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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.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Yes, I've finally read it.  I'd managed to not read TKAM for decades because there was never a copy at hand and frankly, I was never interested enough to make any effort to acquire one.  Until, as some of you know, I was at a library book sale last year and made an impulsive grab of a copy for $1, which turned out to be one of those 1-in-1000 freak instances of a first edition sliding under the radar.  It's a well loved first edition, but even so, it's worth considerably more than $1.


Now, I have a rule: I don't keep books in my library I don't intend to read.  So, when I told my husband about my unbelievably lucky find his response was SELL IT.  SELL IT NOW!  But I didn't want to sell it, which meant I had to read it.  And here we are. 


I'm not going to waste anybody's time by trying to review To Kill a Mockingbird on the coattails of the millions of others who've read and reviewed it over the years.  I will just say this:  it was good.  Of course it was good.  But after all the hype surrounding this book I was surprised by the following:  it's a much slower-paced book than I expected; years go by in this book.  The brief bursts of humor: Scout's dry delivery made me chuckle a few times.  And finally, this book isn't just about one plot; there are two stories running parallel, and though they intertwine at the end, they are distinct.  There were a few other things - not really surprises, just very salient points and choices Lee makes that I found interesting and filed away for future conversations with friends.


I enjoyed this book enormously and I'm glad I read it.  Do I think it's one of the be-all-end-all books I've ever read?  No, sorry.  But I can't think of any reason on Earth I'd ever actively steer anyone away from reading it.  I can't think of anyone or any circumstance which I'd be saying "eh, maybe this one wouldn't be for you".  I think it's for everyone and since we've yet to learn the lessons it teaches, it's a book that should be read again and again.


This book applies to so. many. cards. for the Kill Your Darlings game, and I have no idea yet what I'll use it for.  

Hardcore Twenty-four (Stephanie Plum, #24)

Hardcore Twenty-Four - Janet Evanovich

Why yes, I'm still reading these.  No, Stephanie hasn't chosen Morelli or Ranger.  Yes, she's still destroying every car she touches, and no, she's still not all that good at her job.


In a world where if feels like I'm constantly pissed off because someone has changed their stock/location/rules, the constancy that is Stephanie Plum is a welcome relief and when Evanovich is on her game, the humor is worth the static world of the Burg (Berg?).  


I'd say Evanovich is on her game for Twenty-four.  Diesel makes an appearance, which leaves me wondering if his spin off series has died a premature death.  Zombies are also a big part of the plot and that plot is ... yech.   Just... yech.  


It occurred to me while reading this book why the love triangle doesn't bother me:  neither the Stephanie/Ranger nor the Stephanie/Morelli dynamic is very deep.  There's love, yes, but nobody is deeply emotionally attached.  Instead there's a lot of affection, respect (ok, maybe not a LOT), and humor.  Everybody involved is satisfied with the status quo, and since I've never been all that insistent that sex be about love, I too am happy with the status quo.


The topper for me though, was the scene involving the groundhog.  To say more would be to spoil it for anyone who might someday read it, except to say, even though I saw it coming a mile away, I still laughed till I cried.  And that's why I'm still reading these books.  


Hardcore Twenty-four met the criteria for the Kill Your Darlings Cause of Death card:  Revolver:  Read a book that involves a character that carries a gun.  Stephanie rarely has a gun, but every other character in the book carries at least one, including her grandmother.

How to change editions

This one is for Linda Hilton - although I hope it will be helpful to everyone.


I've put off doing this particular how-to because there's a small but highly annoying flaw in the process at it stands.  It only affects books that have many editions in similar formats though, and I'll point it out when we get there.


First, to do this you must have the list view of your shelves turned on.


Underneath each title is a small "change edition" link:



Once you click on that, a small search box pops up:



Ideally, for the shortest possible process, search by ISBN or ASIN if you have it.  You can search by title/author, but you're likely to get the same kind of results you'd get if you used the general search, meaning you'll have to find the book you're looking for amongst many results.



Once you've done your search and found the book in the results, click on the book cover to see all the available editions you can switch to:



As noted in the screenshot, the green background indicates the book you currently have shelved.  I deliberately chose a book for this post that had very few editions to make it clear how to do this, so in this example, I simply click on the hardcover I want to switch to.


