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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.

Reading progress update: I've read 0 out of 414 pages.

The Science Of Discworld - Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart


Recent disputes between staff and management at la maison des chats choyés have prohibited me from making progress on the Flat Book Society's Rogue Buddy Read.  After exhausting negotiations resulting in an increase in lap times in exchange for the release of the hostage, I hope to be able to make a significant dent tonight (in the book, not the cat) and catch up with everyone else.


Hogfather (Discworld, #20) - Terry Pratchett

I was supposed to be doing this as a buddy read with everyone, but I've not been keeping my end up at all.  The cold I thought I'd beaten down made a comeback at the end of last week, so I kept falling asleep every time I tried to get stuck into Hogfather.  Which sounds like a terrible condemnation of the book, but is really is NOT.  The book was excellent.  I'd prove it's excellence with quotes, except all my reading buddies beat me to all the quotes I liked the best. 


There's mischief afoot in the Discworld, and the Hogfather is missing.  Death decides to step in and play the Hogfather's role, visiting houses, filling stockings and doing his best to ensure that belief in the Hogfather never falters, while his grand-daughter Susan and a host of others do their best to thwart the mischief so Hogfather can come back.


This is a brilliant story - practically flawless.  My only two complaints are that:


1. Teatime is a little too evil; it adds an edge to the story that I freely admit is necessary; without it the whole thing would be a little less brilliant.  Nevertheless, His story line was the fly in my lemonade; I'd be reading along having a rollicking good time and then he'd show up being manically evil, and it felt like someone let the air out of my balloons. 


2.  The book kept referring to both dollars and pence.  Either this was done on purpose, because it's the discworld and can use any form of currency Pratchett would like, or else it's an editing error that wasn't caught during a transition from UK to international editions.  If it's the former, well, that's totally fine.  But I don't know, so I kept wondering if it was the latter and I kept getting tripped up by the discrepancy.


In the grand scheme of things, these are inconsequential - this is, hands down, the best discworld book I've read so far.  But Teatime's rain on my holiday parade does keep me from going the whole 5 stars.


If you like silly fun with a side of very deep philosophy, read this book.


There's one quote I don't think anyone has beaten me to yet:


Humans need fantasy to be human.  To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.


That might very well be my favourite quote of the book. 





November reading review

A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions - Mark Forsyth The Chosen - Chaim Potok A Burnable Book - Bruce   Holsinger

This has been my slowest reading month all year, with 12 books finished.  November and December have always been a crazy time of year for me, but now I know why the creators of Christmas chose December: in the Northern Hemisphere it's winter and there's nothing else to do.  In the Southern Hemisphere it's spring too, so all the busyness associated with warmer weather is compounded by the upcoming holidays.  Which means I spend November and December throwing a lot of longing looks at my books as I'm rushing past them. 


At least the books I did read were all pretty good.  I had two 5 star reads this month, A Christmas Cornucopia: The hidden stories behind our Yuletide traditions by Mark Forsyth  and The Chosen by Chaim Potok  and the rest were all between 3 and 4 stars.


I usually only showcase 4.5 and 5 star reads, but I will give a special shoutout to A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger as the most surprising, breakout read for me in November.  I didn't want to like it, and I flinched so often reading it, I likely looked as though I had developed a tic, but I could not put it down.  I had to know how it ended and it didn't disappoint me (in terms of plotting; the language make me want to wash it's mouth out with soap, but the plotting was excellent!). 

Twilight of the Belle Epoque

Twilight of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Renault, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, and Their Friends Through the Great War - Mary McAuliffe

This is the continuation of Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends and takes the reader through the end of WWI in Paris.


I don't think I have much to say about it beyond it's excellent.  If you're new to McAuliffe's books, think of her style as a narrative timeline; she goes through the year and in a very accessibly style leads the reader through the lives of each the artists, politicians, writers and actors that brought the age to life.  You don't need to read the first one, although she does make references to the events she covered in it.


My only complaint is the same as I remember having in the first book: it's a bit clunky to start - it takes a chapter to get into the swing of things.  But once it does, it reads so well, it's kind of hard to put down.


Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in history as long as it isn't dry.


Book themes for Veteran’s Day/Armistice Day: Read a book involving veterans of any war, books about WWI or WWII (fiction or non-fiction). 


16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square 5: Advent

Tasks for Advent: Post a pic of your advent calendar. (Festive cat, dog, hamster or other suitable pet background expressly encouraged.) 


Bonus task:  make your own advent calendar and post it.


Technically, it's not my own Advent calendar, but MT's.  I make a beer advent calendar for him every year.  He gets one bottle of, hopefully, new-to-him craft beer each day.  I find it works wonders helping him find his Christmas spirit.


