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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.

Pandemic bird of the day (with bonus llama)

These were neither taken near my home, nor taken recently.  They're both from my trip in February out to country Victoria.  The birds are also not going to be new to anyone, but I'm posting both because they make me smile, and because - in the case of the llama - I knew at least one of my BookLikes friends is a fan.  


First, the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo - rocking the mohawk long before teens got their hands on their dad's electric shavers:



And, well, 2 domesticated geese, but really it's about the supremely satisfied looking llama:


The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January - Alix E. Harrow

Things that attracted me to this book:  the title (I first saw it in January, around my birthday); the cover; and the blurb mentioning a book.  I picked it up because the only books appealing to me right now are fluffy, preferably magical realism plots.


This book was both and neither.  I have no idea how to describe it.  A grown-up fairy tale sounds too trite and too superficial, though its roots are firmly in myth and legend.  The writing is lyrical, the tense is fourth-wall-breaking second person.  It's a happy story, a heart-wrenching one, and a magical one all at once. It's both predictable and surprising; cynical and fantastically idealistic.  It genuinely shocked the hell out of me because it wasn't at all what I expected.  


As the ward of the wealthy Mr Locke, January Scaller feels little different from the artefacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored and utterly out of place.


But her quiet existence is shattered when she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page reveals more impossible truths about the world...


It's both a perfect and perfectly inadequate description.  The closest I can come is a story with very faint shades of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, only for grown-ups.


The Bookshop on the Shore

The Bookshop on the Shore - Jenny Colgan

This one was an average chick-lit/romance that was only marginally about books, though they sounded like heavenly books in a library out of my dreams.  The setting was the same as The Bookshop on the Corner, and a couple of characters from the first book play minor roles in this one, but otherwise the story is completely stand alone.


And it's ok.  It's saved from complete mediocrity by a plot twist that was unexpected - at least by me; with my limited backlist of books in this genre, it's probably not hard to surprise me.


It was a diverting read, though not as good as The Book Charmer, whose strong sense of place kept interfering in my mind with the weaker one here;  Perhaps I might have enjoyed this one more if it hadn't come on the tails of that more vividly written and charming book.

Pandemic walks / bird of the day

MT and I did another neighborhood circuit a couple of days ago, this time going across the road to the 'posh' side of our neighborhood (and it's seriously posh, with houses big enough to fit ours in their mudroom.  I brought the wrong camera with me, so I didn't get any examples.  But we did come across a bird I haven't seen in our area before.  The crested pigeon is a common bird, and I've seen it on the other side of town, but never near us.  I always smile when I see them, because they look a bit alternative, with the head-gear, their prismatic colouring, and their perpetually startled expressions.


Comfort food, or Interpretive Hot Cross Buns

Everybody's killing time in the kitchen during the self-isolation, and while I do everything I can to avoid cooking, I can occasionally be moved to bake.


There's a french patisserie on our shopping street that makes something they call a Viennese, but I call brioche with chocolate chips (they get very irritated about it too) and I woke up this morning wanting one.  Thinking it was Saturday, I thought I might be able to con MT into getting me one on his way back from his pilates (1-on-1 and medically necessary).  This backfired on two fronts:  it's Friday, and everything is well and truly shut because it's Good Friday.


So then I thought, the next best thing might be chocolate chip bread, and I have a bread machine.  So I googled, and I found this recipe.  3 hours later I had a loaf shaped nirvana.  Seriously, it's amazing.  Even MT has been sneaking slices and he usually isn't moved by baked goods.  He says it tastes like hot cross buns, which makes this the first time I've ever been prepared for a holiday, even if accidentally.



Did I mention it has cinnamon in it?  No?  It does.  I doubt this will make it through the night.

What qualifies for good news in a pandemic

If you read my last post, you know MT and I have been living our own version of a suspense novel (1 star - totally rubbish plot), waiting to find out about a government response to leases and rentals. 


