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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.

Stick Together (Awkward Squad, #2)

Stick Together - Sophie Hénaff, Sam Gordon

I can't remember how I discovered the first book in this series, The Awkward Squad, but I thoroughly enjoyed it; it felt fresh and it amused me, and I chalked up any small irritations to the translation from the French.

 

This second book was much the same, although there were more straight-up translation issues this time; errors that should have been caught in editing - like saying the "France people" instead of the "French People" in one spot.  And a few things were just cultural references I didn't understand, not being French myself.  Glossing over them didn't affect my understanding of the plot or the mystery, though undoubtedly I missed a layer of enjoyment.  

 

The series focuses on a department of the police judiciaire, which was occasionally referred to as PJs, which made me giggle more than it should have.  This department was created as a repository for all the misfits that couldn't be fired; they were established in an old office building offsite with all the cold case files that have never been solved, and then left to fend for themselves. 

 

I didn't expect this to work as well as it does, but I enjoy reading about the individual misfits and how their odd contributions further the pursuit of criminals and solve cases.  It's far-fetched, sure, but it never feels silly or slapstick, somehow.

 

It's not perfect, but it's highly enjoyable, and I sincerely hope the author continues to write more in the series, and that they continue to be translated into English.



The Glass Thief (Jaya Jones Treasure Mystery, #6)

The Glass Thief - Gigi Pandian

I never know what to say about these books.  They're cozy, but with an Indiana Jones/Where in the World is Carmen Santiago mash up vibe.  All the mysteries in this series are rooted in off the beaten path historical fact, usually, but not always, India's past, and always center on some type of treasure that's been looted, or being searched for in order to be looted.  It's this that keeps me coming back to these books if I'm honest.  I like the characters well enough, but I'm not as invested in them as I could be.

 

The Glass Thief is supposed to be an homage to Elizabeth Peters' character Vicky Bliss, but - and admittedly it's been over a decade since I've read them - I didn't see it.  The romantic relationship here is similar, but otherwise I'd have to re-read the Vicky Bliss books to see more.  The plot twist was obvious from the beginning, so the "gasp!" moment mid-way was less gasp! and more eye-roll.  But overall it was a good story that kept me entertained, which is something of an accomplishment lately, so it deserves merit for that.



Bird of the day

Just a Common Myna, but his birdsong, which I can only describe as 'pretty' drew me to him during our walk, and he looked so comfortable, with the sun hitting him just right, nestled in a tree gone all autumnal.  I couldn't resist.

 

 

These birds when flocked together are deafening and unpleasant, but this single one, as I said, sounded 'pretty' - and as I got closer, also a little funny.  They have a way of sounding as thought they're holding entire two-way conversations with themselves.  If anyone is interested in hearing an example, you can find a good one here:

 

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Sturnus-tristis

 

and it's in the far right column of the page, underneath the pics, under "Calls".



Lowcountry Boomerang (Liz Talbot Mystery, #8)

Lowcountry Boomerang - Susan M. Boyer

I continue to really enjoy this series; Boyer doesn't overplay the ghost, and keeps the mysteries solvable by strictly corporeal measures.  

 

The plots are always well done, though this one's solution sort of felt like it came out of left field.  Looking back at the end, I can see where the author placed the 'clues' (though they wren't really clues) but I'm not sure really works, and it left questions for me.  Still, I really enjoyed watching Liz and Nate go about solving the crime, absolving their client of a false accusation.  And the Talbot family had a few moments in the spotlight to let their crazy flag fly, which I always enjoy.

 

The inside flap of my book says there's already a ninth book out, so maybe I won't have to wait longer than the slower than usual post before I can jump back in.



Penny for Your Secrets (Verity Kent, #3)

Penny for Your Secrets - Anna Lee Huber

Each time after reading the first two books, I told myself I wasn't going to read the next one, because I really dislike the way she setup the characters.  To explain more would be a plot spoiler for book 1, sorry.  But yet, I keep on picking up the next book and reading it.  

 

Characters' lives aside, Anna Lee Huber writes a good mystery.  The plots are generally intricate and mostly avoid the trite or well-worn paths of the genre.  This one was no different, except that it's setting up a multi book arc with a nemesis, and I'm pretty wishy-washy about nemeses.  I also got a little bit tired of the constant references to Verity's spy career during the war.  I suspect this is a Kensington editorial thing as it's the type of over-reference I find a lot in their books, making me wonder if they underestimate their readers' abilities to reading comprehension.

