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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.

Reading progress update: I've read 180 out of 536 pages.

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

Day two is over.

 

Oh my god the theologising.  So much theologising.  And Latin; my grade school latin was stretched to the breaking point. Tam theologica disceptatione.  I enjoy a good theological debate, but this is not good theological debate; most of this is a pissing contest between characters.  And all due respect to Eco, because it's obvious he wrote brilliantly, but I'm on page 180 and 165 pages of what I've read so far have had nothing to due with the plot.  'Setting and context!' I hear some you say, and to that I say 'overkill!'.

 

Still and all, day two has brought a dead body, labyrinths, invisible ink, coded texts, hallucinations, illusions and the mythical library, so all is not hopeless, and I'm charging into day three. 

 

Besides, I have passed my personal point of no return and have reached the point of seeing this as a personal battle of will.  I will not let this book defeat me ::shaking fist::!



Reading progress update: I've read 100 out of 536 pages.

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

I've finally made it though the first day with Brother William.  

 

That was a long day.

 

Unless things pick up soon, I don't like my chances of making it through the week.



Etched in Bone (The Others, #5)

Etched in Bone  - Anne Bishop

Every book in this series have been marathon reads for me, and Etched in Bone was no exception.  I picked it up yesterday morning and pretty much did absolutely nothing else until I read the last page about midnight last night (although I did stop, in the name of marital harmony, to shovel some dinner down; luckily, there was a footy game on last night, so the shovelling went largely unnoticed).

 

I have loved every moment of this series; been sucked into this world so thoroughly that interruptions leave me hazy about reality and I have been as attached to these characters as much as, or more, than any others.  Possibly more than real people I know. 

 

But... this one; this final book concerning Meg and Simon, was not as great as the first 4.  Because this book deviated from the rules the author created for The Others.  In any of the other books, Jimmy would have been a stain on the sidewalk before chapter 3.  I get what she was trying to do here, I get what she wanted to explore, but it was not done as gracefully, and the effect felt forced; its execution more heavy handed.  In short, Jimmy got on my nerves; I stopped being horrified and started getting irritated and mumbling 'why isn't this man dead yet???'.

 

Still, I'd recommend this to anyone who likes urban fantasy and/or parables.  Because this whole series is one giant parable about the human race: our capacity for grace, our capacity for vice, and our wholesale destruction of everything in our path as long as we remain unchecked.  As horrifying as The Others are, I can't look around at what's going on today and not sort of wish our Earth had Naimid's teeth and claws to protect her.

 

I'm attached so thoroughly to these characters in the Courtyard, I'm not sure I'll read the next book; which is apparently in the same universe but with a different setting and characters.  I want more Tess!  But I'll definitely be re-reading these.



Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson, #10)

Silence Fallen - Patricia Briggs

Mercy is kidnapped by vampires and is taken to Europe, where she escapes, but has no clothes, no money and no passport and must stay on the run until Adam can find her and neutralise the threat to herself and her pack.

 

I'll admit I was less enthusiastic about this one that I normally am about the books in this series, because my first thoughts ran along the lines of 'oh, yay.  Woman in peril who must fight to survive and over come obstacles over and over again.'

 

I could not have been more wrong.  Yes, there are perils and obstacles, but they are more than balanced out by moments of control and action and intelligence.  This book was also far more about political negotiations and intelligence analysis, if you'll excuse the out-of-place term here, and I loved that.  This felt like a far more intelligent novel that the previous books.

 

And for the first time in I can't even remember how long, I was totally blown away by the twist.  Never. saw. that. coming.  I actually exclaimed 'holy sh*t!' out loud.  Well played, Briggs.  Absolutely brilliant.

 

There wasn't anything I didn't thoroughly enjoy in this book; I had no complaints at all.



Naval gazing ... almost literally

I've been off-stride for quite a few months now, but this last week I've been emotionally MIA from all my favorite haunts, including reading and my home away from home, BookLikes.

 

Some of you might know MT and I have had chickens for 4-5 years now, living at the back of our small garden in a place we like to call the Taj Mah-Chook  (chook being what Aussies call chickens).  We went into this with a well researched plan and it's worked out for us; our chickens have been the image of health and sass.  Until last week.

 

Through a confluence of weeks of heat and humidity, wild turtle-doves and our soft hearts (re: turtle doves), our poor chooks were hit with both a respiratory infection AND a mite invasion.  We caught the mite invasion early because, while mosquitoes may pass me by, it seems bird mites LOOOVVE me and I'm allergic.  So I immediately get itchy welts approximately 1000x bigger than the little bastards that bit me.  

 

I've adopted a scorched earth policy to eradicate the buggers.  That's almost not hyperbole either, because we've doused almost the entire back garden, coop and alleyway with sulphur, lending our garden that certain special Eau de Hell-mouth aroma that spells death to mites everywhere.  

