734 Followers
287 Following
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.

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.



Pot Luck (Elliott Lisbon, #4)

Pot Luck - Kendel Lynn

If, from a bibliophilic perspective, the unthinkable should happen, and I was only able to follow 10 cozy series, this would definitely be one of the keepers.  There's just something wonderfully competent and enjoyable about Kendel Lynn's writing; the characters she's created feel like the kind of people I grew up with and the community resembles the kind I grew up in.

 

Having said that, this one didn't work quite as well as the rest.  It was still better than your average cozy, but she didn't hit it out of the ballpark.  The plot felt scattered, but as I write this I wonder if that wasn't part of the point.  Elliott feels scattered and disconnected to her own life and job in this book, wondering what happened to her focus; the plot definitely mirrored her inner turmoil, so perhaps that was the point.  If so, I still maintain the book wasn't all it could be if I didn't feel emotionally invested enough to immediately see the connection.

 

I'm also a little bummed at the lack of romantic spark in this one.  She's got all the elements at hand, and she spent the last three books setting it up, but either she's got us in a holding pattern, or she's jumped past all the good stuff.  I hope it's the former; I'd definitely like Ransom to play a more active role next time around.

 

For all the grumbling though, I'd still recommend this series in a New York minute.  It's solidly plotted, with an intelligent female lead who is surrounded by strong intelligent women and interesting (and intelligent) men.  Very few stereotypes, no caricatures.  Moderate humor.  I'm a solid fan.



Maggie's Kitchen

Maggie's Kitchen - Caroline Beecham

I wasn't sure how to rate this one.  I bought it on a whim, thinking it would be a typical British historical/chick-lit type read; the kind I really enjoy once in awhile when I need a break from my regularly scheduled genres.

 

It's exactly what I expected, except it's written by an Aussie author.  Aussie authors and I tend to have an on-again-off-again kind of relationship and my last fling with The Dressmaker left me, frankly, bitter and jaded.  So I went into this one feeling defensive and ready for confrontation, which might have coloured my perceptions a little.

 

This is a lovely story about a woman who applies to run one of the British Restaurants, created during WWII to offer hot, nutritious, and affordable meals to Londoners struggling under food rationing.  Maggie's struggle to keep her restaurant going in spite of food shortages and diverted allotments runs parallel to her attempts to help a young boy find his father and her very slowly developing relationship with a Polish refugee.

 

The author really brought home a tiny glimpse of what life must have been like living in London during the axis air raids of WWII; she didn't shy away from scenes of Maggie and her neighbours huddled underground during a bombing; the alternate neighbourhoods that sprung up in the Underground stations, or the way homes and business disappeared overnight after a bombing raid.

 

What she didn't get quite right, I don't think, is the gap-tooth style of the narrative overall:  unknown quantities of time pass unexpectedly without acknowledgement and relatively significant events are never fleshed out.  

 

From the beginning the reader is told that one of Maggie's brothers died when they were kids.  A tragedy; hints that Maggie was involved and that her mother abandoned them in large part because of this tragedy...and then nothing.  

 

Janek belongs to some Polish resistance organisation that may or may not be spying, but has the need to hide mysterious shipments of something at Maggie's restaurant without her knowledge.  We never find out if Janek is a bad guy or a good guy, nor whether or not that shipment was ever hidden at the restaurant; the whole thing just gets dismissed near the end with a vague line or two.  As Janek is the romantic interest in the book, a reader can't really be blamed for expecting a bit more information about him and his possible shenanigans.

 

Small things too, like details about the British Restaurant scheme, are never explained.  Does Maggie own the restaurant?  Is she leasing it from the government?  We're told Maggie received grants for renovations and equipment, but then she's put on probation with the possibility of being removed and replaced... so is she an owner or an employee?  Information was spotty and vague and at least some of it was central to the plot's crisis.

 

I don't know if I'm being hypercritical or not, but I can't help but think that even though I enjoyed the story as-is - and I really did - it could have been utterly fabulous with a more insightful editor and some restructuring.  There is a lot here that could have been removed and never missed, and plenty that wasn't here, but very much missed.



Phantom Kiss (Chicagoland Vampires, #12.5)

Phantom Kiss - Chloe Neill

After realising my last read was a DNF, this is what I grabbed from my iBooks app.  I love the Chicagoland vampire series; its books are always fun and the snark factor is high.  It's my love for the characters that got this short novella the third star.  Otherwise, the editing was non-existent; at one point the MC tries to share the important (to the plot) information that their house had no ghosts, but thanks to the editor that wasn't there, actually says that they did.  There was also zero mystery about who the grave robber was; the plot was transparent from go to woe*.

