make Sayers into a tragic, romantic heroine that frankly from what he's told me about her personality in this book, would sicken her if she heard it.  It's not logical to think that someone who was as pragmatic as Sayers was would suddenly go all romantic about her son.  By the time Mac stepped up, there was no chance of righting history, so why try?  Pragmatically, she did everything she legally could to legitimise John Anthony, and the best decision for John Anthony by that point was to let him keep the happy home he already had.  But that's just my opinion; for all anyone knows she might just have liked not having to be a mom in more than name.  We'll never know and it irritates me that Edwards claims he does.   ::end of rant::

(show spoiler)

 

 

Overall, an excellent book for anyone interested in the Golden Age of crime fiction, even if it does lose a bit of steam towards the end.  I'd unhesitatingly recommend it to mystery lovers who want to know more.  Or to those I think have TBRs that need beefing up!  ;-)

 



My first BINGO! Woo hoo!

The Magical Realism call finally gave me my first Bingo, and in a case of 'best possible scenario' it was the square Linda Hilton needed for her first Bingo too, so neither of us are left behind and we can celebrate our win together.  

 

And thank goodness for that, because enthusiasm was thin on the ground here at Chez Chats Paresseux...

 

*Yawn*  Go away.  But fluff my pillow first.

 

Zzzzzzzzzzzz

 

Wasabi couldn't even bother to make himself known - he was sleeping off a raucous 4am cat rave he hosted this morning.  

 

Boy will they all be sorry tonight when they only get 1 cat treat each instead of their usual 2.  ;-)

 

Still - BINGO!  Hooray for Linda and me!



Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection (Audio)

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry

Sherlock Holmes is my fictional crush; I know he'd be no damn good for me, but I'd still willingly follow him until the wheels fell off.  Proof of this being that I started listening to this audio in April and have since been devoted to it whenever I've been in the car - no cheating on it with Wilkie Collins or Kevin Hearne - and I've never gotten bored or developed a wandering ear.

 

Huge credit goes to Stephen Fry too, because my adoration of Holmes makes me picky and prickly.  If he'd portrayed him as nasally or supercilious I'd have been righteously indignant and all up in his business (metaphorically speaking).  But Fry gives him the perfect voice, which is, oddly enough, close to Fry's own (although I almost never heard 'Stephen Fry').  Condescending, a tad bored, but warm and tinged with a bit of humour at himself as well as others.

 

Where Fry really goes above and beyond though, in my opinion, is his portrayal of Watson.  He nailed Watson and he did it for 4,260 minutes without ever losing track of his voice or allowing it to wander into being someone else's.  It would have been an easier job to give his own voice to Watson instead of to Sherlock, but it works better this way; Watson sounds exactly like the kindly, naive, generous sort of man Conan Doyle created.  

 

If you've already read the Sherlock Holmes stores but would like to revisit them, this is an excellent way to do it.  If you haven't already experienced the brilliance that is Sherlock Holmes, this is a perfect introduction.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.



Reading progress update: I've read 150 out of 256 pages.

Idiomantics: The Weird and Wonderful World of Popular Phrases - Peter Lewis, Philip Gooden

The sections on finance and military idioms was a little boring, to be honest.  But then came the Animals.  Now we're talking!

 

Some of my favourites so far are the ones that sound the most bizarre (at least in translation):

 

A Furphy:  This is an Aussie one, but it's only very recently that I've heard it used (probably because a brewer just released a beer called Furphy).  To tell a Furphy is to lie, or spread a rumour.

 

Ir a donde el rey / la reina va solo:  Spanish for to go where the king/queen goes alone.  And we yanks get grief for our bathroom euphemisms!  ;-)

 

Broodje aap verhaal:  Dutch for a monkey sandwich story.  Much more fun than just saying something is an urban myth

 

Avaler les couleuvres:  French idiom meaning To swallow grass snakes.  To believe everything your told, or to have to suffer a humiliation in silence.

 

Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen:  German for to play the insulted liver sausage.  Explaining this almost ruins the fun of the translation, but it means to get in a huff or go off in a sulk.

 

And finally, one last one:

Avoir une araignée au plafond:  French idiom meaning to have a screw loose, translated as have a spider on the ceiling.  

 

I'm sure there will be more; it's safe to say this book is not all hat and no cattle (one of my favs from my own country).



The Last Alchemist in Paris & Other Curious Tales from Chemistry

The Last Alchemist in Paris: & Other Curious Tales from Chemistry - Lars Ohrstrom

I'm being generous in my rating of this book because I genuinely enjoyed it.  It gets off to a rough start in terms of readability in the first couple of chapters, but it rights itself and becomes a wonderfully interesting wander through some of the elements in the periodic table.  Yes, the science is hard (there are a lot of chemical equations and illustrations of molecules), but the author ties it all to historical anecdotes and uses a very conversational style of writing, so even if some of the science feels impenetrable, it's easy to come away from each chapter getting at least the gist of what he's saying.

 

The extra 1/2 star is a bonus because he's a very well read (or as least a widely reading) chemist:  he frequently refers to not only Christie and Sayers' works, but Stieg Larsson, Clive Cussler, and Ian McEwan and Astrid Lindgren amongst others.

 

I'm grateful to Tannat for making me aware this book exists.



Reading progress update: I've read 280 out of 481 pages.

The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards

Part III felt like the driest part of the book so far; I admit my mind wandered more often through these chapters as Edwards felt like he was going through the motions with some of it.  This could just be me though, struggling to connect with names I've never heard of until recently.