We finally heard from the Prime Idiot a few days ago, and after spending 4 minutes thanking everyone in the government like he was accepting a damn academy award, he finally, finally put us out of our misery.  A 'Code of Conduct' is to be legislated that says commercial landlords must lower rents proportional to lost revenue, with half the difference being waived, and half being deferred, with the deferment being spread out out over the remainder of the lease.  I have never been so happy to be 6 months into a 5 year lease.  This will save the business and the jobs of 4 men.  The legislation still has to be finalised, on a state-by-state basis, so curveballs are still possible, but if they adhere to the basics we should be ok.  Of course, if they do stick with what Morrison announced, I'm going to have to stop calling him the prime idiot, because I'm painfully aware that this is far more generous than what a lot of countries are offering to business owners.


We also got re-stocked with TP yesterday when our tri-annual subscription arrived.  Which sounds a little weird, but not as weird as when I say it's from a company called "Who Gives a Crap".  Half their profits go towards building sanitary toilets in under-developed areas of the world, and I don't mind the bamboo roll.  You can buy it in the grocery stores, but they offer a discount if you buy direct, and a further discount if you 'subscribe', which is how we ended up getting a box of 48 rolls of TP delivered to MT's office 3 times a year.  This used to be a big joke, because, as you can see in the pics below, there's no hiding what's being delivered:




Now that we're still in the midst of the Great TP Panic of 2020, I'm the one laughing (and sharing TP with anyone caught short).  We don't have space to store it, so we toss it in the attic.


By the way, anyone in the UK or USA who's interested, they sell there too.  Because people have lost their minds over TP, the Australian website, at least, has everything marked as sold out so they can continue to fulfil standing orders - not sure about US / UK availability though.


It was also announced this week that schools will remain shut for term 2, which is a relief for me as it alleviates my misplaced guilt about not being able to leave home to work. 


So all in all, a weirdly 'good' week.   All things being relative.

Lockdown walks / #stayathome bird of the day

I'm taking Mike's excellent lockdown walk suggestion and folding it into my intermittent bird of the day post.


My neighborhood is nice, and we like it a lot, but it's definitely not Bath, but there are a few gorgeous gardens, and I passed this unbelievable Hibiscus bush, the size of which I've never seen the equivalent of, even in Florida.  The picture only captures what's overhanging the fence - I can't even image what it looks like on the inside.



And peeking out of the center is a Little Wattle Bird (which is only little relative to its cousins the Red Wattle Bird and the Yellow Wattle Bird):



He blends pretty well, until he opens his beak, then he sounds like an angry Pterodactyl.  

The cracks are beginning to show ...

(This is a covid 19 venting session - likely the only one I'll make, so it's long - so please, if you've had it up to your eyeballs wit this stuff, skip this post; the catharsis is in the writing of it.)  --mbd


So how is everybody doing so far?  It's sort of a rhetorical question, because I've seen beautiful, creative posts from most of my BookLikes friends, which leads me to believe people are coping well, but it's sort of not a rhetorical question, because my BookLikes friends are generally anything but the sort to 'let it all hang out'.  So I ask - how is everybody doing so far?


We're coping here, but honestly, not as well as we could be.  The Australian government's concern about the health of its constituency has finally caught up with its concern about the economy, and the entire country is under lockdown - only don't call it a lockdown because that would be bad for the economy


Australia has 7 states and territories, and every one of them has closed their borders to everyone, including other Australians, except for Victoria and New South Wales.  Attempting to close our borders would be futile at best and as we're already the hardest hit states, why bother?  One state, Western Australia (it's a big state) has gone a step further and closed regional borders within the state as well.


When all this is over it will be academically interesting to witness the constitutional fallout of the interstate border closures, but in the here and now, it's a necessary thing.  People continue to flout the lockdown rules and the governments are terrified about the upcoming Easter Weekend, as it's generally a big travel weekend and a LOT of people seem disinclined to cancel their plans.  Idiots.


