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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.

Booklikes-opoly 2019 - MbD's kickoff

I'm doing something a little bit different this year. I wanted to track the game in the simplest way possible.  Fancy HTML tables are out; spreadsheets are out; an updated tracking post is not an option because BookLikes has never figured out what time it is in Australia, and I can never remember if they're an hour too fast or too slow.

 

The solution I came up with is to print the board out to get MT to print the board out for me, dig out some dice (we must have some somewhere), and play the game in real life, posting photos of the board as I progress.  Similar to what Ani's Book Abyss is doing with magnetic monkey and friends, but a lot duller (possible photo bombing by cats is the best I can offer).  

 

When I first brought up the idea to MT, I suggested printing out all the cards too, which earned me a glare from my better half, so I asked Moonlight Reader if she would mind if I recreated the board with the prompts, in a press-ready format.  She is a gracious and generous game overlord, and gave me her blessings, so I've tossed together a reasonable facsimile at high resolution and sent it off to the printer/husband, who promises to have it to me tomorrow.

 

Moonlight Reader also encouraged me to offer the high res file up to anyone who'd like to do the same (print it out), so know that it's on offer, and I'm happy to send it to whomever would like it for printing.  It's much plainer than Moonlight Reader's though:

 

(this is too small to read on BL, but you get the idea.)

 

Meanwhile, as I await the finished product, I'm going to roll the virtual dice for my first play:

 

 

 

 6. Read a book set in your home town, state, or country or that you checked out of your local library or that has been on your (physical) bookshelves since last summer.

 

I think this might be the perfect time to dig out one of my favorite books set in my home town:  Skinny-dipping: A Novel of Suspense by Claire Matturro  

 

"I, Lilly Rose Cleary, have a nearly endless capacity for driving myself crazy." And who knows a woman better than herself? Especially a woman like Lilly, a tough-as-nails partner working in a Sarasota, Florida, law firm representing fat-cat physicians in malpractice cases. Lilly is also an obsessive-compulsive health nut who has a bad habit of tripping over dead bodies.

 

It's a re-read, but it's been a long time since my last visit with Lilly Rose.  Too long, really.



I'm in a funk ... (there's a book at the end of this, I swear)

a funk that encompasses many existential levels:

 

On a global level, my funk is fuelled by the climate crisis and the unwillingness to take it seriously.  Headlines about having only 12 years to save the planet are arresting though hyperbolic; the planet will survive whatever we do to it, until the day the sun swallows it whole (or it's vaporised for an intergalactic by-pass).  Humanity, on the other hand ... I don't like humanity's chances.

 

On the national level, there is the lunatic asylum that is my home country, and my current country of residence seems hellbent for leather to join the crazy.  Elections here are tomorrow and the current government is running for reelection on every platform EXCEPT the environment, which they are determined to ignore.  If they lose there's hope; otherwise, see global funk, above.

 

On the home-front level, things aren't bad, but my funk is being fuelled by a constant stream of ceaseless distractions.  Crazy work and bad colds screwing with my narcolepsy management.  MT's business, after 25 years in the same location, has been told by the building management that they aren't renewing his lease because he has a prime, corner space in the 'hip' restaurant district, and they want to put in a new restaurant so they can make more money (ignoring the 80% failure rate of restaurants in the first year).  So he had to find a new space (less than a block away) that's going to require significant renovations (it used to be - HA! - a restaurant!), the costs of which turn my blood to ice.  But never mind that, it's business; it's also a mind numbing number of daily conversations about the space, the contractors, the new landlords, the move, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.  (There might be a silver lining though; tbd.)  And finally, there was grief: we had to say goodbye to Wasabi a few months back; his heart, his age, and blood cancer all caught up with him.  It wasn't a surprise; we'd known for a few months it was coming, but it still hurt.  I'd say we all miss him, but that wouldn't strictly be true; Easter-cat has never been happier.  The rest of us miss him though.