This is where the flaw comes in:  Imagine doing this for Pride & Prejudice.  LOTS of editions; hundreds, actually.  Notice in the screenshot that the information under each edition does NOT include the ISBN or ASIN number.  Now imagine trying to search through 500+ editions of P&P to find the one you have and being forced to rely on covers, or page numbers - both of which are highly prone to inaccuracy.  I've run into this many times and have had to go through the 'change edition' steps multiple times to find the edition I'm looking for (switching editions / checking the ISBN / not a match / repeat change edition, etc.).


BookLikes knows this is a problem and has it on the list of changes planned; I've been told it's even near the top of the list.  


Moving on... Once you find your edition, click the cover.  You'll get an "Are you sure?" message:



Click ok and wait a few beats ... you'll see your shelf update to reflect the new edition:



That's it.  Super easy unless you're trying to change editions of very popular books.  Hopefully adding ISBN/ASIN information to the editions pop-up will happen sooner rather than later.

The Camelot Caper

The Camelot Caper - Elizabeth Peters

If you've ever read a romantic suspense title by Elizabeth Peters, you'll know what you're getting here.  If you haven't, expect a lot of narrative banter, outstanding atmosphere and setting, outstanding if superficial characterisations, a vintage version of insta-love, and an insanely silly plot that is nevertheless well researched and intricately laid out.  The villains are never a surprise, but their motives - at least for me - almost always are.


The Camelot Caper starts off in the midst of action, as Jess is on a random bus going to an unknown destination in England, escaping from men who are pursuing her for unknown reasons.  No build up, just bang!  Except then we're subjected to the flash back necessary to catch the reader up and I find that device dull, dull, dull.  I dislike the hurry-up-and-wait feel of it, so while the book started off great, it immediately bogged down for me until page 35 or so, when everyone gets on the same page (so to speak), and the silly bits of the plot start to kick in.  The scene on the bus might be one of Peters' best comic efforts I've yet read.


The rest is fast pace and fun and even though Peters' characters step in it at every opportunity, almost constantly putting themselves in peril, the writing at least made the constant beatings thrilling in a way not dissimilar to roller coasters designed for kids (Big Thunder Mountain at Disney World, for example).  That might sound like I'm damning the book with faint praise, but Big Thunder Mountain is just my speed:  fun without being terrifying and leaving me just a tiny bit exhilarated at the end.  The Camelot Caper is definitely a "C" ticket ride, at least.


This book qualifies for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD card "Antique Hunting Rifle":  the setting is never dated, though it was first published in 1969, but Elizabeth Peters first name shares an "E" with "rifle'.

LitHub launches a site for Crime and Mystery Fans

Just read about CrimeReads in Otto Penzler's Mysterious Books newsletter.  I enjoy LitHub's site, so this seems like a promising off shoot.  





Spells and Scones (Magical Bakery, #6)

Spells and Scones - Bailey Cates

Eh.  I generally enjoy Bailey Cates' writing, but a few of my least favorite tropes were trotted out for this one:  the relationship crossroads; the ex's last ditch effort (which was SO transparently meant to give Steve an HEA) at reconciliation; the jealousy bit with Mungo the dog... eh.


The mystery plotting  didn't light up my disco ball either. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great; too few clues and a reliance on the 'lightbulb' moment at the very end.  Reading Golden Age mysteries is ruining my mediocre tastes.


Still, a relaxing enough read when one's brain has been overtaxed in real life.



This book qualifies for the Murder Your Darlings Scene of the Crime card:  Gryffindor Common Room.  This was one of the crime scenes identified by Nighttime Reading Center in the Green Game Round, so worth 10 points for my team (Themis-Athena, Lillelara and myself).


My misunderstanding of the rules left me with this book unused, so I'm using it for the Suspect: Jane Austen cards.  (Alliterative Title)

Reading progress update: I've read 102 out of 354 pages.

I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

Talk about packing it in - the last 50 pages have been dense with fascinating information.  I loved reading about the squid, the hyenas sort of squicked me out a bit (beware strange pastes on savannah grass), and Wolbachia... what can be said about Wolbachia other than they are the feminists of the bacterial world.  


