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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.

6 month TBR check in, or monster book buying spree, or MbD is sticking it to the man...

At the beginning of the year, in an effort to tackle my out of control TBR, I came up with a plan whereby, in any given month, I could only buy 1/2 the number of books I read the previous month.  With the exception of a library book-sale incident involving Agatha Christie, this plan has worked remarkably well.  My TBR numbers have gone continuously down without anybody cancelling my debit card.

Until today, when I went completely off the rails. BUT I did it with a plan.  A plan that will keep me on track with my TBR program.  I think.


As succinctly as possible: Australia is taxing all online purchases, no minimums, starting July 1st.  I'm not interested in debating the merits of this tax on an academic level (there aren't any); at a practical level though, it's going to be a cluster*ck.  The government expects international companies to collect the tax for them, register with the AU tax office voluntarily, and submit the tax.  Companies earning less than 75k AU don't have to do any of this.


The result is nobody knows which companies - small or large - are willing to continue doing business with the Australian market.  Add to this my conservative bent, coupled with my disgust over the ineptness of the implementation, and I just said 'screw it' and bought/pre-ordered every book on my list with a publication date between now and the end of 2018.  


30 books.  So far. There are still 12 days left in the month.  


I plan on making this work with my TBR project by subtracting my pre-ordered books for a given month from my book budget for that month.  So if I've pre-ordered 5 books released in August, my August book budget is immediately adjusted to be 5 less.  I could just not buy any books until I've read 60 off my TBR, but I need wiggle room. You know, for those books y'all review that I just have to have.


Still need the bookshelf fairy though...

Source: http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjmqd-mgd3bAhUIxLwKHTk3AMoQjxx6BAgBEAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fforums.elderscrollsonline.com%2Fen%2Fdiscussion%2F377257%2Fso-many-burnt

Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Elizabeth and Her German Garden (The Penguin English Library) - Elizabeth von Arnim

I loved this - I think I first heard about it from a mention by Themis-Athena, but had to await its publication here before reading it.  It's a slim tome, but packed; at 104 pages, what I originally thought would be a fast read instead took me a couple of days, despite my being absorbed in it.


Mostly, it's a celebration of gardens, the outdoors, and nature, as written by one new to all of it.  But buried in the narrative, structured loosely like a diary, are moments of scathing wit, social commentary, and on the part of her husband, not a little misogyny.  Elizabeth and her German Garden was originally published in 1898 and though its language is of the time, Elizabeth is refreshingly modern.  Her thoughts, attitude, and personality are in almost all ways indistinguishable from the average 21st century woman's voice.  I loved her and her scathing, dry wit.


My only complaint about the book is it was slightly too short.  After lamenting two years of summer droughts that kept her in suspense of her garden's potential, the book ends at the very start of April and spring; I desperately want to know if she finally got to see her garden in all its glory!  Did the yellow border work out?  Enquiring minds are left hanging!

The Science of Everyday Life

The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

Upfront, this book suffers from my bias a bit:  I're previously read Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski.  Both books have the same goals, and both are effective and interesting, but Czerski's writes a more cohesive narrative and her writing is somehow more seductive: she makes physics seem magical.  Fortunately, there's very little overlap in what both books cover, so this was by no means a wasted effort.


BUT, if I'd read this first, I'd have rated it higher; it's a very good book and Jopson actually includes a lot more 'things' and the science behind them.  The chapters are divided by category:  Food and Drink, Home and Kitchen, Science Around the House, Science in the World and Science in the Wild.  I had favorites from each section, as I've mentioned in previous reading updates, but right now the one that sticks the most is why leaves turn colours in the autumn.  Turns out this is a very deliberate process and he explains it so clearly - I have a whole new outlook on all those yellow and orange leaves I raked up this morning.


I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book - especially for readers who are interested in science but might find a running narrative challenging to their attention span - Jopson's explanations are all separated within each chapter, making it very easy to pick up and put down, or refer to for specific reasons (solid index at the back too) as a reference.