 

I still enjoyed it though; again, strictly for the characters.  The book coming out in April is the last one; so I'll take all the Ethan, Merit, Catcher and Mallory I can get.  

 

(* go to woe - Aussie slang of the day, meaning 'beginning to end')



Why I Read - DNF (for now, at least)

Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books - Wendy Lesser

I was off to the hair salon today and all the books I'm currently reading are bricks, so I grabbed this one off the pile to take with me.  Fortunately, I had my iPhone and some ebooks for backup, because this isn't quite the book I expected it to be.

 

Instead of an essay-type of read that, as the pull quote on the cover says is, "as if Lesser were writing to a friend about the most fabulous literary party of all time", what I got was more of an in-depth literary dissection.  A break-down of what's under the hood.

 

Discussing literature on this level is, to me, akin to revealing how magic tricks are done.  Interesting but ultimately it dulls the shine a bit.  Lesser's writing seems skilled; I only got about half-way through chapter 1 and then skimmed the first couple of pages of chapters 2 and 3 before putting it away and reaching for my iBooks app.  

 

It's not going into the big black box of disappointment yet, though.  I might come back to it at a future date, when I'm feeling more academic.



Here's to You, Rachel Robinson

Here's To You, Rachel Robinson - Judy Blume

This one comes closer than Just as Long as We're Together to the Judy Blume I remember.  

 

Rachel Robinson is the tallest girl in her class, a gifted student taking advance classes, on the debate team and an aspiring musician.  Her mom's a trial lawyer who has just been appointed a judge, and her father is a lawyer-turned-teacher.  She's the youngest of three and a very serious girl who compulsively cleans her room, her closet and her drawers when she's stressed.

 

To those around her she's extremely competent and intelligent, so naturally she's offered places in special programs: social, academic, theatrical and her friends want her to run for class president.

 

Judy Blume has perfectly captured the duck-on-the-pond teen: calm, cool and collected on the surface but underneath a boiling, churning, furious paddling to keep it all together.  Her family life is far from tranquil and the worse things get at home, the harder she tries to control her immediate surroundings.

 

If this book were written today, there'd naturally be a semi-catastrophic climax to the story; something allowing Rachel to shatter and put herself back together into a healthier, better adjusted self.  But that's not real life and Blume does real life, even if it makes for slightly less exciting reading.   There are small, pivotal moments throughout the story; tiny releases of pressure here and there, that aren't magical fixes for anything.  Rachel moves along, grows up, discovers that she continues to wake up each morning and the world continues to turn.

 

If Blume did anything for her readers it was sharing with them the knowledge that they aren't alone in their experiences, their feelings, or their angst.  She may not do riveting yarns, but she does comfort better than anyone.



February Reading

The Genius of Birds - Jennifer Ackerman The Persian Pickle Club - Sandra Dallas A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup The Big Over Easy  - Jasper Fforde The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms - Amy Stewart The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham From the Ground Up: The Story of A First Garden - Amy Stewart Wild Strawberries - Angela Thirkell Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers - Garrison Keillor, Bob Eckstein Speaking American: How Y'all, Youse , and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide - Josh Katz

Another great month by the numbers, but in context, there were a lot of short books again this month.  I'm trying to get my TBR pile down quickly by going for the low-hanging fruit.

 

So 27 books read in February, and I've been good about updating my book editions with the correct page numbers, so I know I've read 5,024 pages this month.  Usually that's not a stat I care much about, but knowing it's accurate makes it more interesting (to me).

 

My stats are skewed this month for a variety of reasons: more 4.5 and 5 star ratings because of a few pop-up books that are sheer artistry:

Leonardo da Vinci's Remarkable Machines

Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs

Encyclopedia Prehistorica Megabeasts 

 

A gift book of quotes from a friend who personalised it with notes and cards, making it a personal treasure:

No Two Persons Ever Read the Same Book: Quotes on Books, Reading and Writing

 

And then the great reads this month from a more objective (yet still subjective) point of view:

 

Fiction:

The Persian Pickle Club

The Big Over Easy 

The White Cottage Mystery

Wild Strawberries

 

Non-Fiction: 

From the Ground Up: The Story of A First Garden

Speaking American: How Y'all, Youse , and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide

Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores

A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

The Genius of Birds

 

Another month heavy with non-fiction, and looking at my TBR pile(s) it's a trend that's going to continue; there's a lot more fact waiting on me than there is fiction.