 

Generally an enjoyable read, but once again, I find myself thinking I might not buy the next one, though of course, I probably will anyway.



The wonder of BookLikes delivered home (really!)

I'm sure everyone here has thought about it a time or two: the wonder and wonderfulness of the friendships we have made here.  And almost none of us could identify each other in a line up.  XD

 

I received a surprise package the other day from one of my BookLikes friends, Themis-Athena; no special occasion, just because she's a kind and wonderful person with whom I occasionally trade vague threats of library inheritance.  

 

Obligatory box-with-cat picture.

 

Inside was an amazing number of goodies:

The CD is an audiobook (Hugh Fraser) of The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.  I immediately opened the Paris spice blend and added it to my pasta - it was delicious.  MT has called dibbs on the Garam Masala for an upcoming curry.  Anybody have any suggestions for the Schrebergarten Salz?  It's a sample, so I want to use it right the first time.

 

I can't thank Themis enough - it was a bright spot in my week, and we'll think of her every time we use one of these amazing blends.  Plus, now I have THREE refillable spice mills!  :D   

 

I know BookLikes looks shaky right now, but I hope it's just another blip, because as much as this place is about books, the community it's built is priceless.



The Man that Got Away (Constable Twitten Mystery, #2)

The Man That Got Away - Lynne Truss

I'm not an expert, but to me this book and its predecessor is just quintessentially English.  I've been a fan of Truss' non-fiction for years, and always found her writing and wit excellent, and I genuinely enjoyed her first Constable Twitten book A Shot in the Dark. So I snapped up this sequel as soon as I heard about it.  

 

If you've ever watched Yes, Minster, or Black Adder, or even Benny Hill, and laughed, you may enjoy this mystery series.  But you absolutely have to suspend disbelief because there's a lot of silliness and dry mockery; the reward is not only the chance to be amused in a time of little amusement, but an impressive, intricately plotted mystery.  There were so many balls in the air, and Truss kept them all up there without any apparent effort or stumbling.  It started slow for me, but it gained momentum as this complexity revealed itself.  

 

A lot of fun and I remain a big fan of Truss.  



The Bookshop of Yesterdays

The Bookshop of Yesterdays - Amy Meyerson

I didn't much like this book, although the story itself isn't bad.  I'm assuming the author was going for a massive plot reveal, built up from the scavenger hunt the main character is sent on after the death of her uncle.  But that plot twist was obvious to me from the very first part of the book, which made the rest rather anti-climatic, although I still enjoyed the scavenger hunt aspect.

 

The characters themselves didn't much work for me either; Meyerson's attempt to build complicated, layered characters just resulted in an attitude of indifference; the main character's waffling over the confrontation with her mother; her mother's complete indifference to her daughter's obvious distress; the father's complete check-out of the whole thing; the romantic interest ... totally uninterested in romance.

 

It just didn't work for me.



Isolation walks

We're running out of interesting neighborhood to walk in, so we re-visited the 'posh' side of the street, and I at least got a few pictures in counter of all the lovely spring photos my N. Hemisphere friends are sharing, including one of a mystery tree full of little seed balls that make it look festive:

 

 

I have no idea what kind of tree it is, but now that I've noticed it, I've seen one or two on a few streets around me.  

 

One of the prettier streets at the moment:

 

How the 1% live; I included it only because the blue-jacketed guy shamelessly peering through the gates is MT, counting the number of black cars parked in the driveway (6, and they were really all black). 

 

On our way back from our last walk, we cut through the park, checking on a few trees we discovered several weeks ago.  They're peppercorn trees, and they grow everywhere here, something else I only recently discovered on these walks.  After doing a LOT of research to make sure they were the edible peppercorns, not the toxic ones, we picked our first batch:

 

They don't look like much, but they smell divine.  Once they're finished drying out, I'll de-husk them and we'll have a go at grinding them up; there's debate on whether or not they grind in a mill well - we may have to pull out the mortar and pestle.  Either way - I love the idea of a fresh supply of peppercorns; it's an unexpected bonus to these local walks.



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.