 

The chickens have been treated, the cats have been treated (although, unless yawning is an undocumented symptom, the cats are unaffected and truly unconcerned); MT caught me staring at the back of his neck earlier, drops in hand, but I doubt he'd hold still long enough.

 

In addition to running around treating anything that moves (and my garden shoes), I've been sterilising my house.  The vacuum almost never leaves my side, and I've not only showered so many times a day my skin is ready to give up and fall off, I've also washed almost every piece of clothing, bedding and fabric in the house. EVERYTHING. Because they might love me, but I'm still not letting them move in with me.

 

When I've not been re-creating that 1950's housewife vibe*, I've surrendered hours of my life to Google, and reading research topics about such scintillating topics as the efficacy of elemental sulphur feed-through on mite populations in poultry.  (Yes, I fed them sulphur too - in a bowl of yoghurt; I'm absolutely certain they've eaten worse.)

 

In my off hours, I've been staring at my own skin (see: title of this post), daring my freckles to make a run for it.

 

Two of the three chickens have shown a vast improvement today and the third is better.  Anything that can ethically be put into a washing machine and dryer has been and my hair has finally stopped smelling like pine tar and brimstone.  Hopefully this means that I can break up with Google, stop naval gazing and rejoin the world (of books).

 

If you've made it this far - thanks for letting me unload.  :)

 

 

(*In the name of clarity and fairness, MT has not been slacking; he's practically dismantled the coop, bathed the chickens, ran all over town procuring meds, and mounted the sunset raid on the garden with the pressurised sprayer full of sulphur.  He came in afterward smelling like he'd truly battled demons, like the hero he is. Then he cooked me dinner. ::heart::)



Reading progress update: I've read 50 out of 536 pages.

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

"And at the feet of the Seated One, under the first two figures, there were the other two, a bull and a lion, each monster clutching a book between talons or hoofs, the body turned away from the throne, but the head toward the throne, as if shoulders and neck twisted in a fierce impulse, flanks tensed, the limbs those of a dying animal, maw open, serpent like tails coiled and writhing, culminating, at the top, in tongues of flame."

 

"And around them, mingled with them, above their heads and below their feet, more faces and more limbs: a man and a woman clutching each other by the hair, two asps sucking the eyes of one of the damned, a grinning man whose hooked hands parted the maw of a hydra, and all the animals of Satan's bestiary, as-sembled in a consistory and set as guard and crown of the throne that faced them, singing its glory in their defeat, fauns, beings of double sex, brutes with six-fingered hands, sirens, hippocentaurs, gorgons, harpies, incubi, dragopods, minotaurs, lynxes, pards, chimeras, cyno-phales who darted fire from their nostrils, crocodiles, polycaudate, hairy serpents, salamanders, horned vipers, tortoises, snakes, two-headed creatures whose backs were armed with teeth, hyenas, otters, crows, hydrophora with sawtooth horns, frogs, gryphons, monkeys, dog-heads, leucrota, manticores, vultures, paranders, weasels, drag-ons, hoopoes, owls, basilisks, hypnales, pressers, spectafici, scorpions, saurians, whales, scitales, amphisbenae, iaculi, dipsases, green lizards, pilot fish,octopi, morays, and sea turtles."

 

This book is killing me.  One run-on sentence at a time.



Reading progress update: I've read 25 out of 536 pages.

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

If I'd known that this is an homage to Sherlock Holmes, I'd have read it so much sooner.  



Jeeves and the Impending Doom

Jeeves and the Impending Doom and Other Stories - P.G. Wodehouse

This is one of the little Pocket Penguin editions that contains two of Wodehouse's Bertie and Jeeves short stories.  Bertie and Jeeves is a little bit hit-and-miss with me; some of them come off hilariously but some feel like they go too far in relying on outright stupidity for the comedy.

 

Both of these stories veered towards the latter; they were both amusing, with Jeeves, as always, coming out on top.  In Jeeves and the Impending Doom he gets a bit of revenge on Bertie too.  

 

Jeeves and the Song of Songs was the winner for best dialogue; the exchange between Bertie and Aunt Dahlia made me chuckle.

 

Wodehouse is pretty much always on my TBR in some form or another because he can always be counted on for excellent and lighthearted writing.  



The Book of God and Physics

The Book of God and Physics: A Novel of the Voynich Mystery - Enrique Joven, Delores M. Koch

I loved every single thing about this book.  Except the writing.  Or maybe the translation.  Probably the translation.  Either way, what could have been a story to blow The DaVinci Code out of the water, was instead a worthy read for only those that are interested in the Voynich Manuscript, astronomy, and/or the intersection of faith and science.