 

The book I liked the least was Double Love, which sort of isn't fair: it's the poster-book for all that is silly teenage angst from a female POV.  It's a silly book, but it is written for a traditionally silly market.  And I loved it when I was a kid.

 

My least favourite this month that was written for my demographic is Better Late Than Never which is what a reader gets when good writers go bad.  At least I got my happy ending.

 

Generally a very happy reading month; hope everyone else had one too!

 



Just as Long as We're Together

Just as Long as We're Together - Judy Blume

This book and its followup, Here's To You Rachel Robinson are the only two Young Adult books by Judy Blume that I had not read as a young adult (they were published after my time).  I saw them both at a Free Little Library and thought, why not?

 

It's good, but I don't know if I'm missing something reading it for the first time as an adult; some small essence of teen that can be recalled but not brought up fresh, or if this just isn't as good as Blume's other YA books.  I enjoyed it but it failed to click with me on any deep level.  

 

The girls' friendship is flawed from the beginning; secret keeping is a big part of the plot here, but of all the secrets kept and revealed, the biggest one

that Rachel knew about Steph's parents' separation before she did

(show spoiler)

was never confronted or discussed.  How do you know something like that and not bring it up with your friend?  Keeping secrets about your own self is your prerogative, but keeping secrets that affect your bff seems inexcusable. 

 

Who knows though, I might have missed some subtle hint that Steph knew and was just not facing it.  Or maybe that just isn't a big deal to teens and I don't remember that far back as clearly as I'd like to.  Either way, it was still a good read, even if it wasn't a classic Blume.



Wild Strawberries

Wild Strawberries - Angela Thirkell

This was really good!  I'd read High Rising last year and enjoyed it; enough to buy the next couple of books, obviously.  But then they languished on the pile for awhile, because High Rising wasn't that good.

 

But this was great!  If you like family pandemonium (the kind where you sit back and wonder at the chaos as each member lives in their own orbit, occasionally bumping up against each other, while all somehow working as one eccentric unit), a smattering of light romance, a lot of tongue-in-cheek stereotyping and a story line that really meanders and goes nowhere in particular, this is a book worth checking out.

 

It's a historical piece, so there is at least one cringe worthy use of language, but in the context of the time it was written it, it doesn't come across as painful or nasty.

 

Mostly, it's just a wonderfully silly book.  I closed it thinking "that was fun!". 



NPR Laughter Therapy

NPR Laughter Therapy A Comedy Collection for the Chronically Serious - (U.S.) National Public Radio Inc.

A collection of NPR's funnier interviews, April Fool's day gags, news stories, etc.  Like in any collection, there were some I found funnier than others and 1 just fell sort of flat.

 

It's a short, easy listen and it was fun to hear a few voices that aren't with us any more (Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller).  I miss NPR, so seeing this in my local library was a nice boost to the spirit.  



Double Love (Sweet Valley High, #1)

Double Love - Francine Pascal

Hoo boy! did teenage me have some bad taste in books.

 

I saw this yesterday in a Free Little Library and couldn't resist finding out how it would read now.  

 

It's pretty awful; what was teenage me thinking??  The characters were so cardboard: Jessica is the vain, selfish, shallow, 'evil' twin; Elizabeth is everything good and shiny.  Jessica steals Liz's love interest and Liz is all brave and noble.  Liz's love interest is an absolute jackass of an 80's teen with a 50's mentality.  And I don't even know what the hell was supposed to be going on with their parents...

 

Dumb book.  I'd probably be less harsh with it if I didn't know there were authors out there like Blume who were doing exponentially better books for teens long before this was written, but thankfully there were, and thankfully I read them.



Cats in Books

Cats in Books: A Celebration of Cat Illustration through the Ages - Rodney Dale

Another library sale find; one I'd never seen before, but really it's a book about cats.  In books.  How bad could it possibly be?

 

It's a gem!  The only reason I didn't rate it a bit higher is because it's a rather too concise overview of cats in literary history.  It's a slim volume; easy to read in one sitting.  Rather than looking at cats as subjects in literature, it sticks to an illustrative perspective: cats in illuminated manuscripts, fables, short stories and, of course, children's literature.  It's fully illustrated itself, of course, with examples for each entry.  A nice edition from the British Library.

 

As I said, a gem of a find; one of those karmic gifts that make library sales even better.