 

And since I'm throwing it all out there, on a soul-sanctuary level, my funk has also been snacking on completely unrelated events here on BookLikes that nobody is in anyway personally responsible for, but added together become a high-fat-funk-fuel.  The struggle The Flat Book Society has had choosing a book the majority enjoy; the anxiety many have shared about our beloved BookLikes' future; the tension between members, the likes of which - still FAR more polite and respectful relative to elsewhere - have been heretofore unheard of in this bookish paradise.  None of it unreasonable, but all of it demoralising when lumped together.

 

Now, don't get me wrong: this is just a funk; I'm not depressed by any definition, just restless.  Maybe a tad more impatient; more unwilling to lend my attention to anything that hints at being confronting or difficult.  A little over it all. I've been burying myself in a lot of re-reads which is great, and I've been catching up on my science periodicals (which probably isn't helping).  And honestly, ignoring everything else, because it all feels that little bit too hard at the moment.  

 

Here's where the book comes in:  Today I indulged in a humongous spot of comfort/retail-therapy by massively splurging and buying Alexander von Humboldt: The Complete Drawings from the American Travel Journals by Ottmar Ette and Alexander von Humboldt and Julia Bayerl :

 

Alexander von Humboldt: The Complete Drawings from the American Travel Journals - Ottmar Ette,Alexander von Humboldt,Julia Bayerl 

This slipcovered beauty contains "450 illustrations have been painstakingly reproduced, complete with handwritten notes, ink stains and water spots." It's also beautifully bound and comes with it's own slipcover.  I'm SUCH a SUCKER for slipcovered books. And ribbon page markers - it has one of those too!  ;-)

 

I also ordered Dinosaurs Rediscovered by Michael J. Benton  which may or may not be a cause of comfort - we'll see.  They both should arrive first of next week (I ordered local) and I am giddy with anticipation.  Progress!!

 



Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson, #11)

Storm Cursed - Patricia Briggs

My rating would indicate I wasn't all that thrilled with this book, but I was.  I thought it was a very solid entry in the series – it holds its own – though it isn't the best.

 

I had, overall, three disconnects with the book that stick in my mind after 24 hours.  From least important to most they are:

 

1.  The blurb set up an unreasonable expectation for me.  The blurb, coupled with the cover, made me think of the scene in X-Men 3, where Jane Grey unleashes the mother of all temper tantrums.  The reality in this book, while horrifying in itself, is rather underwhelming in comparison; it's not really a storm so much as it's a killing spree.

 

2.  I get it: Mercy really doesn't like being bound to Stefan, even though she freely admits she consented and that he's never, ever done anything to abuse her trust or exploit said bond.  To Mercy I say: get over it already.

 

3.  And this is really the stickler, the reason I rated a story I mostly enjoyed so low:  animal cruelty and death.  I get it - the story is about black magic that feeds on suffering - and I don't care.  I did not like the long swaths of descriptions; the story didn't need it either - it was horrifying enough without Briggs putting images in my head I'm really not happy about.  I frankly skipped large sections of the book when I discovered she was running with this "theme".   I can't believe I didn't DNF the damn thing, though the rest of the story was good enough that I'm glad I didn't.  But I'll vet her next books far more closely in future and I'm skipping any that appear to revisit this crap.

 

Beyond those things, the story really was good. I loved Sherwood's part in the story even though it was shades of Bran; Briggs still made it work well.  I found Larry the Goblin King sort of funny, and definitely intriguing - I enjoy stories about, if not underdogs, people who are underestimated.  It sounds like the goblins are woefully underestimated.  I have mixed feelings about Elizaveta, though I'll probably not miss her, and I enjoyed Mercy finally figuring out that her own strengths were unexplored.  It took her long enough, but at least she got there in the end.

 

Overall a strong story if you can overlook the animal cruelty, which I can't.  My enthusiasm for this series has suffered a significant hit; I won't go so far as to say I'm done, but I'm certainly looking at the next release with a lot more circumspection.



A Gentlewoman's Guide to Murder

A Gentle Woman's Guide to Murder - Victoria Hamilton

Nope, not for me.  I should have known, since I've read Hamilton's work before and it left me feeling very dissatisfied, but I thought 'hey, a different publisher might make a difference'.