 

I am incredibly fascinated with all of those things - except astronomy, of course - so I couldn't give up on the book.  For those unaware of the Voynich Manuscript, it is a real, illustrated manuscript believed to be about 500 years old.  It's full of beautiful ink and watercolour drawings that encompass chemistry/alchemy, botanicals, and astronomy, and it's written in a language that doesn't exist anywhere else.  It remains to this day undecipherable.  The manuscript currently resides at the Beinecke Library of Yale University and they have it online here.

 

Anything that has remained untranslatable for over 500 years becomes an unavoidable conspiracy theorist magnet, but the author of this book includes an introduction, where he makes it clear that other than the creation of the MC and his two friends, everything else in the book is historically accurate; all the other characters are real and their back-stories were kept intact without creative license.  Knowing this also kept me glued to the book when the prose would have sent me fleeing long before chapter 2.

 

The book is heavily centered in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  (They owned the Voynich Manuscript until 1912 when Voynich secretly bought it from them.)  My gender aside, the Jesuits are my people.  I make no secret of my faith in God and my faith in science; a stance that neatly pisses off everyone in one go: atheists because I believe in God, and those calling themselves Christians because I'm a heretic for accepting the Big Bang (first hypothesised by a Belgian priest*, btw) and evolution. The Jesuits also find no contradiction between God and science and in fact, most of the major contributions to science - experimental physics, specifically - in the 17th century were made by Jesuits. They weren't slackers in the 18th century either.

 

So, a story about a real coded manuscript, in its historically accurate setting, involving science and theology, taking place in a Jesuit school in Castile.  And I haven't even mentioned the secret tunnels, hidden passages and coded messages, or the major supporting characters that include Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Dee, Kelly, Galileo and Cassini.

 

Unfortunately, as I've already said, the writing translation is the major sticking point. The narrative was choppy and there was a general abuse of pronouns, leaving the reader sometimes wondering who was being talked about at any given time.  Dialogue jumped around too so that there were a few leaps of logic I couldn't follow because I couldn't parse the writing.  The ultimate care the author takes to make sure the history and the science are explained carefully (and sometimes repetitively), inclines me to fault the translation.  The author's love and knowledge of the subject matter screams from the page, as does his concern that the reader understand as much of the hard stuff as is possible, so it doesn't make sense that the story itself was written with so little care.

 

If I were only rating the writing, this would be 1 star.  But the subject matter and the plot were 5 stars, so in the end I split the difference and went with 3.  Don't bother with this one if you're only looking for a thriller or adventure, but if you're fascinated by the other stuff, maybe see if your library has this one and give is a go.  It'll be work, but it'll be fascinating too.

 

(* Georges Lemaître was the first to formally propose his hypothesis of the primeval atom, which became known as the Big Bang Theory, first published in 1931 in Nature.  He was a Jesuit priest and professor of physics.  He was also the first to note the expansion of the universe, and the first to derive Hubble's law and made the first estimation of what is called Hubble's constant - all misattributed to Hubble, at least in name.)



Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris

This is my first exposure to David Sedaris' writing, and I doubt it'll be my last, but this is also the first time I've ever dinged a rating for content.

 

The writing is incredibly good and hysterically funny.  I listened to the audio and Sedaris does his own narration - as he should, because I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off half as well.

 

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls is a collection of essays, mostly biographical with embellishments for comic effect.  They were all good, but even when they were laugh out loud hysterical, they were also oftentimes gritty and confronting.  There is not a topic he doesn't address upfront and without relying on innuendo.

 

I don't typically have a hard time with that; but what I do rebel against is animals being hurt or killed and/or casual references made to it in my reading.  And while Sedaris doesn't hate animals, (in the first essay he professes to be an animal lover) he is very casual about animal death and cruelty.  One particular reminiscence about capturing sea turtles I just had to skip past completely.  

 

Everything else was pretty flawless; at the end, he reads a small collection of short fictional narratives he created for use in forensics competitions (= fancy name for 'debate team').  These were very gritty, very angry, and difficult to listen to, although they were really good.  Hypocrisy was a strong theme running through these.

 

So while I enjoyed all his essays about traveling, life abroad, growing up, etc., I was not at all comfortable with the casual, easy way he had with telling stories involving bad ends for the animals.  There was a distinct lack of compassion or regret in these essays and their casual matter-of-factness made me uncomfortable about the author as a person.  So I dinged my rating by a star.

 

If you have a thicker skin than I do (admittedly, this is most people), and enjoy edgier humour, definitely give this a look if you haven't already.   