I've known for some time about the duality of bacteria, the thin line between beneficial and lethal, but I was pretty surprised to read that viruses offer humans (and other animals) that same dual nature.  I knew scientists were using modified viruses as delivery mechanisms, but the idea that they naturally exist within our physiology and that we're reliant on them to control rogue bacteria was new to me.  It really does seem that the more I learn, the harder it becomes to categorise anything in the world as purely good or purely evil.


Except cockroaches.  Nobody will ever convince me they're anything other than satan's little minions.

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher

If I try to remove my bias, this is probably more a 4.5 star read, but my unapologetic adoration of Sherlock Holmes makes it impossible; this story was just too much fun for a fan like me.


In brief (ok, not really):  a movie is being made of The Adventure of the Speckled Band and a Holmesian society called The Baker Street Irregulars is vociferously opposed to the studio's choice of writer.  The society roster has enough Big Names that the studio must take them seriously, but the writer - an unapologetic and acidic critic of everything Holmes - has an iron-clad contract making it impossible to fire him.  In an effort to appease the Baker Street Irregulars, 5 of them are invited to Hollywood to act as script advisors, but during their welcome party, the scriptwriter crashes the party, makes a drunken spectacle of himself, is rendered unconscious, and taken upstairs to sleep it off. He is subsequently murdered during the night, long after the party is over, leaving the Baker Street Irregulars both prime suspects and eager amateur investigators determined to do The Master proud.


The best part of the story is the way Boucher works both actual Holmes titles/plot points into the story and the ones that Watson only teased readers with; those stories mentioned in passing during the published narratives.  Boucher was, without a doubt, a true Holmes aficionado.  


The story takes place in 1939, right on the eve of WWII and there's a strong political atmosphere woven throughout.  Hollywood in 1939 had a lot of Nazi spy and anti-Nazi activity, and this story takes place on the fringes of that atmosphere.  As a result, there are a few anti-Semitic comments throughout the text, but at no point did I ever feel this was editorial opinion on behalf of the author.  Any confronting comments are a natural result of the story and the overwhelming attitude of the book is not anti-Semitic.  


Most of all, the story is just fun; it's got that great Golden Age vibe to the writing that a reader either likes or not; done well, I love it, and here it's done well.  The story doesn't take itself seriously at all, but the plotting does: this is a fair play mystery; the clues are all there for everyone to use and in the end neither I, nor the Baker Street Irregulars, nor the LAPD could see what was right in front of us (although I did guess a plot twist, fat lot of good it did me).  But the person who solved it all ... that was almost the very, very best part of the book.  Boucher could not have ended it any better in my opinion and once all is revealed, it was clever. as. hell.


In short:  I loved it!



I read this as part of the Kill Your Darlings game, in fulfilment of the cause of death: dark alley beat down card.  It actually fulfils all three tasks on the card:

Read a book that was written or set between 1925-1975;

Read a book written by an American author;

Read a book that is set in a large city (LA).

It's official: I'm hooked.

So this happened today:



A local dealer had this copy for a relatively reasonable price.  It's cover has seen much better days and needs some desperate TLC, but the inside is all intact and in good condition.  Dennis Wheatley is the first author to put these 'solve yourself' mysteries together, and Murder Off Miami is the first one, and reportedly the best by far, that he did.


It'll be interesting to see if I can solve 2 for 2.  :)

Reading progress update: I've read 59 out of 336 pages.

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher

Disclaimer and dedication before the beginning of the book:


All characters portrayed or referred to in this novel are fictitious, with the exception of Sherlock Holmes, to whom this book is dedicated.


I'm predisposed to 5 star this book and I haven't even started it yet.


I laughed myself silly through the prologue, which included The Baker Street Irregular's Constitution and manifesto:


From the constitution:

Article IV:

The officers [of the Baker Street Irregulars] shall be: a Gasogene, a Tantalus, and a Commissionaire.


But then there's this, on page 59:


But ignorant though I am, I cannot help thinking and feeling and worrying.  And it seems to me, Miss O'Breen, that to forswear mercy is to forswear humanity.  If to destroy evil we take up its very weapons, we shall learn in time that all we have destroyed is the best in ourselves."


Early pages yet, but it's clear it won't be all silliness and parody.