 

Hey!, no, it didn't.

 

Up until now I kept coming back because at the heart of each of her books is a good mystery, and that's true here too, but there's always been something self-righteous about her characters that I could never warm to.  In A Gentlewoman's Guide to Murder the gloves came off, and the author let loose the dogs of evangelical self-righteous war.  

 

This is an Edwardian feminist rant thinly veiled in a very good murder mystery.  Now, I do not for a minute think that Edwardian women had it anything but awful; they were for all intents and purposes, coddled slaves.  Neither am I anything but supportive of strong, independent women protecting their rights to be strong, independent women.  But I am violently opposed to all forms of evangelism: social, political and spiritual.  I refuse to tolerate heavy-handed preaching and ranting, and, dare I say it, harping, in real life and real life is too short to put up with it in my books.

 

But - for those that enjoy a dedicated, passionate, laser-focused character who verges on bitter because, seriously, her life sucked in spite of wealth and privilege, this book is not bad.  As I said before, it's well plotted and meticulously researched, and the story revolves around a particularly vile, dark, confronting crime (trigger for pedophilia).  It probably could have used a stronger edit, but since I didn't like the book, I'm not sure I'm objective.

 

Also, fair warning: this was obviously meant to be the start of a series, as it ends with a cliff-hanger/lead in to another plot line, but Midnight Ink is being shut down in a few months - if not weeks - so readers who do like the story might be left hanging.  As I have no intention of reading any further, I'm not surprisingly ok with never knowing about what happens at the asylum.



For the Flat Bookers, and any other Humboldt fans out there...

The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt - Andrea Wulf, Lillian Melcher

I occasionally listen to Science Friday podcasts in between audio books and their latest podcast (May 3rd) includes a segment on Alexander von Humboldt, and an interview with Andrea Wulf and the illustrator of her new book, The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt - Andrea Wulf, Lillian Melcher.  BrokenTune, Lillelara and I were discussing it (briefly) in the comments of one of Lillelara's posts just last week so this seemed especially timely. 

 

There's a link off the podcast (which Ira, the host, reads out as well) to an excerpt of the book, which is an illustrated, comic book edition of the original The Invention of Nature.

 

So for anyone who might be interested, it's Science Friday by WNYC Studios, and the link my iPhone gave me is:

 

https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/science-friday/id73329284

 

which seems to go to all the episodes, but the Humboldt one is at the top of the list (May 3rd/4th).



Gimme Some Sugar (Southern Eclectic, #3)

Gimme Some Sugar - Molly Harper

As my cold has improved, so has my attention span and I was ready for something a bit more involved than YA and comic strips.

 

First off:  I hate the title.  I've always thought that phrase nauseating. 

 

Otherwise, except for some appalling editing*, the story was the best one yet.

 

The Southern Eclectic series is Harper's non-paranormal, lightly romantic chick-lit featuring the members of the McCready family, an extended, eccentric, but close-knit family living in the fictional town of Lake Sackett and owners of McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop.  Because southerners believe in diversification.  (I once lived in a part of Georgia that had a florist and tanning salon, so there is a precedent, of sorts.)

 

This entry focused on Duffy McCready, and I didn't expect to like it as much as I did; as a character he's always been great, but I didn't see how a story about him straightening out his highly dysfunctional love life would interest me.  Molly Harper managed it splendidly.  It was humorous, well written, and one scene was so unspeakably sincere it made my eyes mist up, something that just rarely happens, though I concede this cold has me in an emotionally weakened state.

 

All in all it was a fun read; exactly what I needed on the day.

 

*The editors should be slapped.  Areas throughout the book were so poorly edited that pronouns and character names were swapped and the month a scene takes place went from February to March in the span of a few paragraphs.  And not because time marched on either.  I'd have rated this story even higher if not for the piss-poor editing.