I say hopefully because this is year 3 and no, I'm not organised AT ALL about how I do this, so every year I'm at the shop, with, luckily, the same sales guy, and he and I go through the stock pulling beers off the shelves with comments like:  


What about this one?  No... I think he had that last year...what about this one?  Definitely not - he won't appreciate guava, sage and pineapple in his beer... Oh! this is a new one and he'll really like it!


There's also a lot of me pulling beers off the shelves because they have pretty labels or hilarious names and the Purvis guy (Purvis is the shop name) telling me I have the worst taste in beer, but great taste in marketing. 


I DID get organised in one respect this year:  instead of buying gobs of tissue paper to wrap the bottles in, I had the brainstorm of buying some fabric remnants, and wrapping the bottles in those instead, making them re-useable year to year.  I cut them into the proper size, and then added two grommets to feed a ribbon through, allowing me to easily tie the whole thing up.  I used all the bits of ribbon I've saved from previous years' holidays, so each is a bit different (and not always a good color combo, but oh well).


I also got proactive about the numbered labels:  I bought a set of craft paper swing tags, drew as nice a set of numbers on them as I could, added a grommet and they'll now be the permanent day numbers for future years.  Earlier this year, I bought a nice old wooden box to put the bottles in too, so future years, this SHOULD be a snap to pull together; maybe then I can start keeping track of which beer I buy from year to year.


So, the finished product:

Without tags or cat.


With tags.


 With tags *and* cat.

The Moonstone

The Moonstone - Ronald Pickup, Sean Barrett, David Timson, Wilkie Collins, Dale Brown, Jonathan Oliver, John Foley, Fenella Woolgar, Joe Marsh, Jamie Parker

What can I say other than the book is worth the hype?  


I wasn't sure at the start; I listened to the audiobook version - which was excellently done - and Gabriel Betteredge's opening narrative is... trying.  I loved his character the best and the narrator who played his part played it to the hilt, which meant it felt like there was an amiable, loveable, old man telling me a story by taking the longest possible route.  I was charmed, while at the same time wanting to prod him along, and honestly, if I had to hear much more about Robinson Crusoe I might have started pulling out my own hair.


Once we get past Betteredge's ramblings (which take up the first 40% of the book), the story moves along much quicker and the story becomes far more interesting, as the twist at the midway point was riveting.  I only ever listen to audio while I'm in the car, because I'm so easily distracted, but I found myself carrying my phone and portable speaker out to the garden to listen to The Moonstone while I weeded, and found 3.5 hours disappeared in a blink.  I got so close to the end today by the time I got home, I came straight in and grabbed my print edition so I could finish it. 


I guessed who the villain was at the start, but then the twist came in and I had NO idea where he was going with the mystery; subtle misdirections were everywhere in the narratives and so, while I never really gave up my notions of who was guilty, I was entirely ready to believe I had the wrong end of the stick until the end. 


The Moonstone is excellent and I highly recommend it; it's not a light, breezy read to be done in one or two settings, but it does reward the reader's commitment at the end.  


Book themes for Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day: Read anything where the main character has servants (paid servants count, NOT unpaid) or is working as a servant him-/ herself.


Surprise, Surprise Bonus Joker #2: The Cuckoo Egg



We're almost halfway into the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, and it's time for another bonus joker ... and for 'fessing up: because we've put one over on you. 


Yes, that's right, one of the 32 holidays we've included in the game isn't actually set in December but ... well, when exactly, and of course which holiday it is, will be for you to find out.


We'll give you two hints:


(1) It's not one of the holidays that we've already passed, and


(2) It's not one of the holidays that are based on a different calendar than the Gregorian calendar, so that they could be on certain dates in November or December in one year and on other dates the next year.


(Oh, and it isn't Christmas.  But you'll have suspected that.)


Since we'd like to give as many people as possible the chance to earn a bonus point for this one, we'd ask you to PM Murder by Death or Themis-Athena your answers so the beans don't get spilled too early.


The joker is good from right now until 12 midnight (EST) on November 29, 2017.


Happy hunting!


Reblogged from Themis-Athena's Garden of Books

The Curse of La Fontaine (Verlaque and Bonnet Mysteries, #6)

The Curse of La Fontaine - M.L. Longworth

This one was better than #5, but not quite as compelling as the first few.  But I think that's to be expected as a series progresses: familiarity with the characters and the storytelling creates a higher set of expectations.