Kill Your Darlings Green Round 2 Read

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher


I misunderstood the deadlines for the game, and raced through my first read thinking my guess was due today rather than Saturday.  This wasn't a hardship as I really enjoyed the book but I've also ended up with a little breathing space.  Still jumping into this one though, simply because after having 're-discovered' it in my TBR, I'm itching to read it.  It ticks all three boxes too:  Written in 1940, by an American author and set in Hollywood.  Trifecta!  :)

Reading progress update: I've read 47 out of 354 pages.

I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

Jus about every book of non-fiction covering a specific subject starts off in much the same way:  easing the reader into the meat of the book by subjecting them to a broad-view history / overview / introduction.  These introductory chapters are the bane of my existence as I generally find them tedious; the tax I have to pay to get to the good stuff.


Strictly speaking, the first two chapters of this book adhere to this pattern, but they didn't feel at all tedious to me, which is a surprising and delightful change of pace.  Were I constitutionally able to mark a book, there would have been many, many underlines sections.  Right off the bat in the prologue, I finally find out what a pangolin is (and there's a picture in the middle section of my edition!). I found his condensation of the planet's history to a 1-year span brilliant; nothing puts the insignificance of the human race in perspective like saying we've only existed for 30 minutes. The last 30 minutes of the year.  Bacteria, on the other hand, have existed since the previous March.


I have mixed feelings about the microbe museum in Amsterdam; one of those times I'm both fascinated and repulsed.  I can't say for sure I'd visit on my next trip to Amsterdam - I'd like to think I would, but truthfully, eyelash mites creep me right the hell out. 

Kill Your Darlings Green Round 1 Suspect Guess: Team MbD / Lillelara / TA

Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor


Guess:  Madeleine L'Engle


Book read: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor  

The Flat Book Society: MAY read has been selected.

A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Well, the voting has closed for the May read for The Flat Book Society and the winner by popular vote is A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup.  This is pure chemistry but the author hooks it into the poisons used by Agatha Christie and the question: did she get it right?  The purists in the group need not be worried about this one; I think it will more than satisfy the parameters of our interests without overstepping the bounds too far into popular literature.


Anyone is welcome to join us - either as part of the group, or as an interested buddy reader. 


Maintenance note:  I have not yet cleared the voting list for the July voting as I want to give Portable Magic a chance to see this and transfer any books over to our master list that aren't already there.  I will let the group know when the list is open to new submissions.


Huggins asks:  Does anybody else smell almonds?

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary's)

Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor

The tl;dr version:  This book was a lot of fun; almost nothing was taken seriously, even during the serious parts.  Not in a disrespectful way, mind you, but not a word was spared for angst or melodrama. BrokenTune called it a romp, and a romp is exactly what it is.


Given my outspoken dislike of science fiction and dystopia, it's probably no surprise that I generally dislike time travel books too, but something about the setting of St. Mary's (which I originally thought was a school and therefore that this book was more YA - could not be more wrong) and the characters pulled me in anyway.  The title probably helped too, giving me the impression that this was not a book that was going to take itself seriously.


And it doesn't.  St. Mary's is a post-grad version of Animal House and the dialog is mostly of the banter type.  Honestly, I loved it; if they never left the grounds I might have adored it, but they do leave and that's when everything goes very pear shaped.  If I were Max, I'd have refused to go so far as the front gates after the first 100 pages or so.  But every trip through time ends disastrously in furtherance of the plot (a series arc, by the way; this was never meant to be a standalone book).  The pace is fast and constant, the action packed in.  A total romp.


But, romp though it may be, this is not a book for the delicate.  There's a surprising amount of violence, death and sex.  Nothing descriptively graphic in detail; the death isn't gory (much) and the sex isn't explicit to the point of erotica, but they are both blunt enough to feel a tiny bit confronting at times, relative to the snarky, madcap adventure surrounding them.


This is not high falutin literature, but it's highly entertaining escapism.  The only thing I purely hated was the scene in the Cretaceous age.  The human race just sucks.  But I raced through the rest and I'll happily devour the next one.



I read this as part of the Kill Your Darlings game, in fulfilment of the Suspect: Madeleine L'Engle card (Read a book that involves time travel or has the main character involved in STEM)

Excited to play much?


Most of you know my husband owns a printing company, and for all the time I spend on a computer, I actually have a really hard time reading off a screen, sooo....



Let the games begin!  :D