Literary Chicken Soup ... of a kind

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great - Judy Blume Freckle Juice - Judy Blume, Debbie Ridpath Ohi Deenie - Judy Blume Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope  - Berkeley Breathed Bloom County: Best Read On The Throne - Berkeley Breathed

This last week I've been knocked out with a cold - the kind a lot of people would call the 'flu, but is just really a bad, bad cold.  The type where you either sleep or just lie there staring listlessly into space because watching tv or listening to audio hurts your ears, and your eyes don't want to focus on anything, and never mind your brain; your brain is too focused on trying to figure out why it feels like you've just swallowed razor blades, and trying not think about anything else at all.

 

So when I finally started feeling vaguely human yesterday I needed comfort and ease, and a reason to laugh.  I needed Judy Blume and Berkeley Breathed.  All of these I've read before, but all of them survived the reunion.

 

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great - Judy Blume:  Well, ok, I hadn't read this one since I was a kid and remembered it as less than a favorite.  I remembered correctly as it's the Blume book I like the least (relatively speaking, b/c everything she wrote for kids is brilliant).  Sheila had a problem with honesty and even as a kid I did not care for the way she fabricated lies to prop up her ego.  Blume tries to show the reader Sheila does this out of fear, but it never really engaged my sympathy, although Blume might have been writing about me in the scene involving the swimming test.  Still, 3 stars.

 

Freckle Juice - Judy Blume:  I've always thought this book was great.  Definitely written for the younger kids; the gross factor is high and the storyline simple and straight forward, though I particularly enjoy the tiny twist at the end more so as an adult.

 

Deenie - Judy Blume The Blume book I found Most Confronting as a teen, and still found painful to read.  Scoliosis terrified me growing up and this book did not help matters.  My later diagnosis sent me into paroxysms of hysteria, even though mine is so mild it wasn't worth treating.  Decades later, this book is still hard to read, but what stands out the most is this is one of the rare Judy Blume books that feature active parental interference.  In a note at the end of this edition, Blume acknowledges this, saying she wrote Deenie as a way to explore how parental expectations can shape and pigeonhole children.

 

Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope - Berkeley Breathed and Bloom County: Best Read On The Throne - Berkeley Breathed:  Bloom County is one of those things that you either get or you don't.  It shaped my teen aged years in ways I cannot adequately explain and Breathed's comeback in 2015 felt like a cherished part of my life had been returned to me; to stick with comic strip metaphors, it's like Linus getting his blanket back.  And the blanket has a hilarious sense of humor.



Heartburn

Heartburn - Nora Ephron

My second Nora Ephron book, but my first experience of her 'fiction'.  I use the quotes because she writes an introduction in this edition, outlining that while the book is nominally a fictional piece, it's entirely based on the breakup of her second marriage, with minor adjustments and major alterations.

 

Ephron wrote comedy, it was her strength, but this is also the story loosely based on her own experiences with infidelity.  So while it's definitely written for laughs, the subject matter automatically makes it harder to actually laugh, although there are a lot of chuckles.  It is Nora Ephron, after all, and the woman was a genius at finding the humor in everything, but most especially in herself.

 

As for the story itself: the characters, the 'plot', the atmosphere; about those I can only say it's a book of its time.  It reads exactly like something written by Judy Blume, only for laughs.  There was just this profoundly screwed-up vibe about the 60's and 70's culture, when infidelity was both expected and intolerable, but mostly accepted because women didn't really believe they had a choice.

 

If you can accept this book as a book of its time and can enjoy cultural stereotyping when it's done with a generous and kind spirit, this is a book well worth reading.  It's the story of a woman who knows she let optimism triumph over common sense and is wise enough to own it, laugh at it, learn from it and move herself on, up and out.



Flat Broke with Two Goats

Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia - Jennifer McGaha

This book arrived and I showed it to MT and said "look! our retirement plan arrived!" (referring to the goat part, not the broke part. I hope.)

 

When I first saw this title I was immediately drawn to it because I wanted to hear from people who'd done what we sometimes talk about doing: leaving urbanity behind for a quieter, more sustainable and slower paced life.  Preferably surrounded by a mix of domesticated animals and nonvenomous wildlife.

