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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.

The Book Worm

The Book Worm - Mitch Silver

I was riveted during the prologue, but the author almost lost me completely on pages 7 and 8; anyone inclined to read this book should skip those pages.  Nothing of consequence happens, and you'll be left with a mental image you'll never be able to unsee.  


So given all that love and nausea happening before page 10, I was unsure of what the rest of the book was going to bring.  Fortunately, the story evened out for the better.  I went back to being lost in what is a fabulously decadent 'what if' fantasy of old school East vs. West.  There are a lot of names dropped in this tale: Noël Coward, Marlene Dietrich, the Kennedys, even Ian Flemming.  It was pure, escapist fun. 


Unfortunately, Silver didn't quite stick the landing.  He created an intensely intricate plot, but didn't give himself (or the publisher didn't give him) the pages to fully realise it.  The result is a somewhat rushed and muddy climax that falls a little flat for lack of, and I can't believe I'm saying this, drama.  I love what he wanted to do with it, but given more time and attention it could have been a breath-taking scene and that scene deserved the extra time and attention.  Instead, it ended up being not much more than someone yelling "Fire" in a theatre.  Finally, the last half dozen lines in the book should have been deleted. They were ridiculous, and of all the unrealistic things that happen in this book, they are by far, the most implausible.  


This author is not without talent; I was enthralled for 75% of this book and it was, in spite of its shortcomings, a fun and entertaining read.



Reading progress update: I've read 36 out of 291 pages.

The Book Worm - Mitch Silver

I don't know about this one; I was 100% sucked in at the prologue, but Silver's choice to mold his fictional president along the lines of the current orange wonder idiot, and a scene that involved... *ahem*, a renewal of his mile-high-club membership in Air Force One, damn near had me DNFing the book and left me with a dangerous impulse to gargle bleach.


Nobody of any political affiliation wants a mental image of that flabby, saggy, nasty mess getting it on stuck in their head.  That's just not o.k.  

Vintage (mostly) book haul

Mysterious Books in New York sucked me in again with their newsletter.  They have a list of used books at the end of each one and most of the time they're heavily noir/thriller/hard-boiled, but once in awhile they have titles I can't refuse.



The bottom one is a new release - I have NO idea if it's good, but the title is The Book Worm and its protagonist is a Russian historian nicknamed Lara the Bookworm.   About the only thing this author didn't include to entice me specifically is cream puffs popping out when I opened the cover.


finally found a copy of The Circular Staircase by Anna Katherine Green, which I've been hunting for a while.  I know I could get a reprint copy easily, or if I liked ebooks (I don't) get it for free on Gutenburg, but here's my feeling on old titles: if I can get an original edition for a reasonable price, I'd rather have it.  (Reasonable being less than than the price of a new HC.)  Something about having an old copy of an old title just feels right.


I also grabbed The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow by AKG - I don't know much about this one except it takes place in a museum.


The little pamphlet on the top is a tiny surprise (pun intended):  I knew it was small when I ordered it, but it's tiny.  Like prize at the bottom of a cereal box tiny.  But the bonus is that it also includes The Raven and Annabelle Lee, along with 2 other titles whose names escape me at the moment, though one has to do with a haunted house.


But the big win of the bunch is the top one.  I thought I'd lost out on it to someone who lived local to Mysterious Books, but while I was chatting with Tom at the bookshop via email, it came out that my original request actually arrived in their inbox (the wrong inbox, so went unseen) before the local guy claimed it.  He still would have gotten it, except he put off showing up to pay/pick it up.  Tom came through for me and I could not be more excited.  Why?  Because:

 - it's a detective mystery

 - it's a detective mystery written by Mark Twain

 - it's a detective mystery written by Mark Twain as a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes!!


'nuff said.

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions (Kopp Sisters Novel, #3)

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions - Amy Stewart

This was my favorite of the three thus far, and oddly, it's because there really wasn't any single plot that stretched from beginning to end.  In fact, it's a stretch to call it a mystery.