As some of you may remember, I got a beehive for a Christmas present this year - it's a beekeeping service really: they park a beehive in our garden, come every couple of weeks to check on it and maintain it and once a year, in early summer, we get the first 9kgs of honey produced.  Unless the bees have had a particularly productive year, in which case we get a bonus delivery.


We got a bonus delivery today!  AND one of our new chickens, Auburn, laid her first egg - it's a party here at the menagerie!  :D



4 Kilos of honey, plus a big, thick slab of honeycomb.  Now, I'm biased, of course, but I will admit to massive amounts of trepidation regarding what honey from our garden would taste like - especially given the number of eucalyptus tress in our area, which produce a honey I'm not at all fond of (think dark, smokey, sharp flavours).  But I'm happy to report our honey is delicious - light, floral, sweet.  And can I just say thank god?  Because I have no idea what I'd do with 4kgs of honey that didn't taste good!

The Flat Book Society - 15 days until our July read begins!

The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

Just a reminder that our July read of The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions by Thomas McNamee begins in just two weeks. All are welcome, as always. 


Our feline companions are much-loved but often mysterious. In The Inner Life of Cats, Thomas McNamee blends scientific reportage with engaging, illustrative anecdotes about his own beloved cat, Augusta, to explore and illuminate the secrets and enigmas of her kind. As it begins, The Inner Life of Cats follows the development of the young Augusta while simultaneously explaining the basics of a kitten's physiological and psychological development. As the narrative progresses, McNamee also charts cats' evolution, explores a feral cat colony in Rome, tells the story of Augusta's life and adventures, and consults with behavioral experts, animal activists, and researchers, who will help readers more fully understand cats. McNamee shows that with deeper knowledge of cats' developmental phases and individual idiosyncrasies, we can do a better job of guiding cats' maturation and improving the quality of their lives. Readers' relationships with their feline friends will be happier and more harmonious because of this book.


Personally, Huggins and I are hoping this book will hold a magical solution for making Wasabi-cat mute between the hours of 10pm and 8am.  It's a doomed hope but miracles do happen...


The Flat Book Society: Reminder - List is open for September nominations - Vote for your favorites!

Unlocking the Past: How Archaeologists Are Rewriting Human History with Ancient DNA - Martin Jones Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law - Peter Woit Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani, Liz Kalaugher Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees  - Thor Hanson

Just a reminder that our list is still open for voting for the September read.  We currently have 10 nominees (we aim to keep it at a max of 12-15) and the current leader with just 3 votes is:


Unlocking the Past: How Archaeologists Are Rewriting Human History with Ancient DNA - Martin Jones 


In Unlocking the Past, Martin Jones, [...] explains how this pioneering science is rewriting human history and unlocking stories of the past that could never have been told before. For the first time, the building blocks of ancient life—–DNA, proteins, and fats that have long been trapped in fossils and earth and rock—–have become widely accessible to science. Working at the cutting edge of genetic and other molecular technologies, researchers have been probing the remains of these ancient biomolecules in human skeletons, sediments and fossilized plants, dinosaur bones, and insects trapped in amber. Their amazing discoveries have influenced the archaeological debate at almost every level and continue to reshape our understanding of the past.


In contention are 4 others with 2 votes each are (as listed above):

Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law - Peter Woit 

Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani,Liz Kalaugher 

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker 

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees - Thor Hanson 


Be sure to get over to the Flat Book Society and vote if you haven't already, and if you have a dark horse entry, we still have a few spaces to fill.  If you're not a member already, it's never too late to join!


Reading progress update: I've read 166 out of 219 pages.

The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

BrokenTune is much more organised with her reading and updates of this book; I read until I can't keep my eyes open anymore, then go back the next morning and re-read the parts I can't remember.  No discipline on this side of the buddy read, nosiree.