 

But this book ended up being more complicated than that and my review is going to sound a tad ungenerous because of it.  Ungenerous because the complicated bits are well written, and at times riveting, but not what I was looking for.  Look at that title and cover; that cover and title imply a certain level of quirky adventure and maybe a humorous mishap or two while journeying the learning curve of homesteading.

 

Instead, this is primarily the story of the author and her husband's experience with the Global Financial Crisis and the consequences of living on credit, written by a woman who sounds like she's still very much on the road to emotional recovery.  McGaha's husband - an accountant - didn't pay their personal state or federal income taxes for four years.  By the time she finds out, the IRS and the state have put liens on everything, seized their bank accounts and garnished their wages.  With no choices left, they walked away from their home, and took up residence in an ancient cabin in the North Carolina woods that distant relatives of her husband offered them for a peppercorn rent.  So less quirky and fun than the marketing department would lead you to believe.

 

The first third of the book covers this downward spiral and it is a cautionary tale and almost the cliche for a great many living in the 1990's.  McGaha doesn't pull any punches about her anger at herself and her husband, nor how bad things got between them.  There's also a horrific but ultimately irrelevant chapter about her brief but terrifying first marriage, told as a flashback.  It's gripping stuff but it honestly has no relevance at all to the rest of the book, especially as we never find out what happened to him, or his relationship with their daughter, if any.

 

The remainder of the book focuses on their experiences at the cabin; cleaning it up, trying to cope with the transition from city water and sewer to spring fed water tanks and wood burning boilers.  Their encounters with local wildlife of both the venomous and rodent variety, and their first forays into keeping chickens and goats.  Interspersed throughout are flashbacks to her grandparents and ... I don't know what to call them ... daydreams? about her great-grandparents and their connection to the land in Appalachia.  

 

Again, these 'memoirs' are really well written, but this reader bought a book about being broke and raising goats, not about dreams of the author's Appalachian ancestors.  And while I DID get the stuff about the goats and chickens, I'd have liked more detail; I wanted to know more about the cabin, the chickens, the structures they built; I got a lot about the goats, but the cheese making was brief, as was the soap making.  I can't help but think if there'd been fewer memories, maybe I'd have gotten more of the pertinent details. 

 

Even though I think there are really two books here - the story of their recovery and altered lifestyle, and a collection of stories/memories/dreams about her ancestors - it is still an incredibly eye-opening, informative read.  So much so that I handed it to MT when I finished and told him to read it, but that he should feel free to skip the disjointed bits.



Deadly Politics (Nichelle Clarke, #7)

Deadly Politics - LynDee Walker

Well.  That was something.  

 

This series used to be called Headline in Heels, which was never a good choice as it gave the wrong impression.  When Walker and Henery Press parted ways, Severn River picked the series up and gave it a spiffy, but darker, look and thankfully renamed the series to just the very dignified "Nichelle Clarke" series.

 

Deadly Politics is the first new entry in the series under the new publisher and I was both curious and reticent to find out how that would effect the series' tone.  It's always been so much meatier and edgier than the original series name and covers led readers to believe, but these new covers feel like shades of Patterson, or Grisham and I'm not a fan of Patterson and Grisham (except Pelican Brief); they're do deadly earnest and take themselves so seriously.  Would the new story conform to the new look and lose the breath of lightness and humor previous books have had?

 

Thankfully, not.  Even the MC's affinity for expensive shoes remains (in the form of odd exclamations).  But this is definitely a darker story and it's definitely a thriller.  This combination of breeziness and intrigue turned out to be catnip for me - thrillers and I grew apart and went our seperate ways back in the 90's, but Deadly Politics sucked me right back in and kept me glued to the pages, snarling at anyone who attempted to interrupt me.  

 

(As I finished this last night, the look on my face must have said it all, as MT quietly walked up, counted the pages I had remaining (without disturbing my reading - kudos to that man!), and softly whispered:  "I'll hold dinner until you're done."  Dear Reader, I married him.  And now you know why.)