Love has made Verlaque soft.  This isn't a bad thing, but I'll admit he's slightly less interesting now that the sharp edges have been softened.  Marine had far fewer pages in this book, which was a little bit of a disappointment; I liked her presence and contributions to earlier cases in previous books.  


There were several plots going at once, all interwoven together and delightfully - and believably - muddying each others' waters.  Almost all of the stories were interesting (one was a bit meh) and the resolution concerning the murder victim's drug usage/dealing was  so very cheeky; I loved it.  In the background runs the Curse of La Fontaine, adding a touch of atmosphere to everything.


I'm thoroughly enjoying this series and am very pleased there's another one on its way; I'm really looking forward to its release.


This works for the Book themes for Advent: [...] or a book featuring 4 siblings.   The murder victim is 1 of 4 brothers, and at least one of the other brothers plays a significant part in the book; the other two brothers appear frequently as well. 


(With this cover, it also works for the Pancha Ganapati book theme: the cover is entirely yellow, with orange text and black illustrations.)


16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square #12: Festivus

Tasks for Festivus:  Perform the Airing of Grievances:  name 5 books you’ve read this year that have disappointed you - tell us in tongue-lashing detail why and how they failed to live up to expectations.


Of course this list was the easier one to put together, so let the airing of grievances begin:


Platypus - Ann Moyal I love platypuses - they are possibly my favourite animal, and look at that cover - isn't it a beautiful cover?  


Then there's the title's sub:  The extraordinary story of how a curious creature baffled the world.


Only it really ought to be called The extraordinary story of how human scientists wholesale slaughtered a shy, curious creature that never hurt anyone, but baffled the world. 


I wanted to love this book; instead I really, really disliked it.



Assault and Beret - Jenn McKinlay Oh my god, the stupid in this book.  And I mean stupid even by cozy standards (for those that just assume all cozies are stupid; Also: shame!).


The series had a fair amount of silly from the start but held promise, with certain very appealing points in its favour.  But this one... everyone involved in it should be embarrassed; like, 80's hair embarrassed.  The plot is so. damn. dumb.


This was the final book in the series, to which I can only say thank goodness.  It was a concept with a lot of promise that was treated badly and I'm glad to see the backside of it.



Fifty Days That Changed The World - Hywell WilliamsAnother book I was looking forward to, Fifty Days That Changed The World ended up being everything most people fear about history books.  It was dry.  It was academic.  There were many battles and many dates.  I was bored, even though the dates chosen were dates that should have kept me riveted to the page.  


And since this is supposed to be tongue lashing, Folio Society should be sent for a stint in the Tower of London for incredibly poor editing.  Missing spaces, and incomplete or nonsensical sentences... *tsk* *tsk*.




The Name of the Rose - Umberto EcoSo many things to like about this book:  the setting (a monastery), the MC (an homage to Sherlock Holmes), the backdrop (a library), and classic mystery elements like secret passageways.  And then there's the biggest reason to love it:  It's a mystery about books!


But holy cheese whiz, the theological discourses.  I love books that include a solid theological backdrop, but Eco broke me.  So. much. theology.  And so much sect theology; more than I ever wanted, or needed, to know about the minute and major differences between the Dominicans and the Franciscans.  About the Beghards and Fraticelli.  And likely a few others I've forgotten.


I really wanted to love this book; which makes my struggles with it all the more disappointing. 


Jamaica Inn - Daphne du MaurierNot sure I really have to explain why this book was a big fat disappointment to me.  I'll admit I expected great things from a woman who is known everywhere for Rebecca, but after reading this, I'm not sure I'll even read Rebecca now.  


That ending.  I'm really not much of a feminist, but really, that ending!!! How could any self-respecting woman in any age write such twaddle? Even the ditz in Assault and Beret (see above) would make better choices.


Mary and Jem deserve the miserable existence they've doomed themselves to.  If Book World were actually a place I could visit, I'd visit the last chapter of this book and drop a boulder on the both of them.



Honorable mention:  This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber.  This book makes the list because it was so good until the end where the author ruined everything with her plot twist. Everything.  I'll still read the second book, but I weep for what might have been.



For Tannat - Updated

UPDATED - Because I couldn't get the bowler hat out of my head. 


Top hat Huggins:



Bowler hat Huggins:

The Flat Book Society: Suggest books for March read still open...

Just a reminder that the list of possible books for our March read is still open to suggestions.   On Dec. 1st, I'll announce the 1 week final voting open, and whatever has the most votes on Dec. 7th will be called as our March read.


So if you have any books you'd like to be considered for the group read for March, please make sure to add them to the list now.


As a reminder, our January read is Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski.   Everybody and anybody is welcome to join us.