When last I left off I had just a few more sections of The Marvels of Science Around the House; last night I finished that, The Peculiar Human and the Science of Us, and I'm mid-way through Science in the World Around Us.  Some of my favorites from these chapters include:


The non-shrinking sheep - I knew lanolin was a big player here, but I never understood the mechanics.


Cracking knuckles - I also knew this was a myth, but as an unapologetic knuckle cracker from childhood, I always love reading additional confirmations.


Super-strength teeth with Fluoride - Well.  Where has this been all my life?  I've always rinsed my mouth out after brushing my teeth because my grandmother told me (when I was a very impressionable little girl) that if I swallowed toothpaste I would DIE.  She wasn't generally a melodramatic woman - quite the opposite really - and she was my grandma, so why wouldn't I believe her?  Now, 40-odd years later I find out I've been doing it wrong.  Sigh.


Prune time in the bath interested me only because I've only just read about the newest theory regarding why we prune up in water and wanted to see how current Jopson's research is.  Turns out, pretty current.


How cold are your toes? - A lot of people who think they have Raynaud's syndrome, probably don't and if they actually knew what it was, they'd be thankful.


To dream, perchance to remember - All I'm going to say about this is that people should be careful for what they wish for.  Remembering your dreams isn't all its cracked up to be.


Platinum Paved roads - this might have been my favorite section of the bunch.  I've always wondered how a catalytic converter worked, and now I know and it's fascinating.


I'm enjoying the  book, but it's not Storm in a Teacup.  As I've said before there's just something about Czerski's narrative style that more than makes up for the smaller number of topics she covers.  Jopson is good, but there's nothing seductive about his writing.

The Trouble with Twelfth Grave

The Trouble with Twelfth Grave - Darynda Jones

I love this series - especially the later ones - and even though I enjoyed this one enough to read it in one sitting today, it was not one of her best.  Mostly because the plot(s) were utterly transparent.  There was never any doubt in my mind what Reyes was looking for, or what would happen when he found it (although the third member of the showdown was a delightful surprise).  There was never any doubt in my mind who was responsible for the killings either, although the 'other' murder plot, while not central to much of anything, was interesting and its resolution unexpected.


There are also a few story elements that keep getting repeated in the books - honestly, it's like hell has a revolving door - but Jones still manages to write a captivating, and hilarious, story that expands on biblical mythology while honouring its structure and its spirit.  So in spite of not being everything it could be, it was exactly what I needed today.  

Abstract Aliases (Bodies of Art Mystery, #3)

Abstract Aliases - Ritter Ames

If you're willing to suspend disbelief and are looking for an action packed pseudo-spy caper, this series is worth checking out.


Abstract Aliases has Jack and Laurel chasing after art forgeries, crime syndicates, ex-employees gone rogue and trying to figure out who is killing forgers throughout Europe, and why.  It's a jet-setting kind of story, with trains, planes and automobiles and character far more likeable than they were in the first two books (more cooperation, less game-playing).


I was feeling lukewarm about the series as a whole and this one languished on my TBR for some time before I grabbed it, but the pure escapist fun, and the plot and character progression have left me eager to read the next book.

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails - Sarah Bakewell, Antonia Beamish At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails - Sarah Bakewell

The upside to the 90 minutes I spent in a traffic jam with a top speed of 7km/h this afternoon is that I was able to finish this most excellent book.


At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails is a comprehensive look at the overall existentialist movement and its major players from the 1920's through the 1950's and 60's.  Part biographical, part exploration of the different facets of phenomenology and existentialism as advocated by Sartre, de Beauvoir, Aron, Camus, Heidegger, Husserl et. al, the book and narrative both are outstanding.


I am at best a dabbler in philosophy, and considering how easy it is to tie one's brain into knots musing over the philosophical aspects of life, Bakewell had her work cut out for her making such dense material comprehensible - and she did.  Most of the time when I got bogged down trying to follow, it was when she was relating concepts that are widely acknowledged to be amongst the most labyrinthine.  