Some background for those unfamiliar with the books:  This series is based on the life of Constance Kopp, one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the United States, and the first to be granted a shield, gun, authority to apprehend, and be paid the same wage as her male counterparts (likely the last one too, on that score).   Amy Stewart uses historically accurate events and characters, with as many details as she can find, then fictionalises the spaces in between.  At the end of each book, she includes a detailed accounting of what is factual and what is fictional, along with a detailed list of notes and sources.


While the first two books had, more or less, a single story line as the focus, ...Midnight Confessions is more a collection of smaller stories, each centered on a real person and event, that Stewart has woven together into a cohesive narrative.  


All of these smaller stories have a single theme: the very real vulnerabilities women had, and the rights they didn't.  We're all vaguely aware that society really frowned upon "loose morals" – a state unique to women, as men weren't expected to have any morals – and we've all made jokes about the "morality police", but when you read about a woman over 18 who is arrested because she left home to move into a strict, all-female boarding house to work in a powder factory so she could contribute to the war effort...well we've certainly come a long way in 100 years.  Waywardness this was called - and guess who brought the charges against her?  Her mother. 


Anyway, there are a few characters in this book that all have to face this lack of agency, whether they deserve the charges against them or not. (Deserve, as in guilty or innocent of the charges, not morally deserving.)  All of their stories play out over the course of the book, but there's no sense of tension or climax. Some might find that disappointing, but it worked really well for me; it kept the pace snappy, and I didn't feel like Stewart was manufacturing drama for the sake of drama.  I was able to enjoy and appreciate these women's stories on their own merit; if she'd tried to twist them and manipulate them to create some fictional plot, I doubt I'd have liked the book half as much.


She ends the book with an election year just beginning and an inevitable shake-up in the local politics.  I'm looking forward to the next book, scheduled for September, to see what happens to Constance and Sheriff Heath.


This book works for the Kill Your Darlings game card COD:  shot with an arrow.  It's written by an American woman.

The Fast and the Furriest (Second Chance Cat Mystery, #5)

The Fast and the Furriest - Sofie Ryan

There was something about this book; I enjoyed it more than the last one, even though Ryan used more than a couple tried and true tropes.  Somehow she just made it work.


Sarah's friend and employee Mac, he of the simmering romantic tension and secret past, has just had his past come to visit.  When her dead body is found, Mac is, of course, the prime suspect.  Sarah's grandmother's friends kick in to gear to help dig Mac out of being rail-roaded for a crime he didn't commit.


As I said, tropes galore.  But Ryan makes subtle choices that perhaps make the story work: the seniors that investigate are actually licensed private detectives (or at least, one of them is, and the rest are legitimately working with him) and they always cooperate with law enforcement.  That's not to say there aren't a few moments where belief must be suspended (the final scene comes to mind), but for the most part, this isn't some insane slapstick caper.


I've been head down in a lot of historical fiction and popular science lately, and this was a nice, light break that offered a well plotted mystery to boot.  Just what I needed.

Miss Silver Comes to Stay (Miss Silver mysteries, #15 or 16)

Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth

This was my second Miss Silver mystery; the first one I read was the first in the series, and frankly, it left me dubious about reading the rest, but I found this and one other on the bottom shelf at a local used book store and threw caution to the wind. 


My brief googling has this book at either 15 or 16 in the series, and it shows.  It was so much better!  90% less sappy puppy romance, 100% better plotting and characterisations.  And the writing... the writing felt fresh and a little edgy, in that way that third person POV does when it's done correctly.  An occasional and very subtle breaking of the fourth wall added to that feeling that I was reading a very accomplished writer's work.


I've heard that Wentworth was rather fond of using wills in her story lines, and this one doesn't disprove the rumour, but ... no, I'm not going to go further - I'm not sure it doesn't skirt the boundaries of spoiler-ville.


The mystery plotting... masterful.  I was sucked into the story thoroughly; totally hooked and I missed it all, until it was so late in the game that it made no difference.  I like Miss Silver; she's Miss Marple without the pretence of fluffiness and helplessness, so losing to her didn't bother me in the least.  I only wish she'd stop coughing all the time.  Someone ought to give that woman a cough drop.