In the normal course of things, I'm such a big introvert that this self-isolation wouldn't even be a blip on my radar, but as some of you know, MT owns his own printing business in the city.  It's small, only employing 4 other guys, but it's been a solid, going concern for almost 50 years (his father started it, of course).  Once the closures started happening, his business evaporated by about 80%.  So we've been super-stressed about, well, everything.  


After what felt like a lot of heel dragging from the government, but which was only a week, they announced a wage subsidy program, which was a massive relief, as it means we don't have to let anybody go.  But we're still waiting to hear what - if anything - they're going to do about rent subsidies because we could very well make it through this only to lose everything on the other side.  The landlord for the building MT is in is disinterested in doing anything that will cost them money, but they've made the 'generous' offer of a 50% reduction in rent for 3-6 months, but after the crises, he'll have to pay 150% rent monthly for an equal number of months.


Now I don't normally share personal things, so I'll just say the normal rent is a 5 figure number.  150% is a much bigger one - and why anybody would think it's going to be possible to bounce back that fast is beyond my comprehension.  So the stress factor is still huge.  


I want to make sure to keep this in perspective:  we have a couple of very, very fortunate aces up our sleeves, that we could use if we really have to, but they come with a risk of putting us in a vulnerable position further on down the road.  We'll use them if we have to, but in this house, we're on tenterhooks for the government to come out with a legislative plan for rental moratoriums.  Which they've been swearing they're going to release 'in the next three days' for the last 10 days.


All of this isn't much different from what anybody else is going through, and still better than what a lot of people are facing, but the first-world-problem result is that I've had a legit reason to stay at home for the last 3 weeks and haven't enjoyed a second of it.  No projects, no crafts, only 2 books, no games, because I'm too glued to the damn news feed, waiting to find out how relatively screwed we are.  Which leaves me feeling rather bitter.  And the immersion into the newsfeed has made it starkly clear how much the government is lying to everyone about their testing stats in relation to the rest of the world (verifiable - can nobody in the government google??), which has left me rage-y.  It takes a lot to tip me over, but the Aussie government's bragadaccio about having 'the best testing rates in the world' has just pushed me right off the rage cliff.  (AU: 1% of population; Iceland: 5% of population). 


I've taken steps - weaning myself off the newsfeed for several hours at a time, starting a jigsaw puzzle, digging through my TBR for the truly escapist reads.  I'm hoping that once the government gets around to announcing rental policies, I'll be able to take a deep breath, make a plan, and finally, step back and immerse myself in the joys of isolation.


If you've made it this far, thank you for allowing me to vent - the downside of isolation is that you have so few outlets for venting, and let me tell you, the cats are not sympathetic, and the chickens only want to know if I have any mealworms (their personal chocolate).


Stay safe and stay home everyone.  :)



The Book Charmer

The Book Charmer - Karen Hawkins

I'm still fighting a book slump, and I need fluff.  Industrial grade fluff.  This fit the bill pretty perfectly.


Small town America, seventh daughter of the town's founding family, all of whom have 'gifts', is the town librarian and the books talk to her.  And nobody tries to medicate her, because it's magical realism.  A newcomer with a boulder on her shoulder comes to town and the books tell Sarah that miss-cranky pants is going to save the town.


I'm being a little snarky, which isn't fair to the book.  Even though the story is entirely predictable, it's well written.  Once I started it I was sucked into the magical little town of Dove Pond, and the characters all felt more real and well-adjusted than most of reality at the moment, so while it wasn't high literature, it was an absolutely perfect antidote to current events.

#stayathome pets Sunday, 5 April

Carlito is keeping himself busy:



And in my last post, showing Easter-cat's possession of the bean bag, BrokenTune likened it to a throne.  The next day, Easter-cat decided to go full-on monarchy:


(Her 'off with their 'eads!' expression is rather lacking here because there was a thunderstorm raging when this picture was taken.  Our fearless queen hates storms.)

Snug #stayathome

Bean bags aren't for the humans in this house.


Executive Orders re-read

Executive Orders  - Tom Clancy

Given my current country of residence's complete incompetence and the news that my native land is trying to be the world leader in everything including incompetence, I needed to escape to a world where real problems are met and dealt with by leaders with integrity and the skills to think through issues rationally with a view towards the long-term.