My takeaways after finishing this is that I am, by and large, an existentialist (though I'm interested in learning more about Epicurean philosophy), but there were many areas where I diverge, especially if we're talking about Heidegger's existentialism.  That man ... I swear he just made stuff up just to see how inaccessible he could get and still be considered a genius.  Also, Bakewell makes a pretty convincing argument that he was a nazi.  I also was left with a distaste for Sartre in spite of his profound early-career work, although I give him credit for living a "good faith" life until the very end.  The existentialist whose work I most connected with was Husserl; he felt the most rational and accessible, and his life the one that seemed the most authentic.


I listened to this on audio, as narrated by Antonia Beamish and I cannot say enough good things about her narration.  She read this like she wrote it, understood it and lived it, with a voice I just wanted to listen to no matter what she was reading.  Imagine the best, most engaging, professor you've ever had the pleasure of listening to and learning from, and you'll have a good idea of what this book, and this narration, holds in store for you.


Needless to say, I'll be chewing on this book and its contents for a very long time to come.

Back from holiday to Uluru/Ayer's Rock ... mostly intact and caught up.

We returned on Sunday night, but it's taken me this long to catch up with my dashboard (I did not miss my electronic devices, but I did miss BookLikes!) and cull all my photos, my photographic process adhering to the chimpanzees-typing-Shakespeare theory.


The birds were both surprising and disappointing.  On the downside, there was little variety, but on the upside, the few I saw were some of the least expected, including my first 2 "Uncommon" birds (according to the bird experts).  Amongst the birds I did see:


Crested pigeon: because if you have to be a pigeon, you can at least be a punk-rock pigeon.


Zebra Finches: proving that what's common in captivity is utterly captivating in the wild.  (And they're hilarious to watch btw, they're always flitting around as one giant flock, constantly nattering away.   Let's go to that tree!  Ok!  Oh, wait, no, that tree looks better! Ok!  Nope, back to the first tree! Ok!  etc.


This is a completely crap photo, but I was trying to capture this while riding on the back of a camel, and there are limits to my camera's stabilisation algorithm.  This is a Wedge-tailed eagle, amongst the largest in the world, with a wingspan up to (according to wikipedia) 3.8 meters or 9'4".  It's HUGE.  This one is also more than a little scruffy, but he's the only one we saw, so he's magnificent.


My first "uncommon" bird - a Western Bowerbird.  These are the birds that build elaborate bowers using colored objects meant to woo the female with bling.  I captured this one at a very small watering hole, while MT was doing the watch-tapping/heavy-sighing bit; it's uncommon status is something he acknowledges will be working against him in all future 'it's just a brown bird' debates.


My other uncommon bird is the Mistletoe bird.  I'm not going to torture you with its picture (although it's a very striking bird) because it's not a great picture: I was across the road, getting jostled by oblivious tourists and juggling camera and glasses.  It's a good photo, but not a great one.


My favorite of the bunch - VERY common, but adorable, the White Plumed Honeyeater.  These little guys are all personality; even after taking dozens of photos, I still couldn't resist taking more.  They're total hams.


As some of you know, I'd had pie-in-the-sky hopes of seeing a Thorny Devil; alas, this did not happen.  Even though the weather hovered at 28C (82F) the entire time, it's winter there and they're hibernating.  I did see two of them pickled in formaldehyde (because people thought this was interesting??) but that doesn't count.  There were, however two reptiles I got to interact with.  One was a Bearded dragon:


A total charmer, this one.  She insisted on always being the center of attention.  And the next one, for anyone who has ever spent any time in the southern/south-western part of the US or North America, will not look overly impressive ... until you see her tail:



She goes from top to bottom in that second photo.  I named her Lucy and she hung out in the tree outside our door the first two days we were there.


The impetus for this trip (or at least, how I got MT to go) was an art installation by Bruce Monroe called Field of Lights.  Over 7 US Football field's worth of outback covered in handblown glass lights and fibre optics that change color every 10 seconds.  Pictures don't do it justice; it's amazing.