 

Now, in the cold light of a new day and firmly planted back in reality, I still feel like this was an unbelievably gripping story.  Was the premise over the top, maybe a little?  Yes.  Please god, let it have been over the top.  But in the moment I didn't care if it was or not - I just had to find out what was going to happen next.  The action started in the first chapter and never let up; things never stopped happening, and the story never stopped becoming more intricately complex.  By the end, Nichelle herself summed up the story perfectly:

 

"Oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me."

 

This wasn't the perfect story; it's amazingly written, but there were a couple of errors in continuity.  A reference to an early-story character named Jerry is referred to later as Jake, which had me scrambling through the pages trying to figure out who this new person was, and as the story got really tense the writing became a little too staccato, making me unsure of who was doing what, or saying something at times.  These moment probably didn't make up more than 1% of the text though, and I consider them to fall into the normal margin of error.

 

I didn't go the full 5 stars for two reasons.  While I definitely enjoyed the heart stopping ride, Walker sacrificed a certain amount of believability to achieve it.  I respect this is a judgement call, and it's not as if it didn't work - it's just that the story line might have packed a different, far more confronting punch had she gone a different direction.

 

This story ends on a slightly bittersweet note, the kind of note that authors generally use as a setup for "character development" of the kind that usually involves screwing with the MC's love life.  LynDee Walker has not historically gone the predictable route with this character, and I'm going to remain optimistic that she continues to buck the trends; I like Nichelle and Joey and I don't need their relationship to be fraught with romantic complications to make their story interesting.

 

Either way, I cannot wait to find out what happens next.



New Books Added! Oxford University Press Trade for the rest of 2019. I think.

DONE!  THANKS to Elentarri for blazing through this one, even though it seems there are some kinks in this feed still to be worked out.  :p

 

New feed!  It's not perfect; author names come through last, first, which is about the most impossible thing to automatically fix, and I'm not sure I have a handle on how they divide up their imprints.  But these are apparently the new books for their Trade division for the next 6 months.  More might be coming through as I get a better handle on their system.

 

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New Books Added! Penguin Random House for July Part 4: Penguin Audio for July

Batch #1  DONE - thanks to Leah's Bookish Obsession:

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Batch #2  DONE - thanks to Leah's Bookish Obsession:

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Batch #4  DONE - thanks to Leah's Bookish Obsession::

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New Books Added! Penguin Random House for July Part 3: Penguin Adult Hardcovers

(Adult as in not children's.  Not a judgement; just mentioning it in case anyone is at work or has children within sight.)

 

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New Books Added! Penguin Random House for July Part 2

DONE!  Thanks to Elentarri for polishing these off!

 

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New Books Added! Penguin Random House for July Part 1

DONE!  Elentarri smoked through these and the 2nd batch.  Huge thanks to her, for adding a couple of hundred book covers.  :)

 

Who feels like adding some covers?  :)

 

Batch #1:

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The Flat Book Society: May's Read

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History - Jay Burreson, Penny Le Couteur

Voting for the May Flat Book Society Read has closed and those that have voted have spoken.  Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Couteur, and Jay Burreson  has won the day/month.

 

Napoleon’s Buttons is the fascinating account of seventeen groups of molecules that have greatly influenced the course of history. These molecules provided the impetus for early exploration, and made possible the voyages of discovery that ensued. The molecules resulted in grand feats of engineering and spurred advances in medicine and law; they determined what we now eat, drink, and wear. A change as small as the position of an atom can lead to enormous alterations in the properties of a substance-which, in turn, can result in great historical shifts.

With lively prose and an eye for colorful and unusual details, Le Couteur and Burreson offer a novel way to understand the shaping of civilization and the workings of our contemporary world.

 

This is an older book, but it is still in print both in paperback and ebook and I've just looked: even my library system has it available, so hopefully everyone who would like to participate should be able to source a copy without too much effort.

 

I've moved the start date back to May 10th to give everyone a little extra time to find a copy.

 

Anyone and everyone is welcome to join in - Huggins loves a good party.