In other words, a fantasy.


I have always been and will always be, an unapologetic fan of Clancy's works - the ones he wrote himself - so falling back into Jack Ryan's world was, if not a comfort, at least familiar and comfortable.  It's been 2 decades since I last read this, and it generally holds up perfectly.  The first half of the book is a bit overly idealistic, but what struck me about it is that Tom Clancy showed a startling degree of prescience not just in some of his major plot lines, but in his story arc.


Executive Orders is the story about a non-politician ending up as President of the United States, vowing to eject the political riff-raff out of Washington, and appointing business sector executives to the cabinet to get things done.


Sound familiar?  Of course, Jack Ryan wasn't a paranoid narcissist and he was highly educated and qualified regardless of his lack of political savvy.  He also had more integrity than your garden variety black widow spider.  But Clancy imagined the world we live in today twenty years ago, with startling accuracy, albeit in the most idealistic light.


His idealism extended to America's response (and only America because his plot extended no further) to the epidemic that grips the country in Executive Orders; his national lockdown works flawlessly; almost nobody ignores the mandate, there are no rushes on grocery stores, and there's no general panic.  Of course, I'd like to think that any country's population would react to an epidemic of ebola exponentially better than they're reacting (or not) to the corona pandemic, so maybe my faith in humanity hasn't been completely snuffed out.


Either way, it was good to revisit a world that works, even when everything is pear-shaped.

#stayathome pets

One of us is re-reading Executive Orders - but I'm not sure which:


Sunday's bird of the day #stayathome

Not strictly stay at home, because MT and I went, with caution, to a local park yesterday; I needed to get out and move and there's only so many times you can walk around your own block.  The lots were relatively full, but scanning around, we couldn't see more than a handful of people scattered at wide distances, so we spent an hour on the unused mountain bike trails, frankly veering away whenever we saw someone approaching.


Today's bird is also not new, but Rainbow Lorikeets are the hams of Australia; between their plumage and their antics they are begging to be photographed.  I can't be sure, because I wasn't going to be invasive or disruptive, but I get the feeling they were nesting in the dead tree trunks.




The great bookshelf project of 2020 update

Progress was made last weekend!  Two walls are now completed and we think we'll have enough wood left for the third wall, and, it appears, the time to get it done in the coming weeks.  Assuming I don't run out of brackets again.


The room is small so full frame pics are impossible, but you get the idea:




Still heaps of work to do and I'll be doing 'finishing' touches for months to come, but it's really starting to take shape!

Some delightful bookish news for once...

Things are so awful everywhere right now, I thought I'd take a moment and, you know, post something that's actually book related on BookLikes.  


As you know, we in Australia are under a 'draconian' lockdown, which essentially means the pubs and bars are closed because they have to be and nobody else is open because they're smarter than the government.  Ahem.  Just before the 'lockdown' was scheduled to begin at noon on Tuesday, I received my belated (due to extenuating circumstances unrelated to the pandemic) birthday box from the bff living in The Netherlands:



It's pure coincidence that my birthday box resembles most people's idea of a emergency provisions box and probably reflects my introversion more than anything else.  There's a jigsaw puzzle sort of hidden in there, some chocolate (Tony's!), nutella, and two books.


The two books - she was so excited about these that she almost gave the game away way back in November.  Upon opening them, I was a tiny bit confused:



They gorgeous books, but they're in German.  I don't speak or read German of course; I'm an American and the closest I come to bilingual is a northern and a southern american accent.  Then I opened them, and it took me a couple of minutes but I got it.


It's the inscriptions inside the covers:




Specifically, the dates:  they were each inscribed to someone on my birthday and MT's birthday, respectively, albeit 100 years ago or more.


She swears she stumbled on them by coincidence but she's still outdone herself and pretty much guaranteed a lifetime slot in worlds bestest, most thoughtful friend.  I am humbled, and gobsmacked.