We had a blast.  We climbed everything.  We did a Segway tour around the base of Uluru, which I cannot praise highly enough.  If you ever get a chance to ride a Segway, I urge you to try it - so. much. fun.  Although the first embarrassing story is me falling off of one.  One tire caught some gravel and lost traction, causing me to lost my balance (which is everything on a Segway) and start lurching back and forth (like one of those weird exercise bikes), over-correcting, until the tires started bouncing side to side and I finally gave up the fight and my dignity, and did a slow-motion sideways knees-than-butt landing on the ground.  No injuries to anything except my pride (they knee/elbow pad you up); I was complimented on holding out for as long as I did, but really, I'm pretty sure that was just said to make me feel better.  Fortunately the rest of the ride was uneventful and incredibly fun (although I think my Segway was slower than MT's ::sulk::).


And finally, the last photo, the obligatory picture of the red rock itself, off in the distance:One of those shadows is MT and I atop Diesel, our woolly camel.  The camel ride was also incredible: fun, and an outstanding way to really see Outback Australia.  And if you've made it this far in a post that is, let's face it, a modern day version of the "Our Vacation Slideshow!", you deserve to chuckle over my second holiday embarrassment. 


The camel ride was how we got to the Fields of Light (it can't be reached by personal car, so it's camels or buses).  The entire ride was enjoyed without a hitch and Diesel was a perfect gentleman - though he was talkative and sounded exactly like Chewbacca.  At the end he kneeled down to allow us our dismount, and as I was sliding down off the saddle, a buckle caught my jeans and ripped a monster hole out of the back and I was suddenly and intimately aware of the slight, ground-level breeze.


Luckily, it was an unseasonably warm night and I'd brought a jacket I didn't need to wear anywhere except around my waist the rest of the evening.  But damn, those were good jeans!


Reading progress update: I've read 112 out of 219 pages.

The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

I didn't get quite as much read as I'd hoped over our holiday weekend, but I did get through the first two chapters and about half of the third. 


I feel confident now saying that, though i'm enjoying this, it's not as good as Storm in a Teacup; it covers more topics, and I like the writing - it's more obviously wry and humorous that Czerski's - but it lacks the narrative flow Storm in a Teacup has and that lack of connectedness dings my enthusiasm.  


Regardless though, I'm learning a lot about a lot; there's some overlap with Czerski's book, but even those overlaps come at the topic from a different angle or perspective, adding to what i've already learned, rather than repeating it.

Book: A Novel

Book: A Novel - Robert Grudin

This book is super weird.  I can't describe it, so I'm including the book's description:


The English department at the University of Washagon is in a uproar. Professor Adam Snell - humanist, scholar, gadfly and faculty pariah - has disappeared without a trace.


Stranger still, all copies of his obscure but brilliant novel, Sovrana Sostrata, also seem to be missing.


Has Snell been murdered? Has his book been murdered? And, more important, if Snell is not dead, does his department have the power to fire him at his upcoming post-tenure review?


So begins Book, a hilarious academic caper that lampoons clever critical theorists, spoofs the New York book-publishing scene, parodies at least seventeen separate literary forms and unleashes Frank Underwood, a deranged theorist with a high-powered target pistol - and a pathological hatred for Adam Snell.


And that's just for starters.


Book also contains [...], a genetically engineered garden weed, a power-crazed, sexually dazed chairwoman, a novel accused of rape and a revolt of footnotes that halts the text.


Honestly, the footnotes are the BEST part of this book.  For too short a time, they are the Aeslin mice of weird academic satire.  They alone are responsible for the extra 1/2 star.  1/2 star was deducted because of violence against animals - the scene was abrupt, short and shocking.  It was over before I realised it happened; otherwise, I'd have DNF'd on the spot.  Grudin didn't need to include it to make the story work, so I'm left with feeling like a brilliant, funny book is badly dinged by the gratuitous violence.  I'm also rating 1/2 star generously, because satire does not always come easy to me, so some of the things that felt off to me, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt; I might have just missed the point.