I hope the other Miss Silver book I grabbed at the same time is as good, and I'll definitely be taking the time to look at the series' books again, though I might completely break rank with my life long habits and skip the first few books.  Now I know how good she can be, I'd rather not suffer through Wentworth's growing pains if I can avoid it.


This book is the perfect fit for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD: Arsenical Toothpaste.  It is a mystery, and it's main character is a woman over the age of 55.  There should be bonus points for the knitting.  ;-)

The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

A short novella on the joys, growth and enlightenment reading can bring, even to the most enlightened, at any time in life.  It's also an accurate portrayal of the consuming obsession reading can become (truth, as we all well know).  


Layered atop this testimony of the power of the word is another accurate portrayal of the divide that exists between those who read and those that don't.  Those who don't read should be forced to read this book, so that they know just how stupid they are relative to those that do.  When empathy for others and a focus on inner reflection over sartorial splendour are confused with senility and deterioration ... well at least senility is honourable; nothing honourable about ignorance.  But boy, do the readers get their revenge at the end - few books I've read ended with a better closing line.


My only complaint about this wonderful, brilliant little book is the author's conclusion that the natural outgrowth of reading must be to write.  This conceit leaves a rather large ding in my enjoyment of the book.  So is his assertion that to merely read is to be merely a spectator.  Both are flagrantly wrong, although how an author could naturally fall into such a self-supporting perspective is obvious.  Most readers will read their entire lives without every having a moment's urge to write, and I'd bet quite a few, like myself, often read and then go out and do.  I mean, I can't be the only person who's propped a book about knot tying in the crook of a tree, simultaneously reading about how to tie a knot, while actually trying to tie said knot, am I?


If you share either of my complaints, don't let it stop you from reading this book given the opportunity.  It's worth the small aggravations and disagreements to experience this charming, thoughtful and beautifully written novella.  


One final note:  Being Queen would suck.  There are not enough books and private libraries in all the holdings of the British monarchy that would make referring always to oneself in the neutral third person worth it.  If one had to constantly refer to oneself as one, one would send oneself's own head to the chopping block.  Ho-ly hell.

One Corpse Too Many (Brother Cadfael, #2)

One Corpse Too Many  - Ellis Peters

I had doubts starting this one, because it starts off slow.  Really slow.  Like, omg, this book is never, ever going to end.  This was largely due to the history dump Peters gives the reader in the beginning; the boring-to-me kind of history about battles and wars and political shenanigans.  


Then the dead body is found in the pile, and Cadfael gets his new assistant and stuff starts happening.  Midway through I was loving this story; "cat and mouse" comes to mind, but it's really much more "cat vs cat" because Cadfael is up against a man as clever as he is and there's no mouse in this plot.  The almost-the-end/climax-but-not was magnificent; the machinations were making me positively giddy, and yet the mystery itself continued.  Once Cadfael figured out who the murderer was, I admit I felt a bit knuckle-headed because the possibility never even entered my mind.  I can only tell myself I was entirely too caught up it the sub-plot of cat-n-cat and wasn't paying attention. 


That's what I'm telling myself anyway.


These are excellent mysteries for anyone who wants something more serious than a cozy, but doesn't want hard-core thrillers or crime stories.  Enjoying history is a plus, but not necessary save for the first few chapters.  There are 20 books in this series and if each of them are this meaty, I'll be reading them for years to come, because they aren't the kind I can binge read.  Yay!


This book works for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD: Stabbed with a sword.  Primarily, it takes place during the middle ages, but it also is set in the midst of a civil war and the text is chock full of the word "sword".

Searching and the (almost dead) ASIN bug

We all know the ASIN bug that stopped us being able to add ASINs to most kindle editions published in 2017 and 2018 was finally stomped by BookLikes last month.  YAY!




Its ghost is haunting us in the form of search:  Kindle books can now be added to the database, but those published in 2017-18 can't be searched; they're invisible.  This sounds like a minor-to-moderate inconvenience, until you search for a book, get the "No Book Found!" message, which leads to the second current BookLikes issue:  the Amazon feeds are currently down, so the auto-import-on-search function is not working.  