 

He's also very heavy handed with Sayers' "secret shame"; he mentions it so often, so explicitly, that I'm left wondering if Edwards is a man who would keep your secret, but remind you of his discretion and generosity at every available opportunity.



Reading progress update: I've read 75 out of 256 pages.

Idiomantics: The Weird and Wonderful World of Popular Phrases - Peter Lewis, Philip Gooden

I knew I was going to enjoy this as I'm a sucker for books about what makes language expressive, but I thought it would be a quicker read than it is.  Turns out, this is a collection of idioms from around the world, each with as much historical context as the author could find.  So it's taking me much longer because I'm savouring all the new things I'm learning.

 

So far, the book has covered idioms from the UK, US, DE, FR, ES, DK, NL and AU.  Except for the financial idiom section, which is heavily skewed towards the US, most of the entries so far have been 50/50 English/Non-English.

 

My favourites will be appearing in future status updates!



The Blitzed Brits

The Blitzed Brits - Terry Deary, Tracey West

I knew what these were when I bought them (I bought three) – written for a much younger audience – but given the woefully little I know about world history, I figured anything was better than nothing and as I tend to think straight history texts rather dull, ultimately, I probably wasn't that far outside its target audience after all, in terms of attention span.

 

I started with this one as it was the thinnest, and thankfully, I knew most of it already - I'm not that ignorant after all! - but there were a lot of details I didn't know.  The obliteration of everything that indicated a location, for example.  Business signs that indicated the town/village/city name had that name painted over; public transit station names were removed.  I also didn't know there was such a time gap between the first blitz and the second.  And I will always know that in a stream of terrible years, 1942 was by far the worst for the homefront in terms of legislated deprivation.

 

Some of the stories were funny, of course.  The one about the girl who, listening to her mum about strange men approaching her during the blackout, accidentally put her own father head first into a pig scrap bin had both MT and I giggling.



Scribbles in the Margins: 50 Eternal Delights of Books

Scribbles in the Margins: 50 Eternal Delights of Books - Daniel Gray

As the author states at the beginning the book's purpose is to give the reader reasons to be joyful, or at least smile.  As such, this is a book of 50 short essays about the different joys of books: owning them, reading them, giving them, shelving them.  Defacing Writing in them.

 

The writing is a bit flowery - think G.K. Chesterton lite - but still (or because of, depending on your feelings about Chesterton's style) a joy to read.  My personal favourite was "Sneaking new books past loved ones" as I found that one a tiny bit more relevant than the others.  ;-)



The Penguin Book of Etiquette and Charm School

The Penguin Book Of Etiquette: The Complete Australian Guide To Modern Manners - Marion Von Adlerstein Charm School: The Modern Girl's Complete Handbook Of Etiquette - Kathy Buchanan

I don't ordinarily review two books at once, especially two by different authors, but these are both reference books in a sense, and both deal with the rules of etiquette in Australia.

 

In my opinion, given my own demographic, I found The Penguin Book Of Etiquette by Marion Von Adlerstein  the superior book.  It covers everything and is the more obvious successor to Emily Post for the Aussies.  I've found this super helpful for those odd occasions when culture shock leaves me scratching my head.

 

Charm School: The Modern Girl's Complete Handbook Of Etiquette by Kathy Buchanan though, would be the better book for older teens, or those leaving home for the first time for university, first job, home, etc.  This is the book for the twentysomethings and it's frank, honest, and slightly amusing in style; much chattier and looser than Von Adlerstein's voice.  Note: This book is specifically aimed at women.



The Raupo Book of Maori Proverbs

The Raupo Book of Maori Proverbs - A.W. Reed, Timoti Karetu, A.E. Brougham

Not a book to read, more of a reference, but I've been on the lookout for collections of Aboriginal / Maori myths and came across this when I was in New Zealand in June.  It's exactly what it says on the packet: a book of the different proverbs used by Maori over time, in both the original language and an English translation.  They're sorted by broad subject ranges and most of them include a small explanation (or a longer one if the proverb doesn't translate clearly, or uses idioms specific to the Maori).

 

Excellent for what it is.



Spring Cleaning Bibliophile style...

I've been on two weeks holiday and today's the last day; back to the (semi) grind tomorrow.  This makes me very sad.  Offsetting this sadness is the fact that I have the whole day to myself:  MT's playing 18 holes of golf and spending the afternoon at the pub with friends.  Woo Hoo!**  

 

Since it is spring, and I've been lolling about for the last two weeks***, I thought I should do something resembling cleaning housekeeping.  So I started first thing this morning by running my dishwasher on the maintenance setting with dishwasher cleaning powder, then set up Rosie the robotic swiffer to start plugging away at first dusting, then damp mopping the wood floors.  

 

Now it's time to get down to the serious cleaning:  I've gone through my TBR and have a stack of short books; ones I think will only take an hour or so to get through, and they are my goal for today.  It's a deliciously gorgeous day outside, perfect for sitting in the garden reading (and cleaning).  

 

There will be, relative to my regular output, a mini-flood of review-like posts.

 

Disdain.  I have it.

 

 

** This cheering is in no way a reflection on his wonderfulness, but is rather an expression of joy by my inner hermit.

 

*** This is not strictly true; I spent 4 hours earlier this week doing a cull/clean/re-organise of my shelves.  I now have four boxes of books to get rid of and a teeny, tiny fraction of empty shelf space that will in no way adequately serve the books on my TBR.