Don't shoot the messenger...

but Bloomsbury is having their annual Christmas sale, with 45% off most of their titles (no discounts on Harry Potter, of course).  They've got two Edmund Crispin re-issues available in case any of my fellow Classic Crime aficionados are interested...


From what I can see this sale is going on in the US, UK and AU.  


My TBR is getting nervous....




16 Festive Tasks - my tracking post, update 2 (Nov. 26)

MT and I hosted Thanksgiving at ours with 8 of our closest ex-pat friends (or at least, the ex-pats and their Aussie relatives).  It was a good time, and everything went well, and we're knackered.  I am so worn-out I voluntarily SKIPPED A BOOK SALE.  MT and my TBR pile are both gasping in astonishment and relief.  


This is also the reason you poor people are getting spammed with my Festive Tasks posts.  If I close the laptop and try to read, I'll fall asleep, so thank you all for taking one for the team.


The card:



I'll add a light for each task I've done.


Links to completed tasks:

Square 1: November 1st:  All Saints Day / Día de los Muertos / Calan Gaeaf

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Dios de Muertos task (Square #1)

Calan Gaeaf:  Grave Errors (Witch City Mystery, #5)



Square 2: November 5th: Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night/Fireworks Night) / Bon Om Touk (Cambodian Water Festival)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Guy Fawkes task (Square #2)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Guy Fawkes task (Square #2); the task I meant to do...

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Bon Om Touk task (Square #2)

Guy Fawkes Night: A Burnable Book


Surprise, Surprise Bonus #1 - Melbourne Cup Day, the Race that Stops a Nation!


Square 3: November 11th:  St. Martin’s Day (11th) / Veterans’ Day / Armistice Day (11th)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Veterans/Remembrance Day (Square #3)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - St. Martin's and Newtonmas Tasks (Squares #3 and 15)


Square 4: November 22nd and 23rd:  Penance Day (22nd) / Thanksgiving (23rd)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square #4 - Penance Day

Thanksgiving Day: Sweet Tea and Sympathy 


Square 5: December 3rd and following 3 Sundays:



Square 6: December 5th-6th and 8th:  Sinterklaas / Krampusnacht (5th) / St. Nicholas Day (6th) / Bodhi Day (8th)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square #6 - Bodhi Day


Square 7: December 10th & 13th:  International Human Rights Day (10th) / St. Lucia’s Day (13th)

International Human Rights Day:  The Alchemist


Square 8: December 12th - 24th:  Hanukkah (begins 12th, ends 20th) Las Posadas (begins 16th, ends 24th)

Los Posadas:  Grace to the Finish (Manor House Mystery, #8)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square #8 - Las Posadas

Hanukkah: The Chosen


Square 9: December 21st:

Winter Solstice / Mōdraniht / Yuletide / Yaldā Night


Square 10: December 21st: World Peace Day / Pancha Ganapati begins (ends 25th)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square 10: Pancha Ganapati Task


Square 11: December 21st-22nd:

Soyal (21st) / Dōngzhì Festival (22nd) (China)


Square 12: December 23rd

Festivus / Saturnalia ends (begins 17th)


Square 13: December 25th  Christmas / Hogswatch

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square #13: Hogswatch Night


Square 14: December 25th

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti / Quaid-e-Azam’s Day


Square 15: December 25th-26th:  Newtonmas (25th) / St. Stephen's Day/Boxing Day (26th)

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - St. Martin's and Newtonmas Tasks (Squares #3 and 15)


Square 16: December 26th-31st: Kwanzaa (begins 26th, ends 31st) / New Year’s Eve / Hogmanay / St. Sylvester’s Day / Watch Night

St. Sylvester's Night: Pope Francis: My Door is Always Open

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square 16: Kwanzaa task

16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square 16: Kwanzaa task

Tasks for Kwanzaa: Create a stack of books in the Kwanzaa color scheme using red, black and green and post your creation and post a photo.


It's a short stack, but I'm afraid if I use too many books I'll forget whether or not I've read them yet, and where they go on the shelves.


16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square 10: Pancha Ganapati Task

Please Mr. Einstein - Jean-Claude Carrière Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume - Julie Kenner, Jennifer Coburn, Megan McCafferty, Lynda Curnyn, Jennifer O'Connell, Melissa Senate, Diana Peterfreund, Stephanie Lessing, Laura Ruby, Erica Orloff, Stacey Ballis, Kristin Harmel, Shanna Wendson, Elise Juska, Kyra Davis, Beth Kendrick, Berta Platas, Kayla Pe The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science - Andrea Wulf The Chosen - Chaim Potok Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

Tasks for Pancha Ganapati: Post about your 5 favourite books this year and why you appreciated them so much. –OR– Take a shelfie / stack picture of the above-mentioned 5 favorite books.  (Feel free to combine these tasks into 1!