Knowing this, you try to add the 'missing' edition, only to get through the whole page, click submit and get the hair-pulling message "Book with that ASIN already exists".  This upgrades the bug to a big pain in the ass.


BookLikes is aware of it and have said both in their last Thursday post, and in the bug reports thread that they're working on it. 


In the meantime, what to do?  Well once you've tried to following:

1.  Search by title, or title/author to see if the book comes up.


2.  Go to the author's page and look for it in the list of their books (keeping in mind that it might be sub-listed under another edition; ie Jane Austen's page might list the paperback of Emma and your kindle edition might be listed under the paperback's "Other editions".)


3.  If you have access to the ebook ISBN, try searching for that: you might luck out and find it because the ebook and kindle records have been combined (in error).


and you've had no luck finding it, then your options depend on your personal level of stubbornness:  


For the determined amongst you, you can use/install the ShelveIt widget (located on your shelf page - it looks like a tiny book icon up in the upper right area of the page; drag that to your bookmarks bar on your browser).   Because of the feed issues, the widget currently only works with Amazon.co.uk, but other than the hassle of remembering to type .co.uk instead of .com, or .de, etc. it works just fine.  At this point you can go to Amazon.co.uk, enter the ASIN, and if it shows up, you can use the ShelveIt widget; the widget will see that the page already exists and load it for you in your browser's window.


For those that just want their damned book, you can post your ASINs below in the comments.  I've had limited luck finding a few invisible books by using one or two librarian cheats.  I CANNOT guarantee that I can find it for you, or how fast I can respond, but if you post the ASINs, I'll try my best to hunt down the pages for you and I'll post the links in reply.  




Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega, #5)

Burn Bright - Patricia Briggs

I love this series; I love it even more than the Mercy Thompson series.  I think it's because I find Charles far more interesting than Adam.  


Burn Bright ticked all the right boxes for me too; its entire setting was in Aspen Creek, which was a nice change from the previous books, where they were always somewhere new, with a new cast of supporting characters each time.  In Burn Bright, we get more information about the Marrok's pack, and a smidgen more insight into Bran (some of it I'm not sure I like knowing - tiny bit of ick).  I also enjoyed the small mysteries to solve along the way that aded up to the big plot point - I felt like it kept the pace fast without feeling ridiculous.  


Each of the books in this series and the Mercy Thompson series all work together, each one contributing to one of many over-arching plots she's got developing in this universe.  It makes it impossible to be able to recommend reading this series out of order, or honestly, without reading the Mercy Thompson series as well.  The latter isn't strictly necessary, but it'll definitely enhance the reading experience.


This book works for the Kill Your Darling games COD card:  Killing Curse.  Witches, magic and curses are all significant parts of the book and the series.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness - Peter Godfrey-Smith Other Minds - Peter Godfrey-Smith

I don't know quite how to rate this one, so I went for 4 stars.  This is likely to be more a collection of disparate thoughts rather than a cohesive review of any kind.


Most people are not going to find Other Minds a 'popular' science book.  It's not dry, but it is dense.  The author merges what is currently known in evolutionary science with philosophy, and has written what is largely a thought experiment on the concept of consciousness and it's origins, and not just for the octopus; this covers all life.  Octopuses get more page time than other creatures, but still only make up about ... 40%, maybe 50%?  Not quite what I was expecting, but I was willing to go with it.


I listened to the audiobook, although I have the hardcover as well.  The narrator, Peter Noble, does an excellent job with the narration; his voice is crisp and clear and he reads it as though he has a thorough grasp of the material. 


But ... I don't know if it was me or if the title of the book was too open to interpretation, but I did not realise how deeply philosophical the material was - this made the audiobook very challenging for me; I'm not a fan of other people's thought experiments in general, so I really struggled with a wandering mind as I listened to this book.  I understood the general concepts he covered, but whole sections of the narration would just wash right over me before I'd realise my consciousness checked out.  