My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth

My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth - Wendy E. Simmons

In much the same way Simmons felt about her holiday in North Korea, I found her memoir of it both horrifying and educational.  I'm not sure I'd have been able to find the hilarity the way she did, had I been the one on the holiday, but I certainly appreciated her humorous perspective and her writing.

 

As she goes to great pains to make clear, she was there as a tourist; she does not pretend at any point to understand the political underpinnings of the tragedy that is North Korea.  This is a memoir of her holiday there, and her personal experiences during those 10 days, both the horrifying and the heart-touching moments.  Oh, and a LOT of Twilight Zone moments.

 

I have to say, I've had this book for awhile, but hesitated to open it because the cover gave me the impression it would be totally different that it is.  That cover photos is a photo Simmons took while there, when she was invited to a wedding reception on the spur of the moment.  That woman is the bride to be.  Knowing that gave this book a whole different spin in my head, and highlighted the comedy of the absurd that ran throughout those 10 days.

 

If you enjoy travel memoirs, and you're curious about the culture of a totally closed society minus any political philosophy, and heaps of swearing and humor, definitely check this book out.  I did not want to put it down from the moment I opened the cover.

 

ETA:  I have the print edition and it's loaded with great full-color photographs that just added that extra level of interest to the book.



More Baths, Less Talking

More Baths, Less Talking - Nick Hornby

The final (so far) collection of Nick Hornby's columns from The Believer magazine and another excellent collection of commentary on books he's read.  I think this is the first of the four collections where he's read a book I have (Yay!), and there are only a few of the books he's read that I'll ultimately track down myself, but it doesn't matter; I love his writing style.  He's witty, irreverent, and often thought-provoking and insightful.

 

I'd highly recommend any of these collections to anyone who likes hearing about what somebody is reading, even if it's not something you'd read yourself.  If you do share reading interests, look out: these books will devastate your TBR piles.



The Revenant of Thraxton Hall

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall - Vaughn Entwistle

I'm going to use one of my dad's favourite sayings and call this one fair to middling. 

 

On the surface it should have been a guaranteed-to-please-me read: I'm intrigued by Wilde, Conan Doyle is one of only a couple of people I'd go back in time to meet, and the it's a ghost story set on the moors.  In spite of all of this, I remained nothing but an indifferent observer from start to finish; I failed to connect with Wilde or Doyle, and the ghosts failed to thrill.  Additionally, the twisty part of the plot was something I saw coming from the start, although how Doyle got there at the end was so twisty and convoluted, I'm still not sure I get how he did it.

 

He did totally pull one over on me regarding the Count though; did not see that one coming.

 

This is the first of a series, but I doubt I'll be searching out the second one.  



Bookman Dead Style (Dangerous Type, #2)

Bookman Dead Style - Paige Shelton

Good.  Not great, but good.  I like the setting; the shop that fixes typewriters, restores books, does small batch publishing on an old Gutenberg replicate.  I like the characters too, although I'm not really invested in any of them.  I sort of expected this though; I've read two of the author's other series and felt the same way.

 

The mystery plotting was sketchy; I didn't guess the murderer at all, but I don't think the author made that possible.  For all the sleuthing Clare does, I'm not sure she really finds any clues that are useful to herself or the reader.  She doesn't deduce anything, but rather is lead to the culprit at the end by their own behaviour.

 

Still, in a market that has become rapidly shallow over the last few years, this is a pleasant, entertaining cozy mystery.  I'll happily read the next one.



The Clasp: DNF at page 49

The Clasp - Sloane Crosley

Nope; not my jam.  I liked Crosley's essays, but this one - the writing is too affected for my taste.  Feels like it's trying too hard to be hip and angsty at the same time.  

 

Moving on...



The Curse of the Kings

The Curse of the Kings - Victoria Holt

This was another difficult read to rate properly.  I couldn't put it down, but there was so much eye-rolling too.

 

The description on the book record is terribly simplistic, but it's as close or closer to anything I could come up with.  Honestly, Holt packed a lot into this book.  The first half is taken up with Judith's background and childhood; it isn't until page 174 that we even get to Egypt.

 

Judith's ridiculous obsession with Tybalt got on my nerves; I'd say someone should have smacked some sense into her, but she never let on to anyone in her world just how insanely besotted she was, she saved all those confidences for the reader.  But the rest of the book was compelling and incredibly readable.

 

The story itself is pretty trope-tastic; it's got the imaginary love triangle, mistaken for cheating, lack of communication, rags to royalty... not to mention the whole Egyptian theme; likely quite a few more I haven't even thought of, but it was first written in the 70's when some of these things weren't tropes yet, or were all the rage.  That somehow made it easier to roll with.

 

The writing kept me coming back.  It had all the qualities of a mid-century gothic that appeals to me, in spite of some the silliness coming from Judith.

 

I'll definitely check out more of Holt's work.