Otherwise, the book was just weird.  Weird and fun.  The third person narrator is Grudin himself, telling the story about Adam Snell, who also interacts directly with the reader.  The chapters of narrative are interspersed with chapters of what can only be described as randomness, but I found if I just went with it, it worked.  The randomness was often amusing, sometimes pertinent to the story, and provided a nice breather - much like putting a book down would do, but without losing your sense of place.  Between each chapter are small sections relating the history of books and bookselling, excerpted from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  


I really don't know how to describe it with any accuracy, but it's a great read, especially if you have spent any time working in higher education; the university politics and personalities are spot-on.  But if you don't like, or are not in the mood for, non-traditional story structure, you might want to give this book a pass.  The author plays with the story's structure, makes it part of the satire and humor, and if a loosey-goosey structure isn't your thing, Book: A Novel is going to irritate you.


And really, this might be the only book you'll find a footnote proclaiming: "Call me Ishmael. I was once Melville's footnote."

Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 368 pages.

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History - Cynthia Barnett

It might be the power of suggestion (rain is a soothing, calming concept to me, even if it's a thunderstorm), but so far this book is both informative and relaxing.  I like the author's writing so far; there are hints of journalism, but so far, they're very brief and so far, we're sticking to the facts.  An excellent start.

Reading progress update: I've read 48 out of 219 pages.

The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

I've finished the first chapter and I'm a little way into the second and so far, so good.   As BrokenTune mentioned in her update, prawn crackers are out.  If you like prawn crackers don't ask why they're out and maybe avoid BT's update.  Just know this is one of those foods that are better enjoyed by not knowing how they're made.  (Total aside:  the first - very first - prawn cracker made... I have to believe this was done by a very bad or lazy housekeeper/cook.)


The baking powder section intrigued me.  I've always known what it did, but I never realised it actually has baking soda (bicarb) in it, which leads me to the following question, one that's going to go through my head every time I pull out the muffin pan:  why does my cornbread recipe use baking power AND baking soda/salt?  Hmmm...


So far though, my favorite was the section on Jaffa cakes and their status in UK society: cookie or cake?  To tax or not to tax?  I've never had them and doubt I ever will (I have issues with orange flavoured stuff), but I loved learning why cakes go stale and cookies go soft and the humor in this section was, so far, the most blatant.  Science is rarely laugh - or chuckle - out loud funny.  (For the record, Aussies seem to default to 'biscuit' though they comfortably use 'cookie' as well.  It's one of the few words, in fact, that Aussies don't give me shit about.)


Overall, the book is similar to Storm in a Teacup; it covers the science in everyday life and it's aimed at the average reader.  The slant is different though; while Czerski organised her book by scientific concept, then wove anecdotes through her chapters that illustrated those concepts, Jopson has organised by life's major subject areas: food, the kitchen, the home, etc. and each chapter is a collection of related examples and their connection to scientific concepts.  So far there's been very little overlap between the two books, and the 'science' here is far more anecdotal, but relevant and a little irreverent. 

Dog Dish of Doom (Kay Powell Mystery, #1)

Dog Dish of Doom - E.J. Copperman

I've only read one other E.J. Copperman series, centering around a haunted guesthouse.  It was good, but the characters always felt a little stiff and awkward.  This first book in a new series, centered around a animal talent agent in New York, hit me like the author's attempt at over-correction.  The characters in Dog Dish of Doom are almost exuberant and the humor, including wise cracks made to the reader directly (what fourth wall?) were refreshing, but sometimes a bit too thick on the page.


Still, it was this humor and liveliness on the part of the characters that made the book as enjoyable as it is.  The plot could have been tighter and as it's written, its more of a frustration than a puzzle for anyone trying to solve the mystery.  Too many red herrings and diversions, but I found myself going along with it because I liked the setting and I liked Kay.  it fit my current reading mood and because of that, I'm happily willing to try book 2.