Conclusion: I'd have been better off reading the physical edition, I think.  It's a very well written book, but it's heavy material for someone like me, for whom listening requires a conscience effort.  I'll likely re-read my hardcover sometime soon, so I can determine how much I missed, and give my mind a chance to reinforce some of the points I found most interesting.

A Brush with Shadows (Lady Darby, #6)

A Brush with Shadows - Anna Lee Huber

I'll put it out there: the recent books don't have the edginess that the first few books had, and this one had Gage's tragic past laid somewhat thickly on the ground, but I still thoroughly enjoy them.  I can imagine once you marry off your protagonist it becomes difficult to defy conventions quite so easily; some tropes become unavoidable.  


Still, the characters continue to please, and Huber did fitting justice to the Dartmoor moors; Gage's tragi-angst wasn't the only thing thick on the ground:  thick fog, heavy mist, unrelenting rain, a formidable dark, gloomy manor, and a hint of the supernatural - the moors wouldn't be the moors without them and they were all here in spades.


The mystery was pretty darn good too.  Was a crime committed?  Is the heir playing his usual games?  Why is everybody hiding everything?  In the end, crimes were definitely committed and while the murderer came out of nowhere for me, in spite of the name occurring to me in relation to a tangential plot element, I don't feel like it was a cheat on the part of the author.  I can't say she necessarily played fair in the strictest sense of the word, but I don't feel like she pulled any rabbits out her hat either.


I'm a fan, and I'll eagerly buy her next one.


This book will work for the Kill Your Darlings cards for Victim: Easy Rawlings and Victim: Ariadne Oliver.  Not sure which I'll use it for yet though.

The Flat Book Society: Nominations are open for July group read.

The Flat Book Society's May read is A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup and will begin on May 1st.


The voting list has been cleared (although I added two books to get it started) and is now open for nominations for our July 2018 read.


Please keep in mind that we're aiming for a list containing 10-15 books.  You may vote for books anytime you'd like, and you can vote for multiple books, but be aware that others might add new books after you've voted, so check back often to make sure you don't miss out on voting for any favorites.




I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

I wasn't sure what I was going to get when I started this book; obviously microbes, but was it going to be dry and academic, or worse, evangelical 'omg-microbes-are-the-answer-to-everything!'?


Luckily I got neither.  Instead Yong's book was, from start to finish, utterly fascinating; never too arcane and never to simplistic, he found the sweet spot of science writing, creating an engaging narrative that never talks down to the reader.  Anyone with an average vocabulary and an interest in the symbiotic world can pick up this book without feeling intimidated.  


Microbes (bacteria, viruses, etc.) are everywhere.  Everywhere.  And bad news for the germaphobes:  this is a good and necessary thing.  Life on Earth simply could not exist without these microscopic machines.  Plants and animals depend on bacteria for nutrients they can't get from food on their own, for turning on specific and necessary genes in the DNA, even for protecting them from other bacteria gone rogue.  


Yong starts at the beginning of humans' awareness that there is life we cannot see.  Typically these beginning chapters are the deadliest for me, as I get bored with the 'background' and impatient to get to the 'good stuff', but Yong made sure even the boring background was the 'good stuff'.  I was never bored reading this book.


Left to my own devices, this review would go on forever, because there's just so much worth discussing, so I'm going to short-circuit myself and say this:  I Contain Multitudes is a great book for learning how microbes help make all life possible; it's a 50/50 split, more or less, of information on microbe/human and microbes/other flora and fauna symbioses.  It's easy to read, it's entertaining, and for at least myself, it was laugh out loud funny in one part.  I finished with a much better understanding of the microbial world and my own digestive system (for now, I'm going to resist the temptation of probiotic supplements).


A very worth-while read and one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone with an interest.



Reading progress update: I've read 235 out of 354 pages.

I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

I'm almost done, but I started laughing so hard on page 234, I had to take a break.


I'm never going to look at shampoo the same way again.

Ewok cat helps with the (wet) laundry...

I feel damp.