Tough cull...  the best of the best for 2017.  It wasn't a straight "5 star" rating thing, but rather the books that stuck with me long after I finished them.  Here then, is my list:


Please Mr. Einstein - Jean-Claude Carrière Hands down my favourite book of the year - possibly my life. It's fiction, but it isn't.  Imagine an easy, but in-depth, look at Einstein's theory of relativity, discussed within the frame work of a fantastical time-out-of-time construct.  Throw in a small amount of speculation on what it might have been like to be Einstein, and then throw in a little humour in the form of Sir Isaac Newton constantly trying to crash the interview and get Einstein to admit he was wrong, and you have a small idea of what this book is like.


It is not possible to adequately explain how much this book delighted me and moved me.  If you have any interest at all in Relativity and/or Einstein, this book is definitely worth investigating.


Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume - Julie Kenner,Jennifer Coburn,Megan McCafferty,Lynda Curnyn,Jennifer O'Connell,Melissa Senate,Diana Peterfreund,Stephanie Lessing,Laura Ruby,Erica Orloff,Stacey Ballis,Kristin Harmel,Shanna Wendson,Elise Juska,Kyra Davis,Beth Kendrick,Berta Platas,Kayla Pe On the other side of the spectrum is Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume.  I loved Judy Blume's books when I was a kid, and at some level I knew she was a best selling author.  But until I read this book I had no idea she'd had as profound an effect on so many others as she had on me.  


These essays were funny, moving and amazing.  I don't remember a bad essay in the bunch, but the ones that stuck with me were the essays about Deenie terrifying one author, though ultimately helping her when she herself was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, and the author essay about having to hide Forever while secretly passing it from friend to friend.  That one might have been my life.


The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea WulfA lot of you read this right along with me, so you know how good this book was, even when it stumbled a bit towards the end.  


Humbolt ... I still can't wrap my mind around how someone who contributed so much can be so neglected today.  There are ancient Greeks whom we now know to be full of shit that get more recognition than this man who was the first to do so many things, and to discover so many things that are absolutely vital to every person's life today.  Accurate things.  Like better weather maps.   And keystone species.  And, and, and.


We need to bring Humbolt and his work back, before the world goes to hell in a hand basket.


The Chosen - Chaim PotokThis was a very recent read for me, but such an incredible find.  I feel like my life would have been lacking had I never discovered this book.


The friendship at the heart of this book is the Jewish equivalent of a Fundamentalist born-again Christian and a Roman Catholic being best friends; both practicing and headed for a life in their faith.  Only, of the two, one is doing it because he wants to, and the other because he has to.


There's also a little softball, a fair amount about father-son dynamics and ultimately an entire book's worth about listening to your soul when it speaks.


Norse Mythology - Neil GaimanI have always been fascinated by the Norse myths - far more so than the Greek ones.  But I've never known much about the real myths - only what shows up in popular culture and we all know how accurate that is.  But studying Greek myths in college left me intimidated and wary of tackling the Norse myths.  I don't know how you can make stories involving minotaurs and swans dry and academic, but my university, at least, managed to do just that. 


But Gaiman... Gaiman can't make anything dry and academic. And after hearing he honoured the originals rather faithfully, I bought a copy on audio.  Then went out and bought a print copy.  I loved them.  They were horrific but entertaining and Thor is hilarious in his oafishness.  I feel like I can now say I have some familiarity with Norse mythology, and it didn't come from Marvel Comics.




Classic books haul

Otto Penzler of Mysterious Books is selling off his collection of mysteries that feature books, book printing, libraries, bookshops... anything bibliophilic.  This is one of those sales it would have been better for me not to know about, but I did know, and after trying to stay away, I ended up with a few:



The coolest one by far, and the only one that I really splurged on, is the File on Fenton and Farr:



It's a book, but it isn't.  As the cover states:


This file contains the complete dossier of a crime, with every clue and item of evidence preserved in its original, physical form, exactly as it might have been received at Police Headquarters.  The crime was a murder.  The police solved it.  Can you?


According to Penzler, it's one of the few complete copies left and I'd read about these Crimefiles in Martin Edwards's The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books and was hooked - I love the idea of trying to solve the crime myself.  Even MT is intrigued and we're talking about reading it in turn, but keeping it to ourselves, and compare our 'whodunnits' at the end and see which one of us solved the mystery (if we do).  


It really is just a bound dossier too - some pics: