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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.

The White Cottage Mystery

The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham

My first Allingham, and fittingly, her first too.  Definitely not my last.  

 

DCI Challenor's son is on his way home to London one evening when he sees a young woman stepping off the bus with a heavy load and stops to offer her a ride to her home.  Moments after leaving her there, he and the local constable hear the rapport of a shotgun and on returning find a man most definitely dead and a hallway full of suspects.

 

This is a very short read, relative to today's average mystery, coming in at just 157 pages.  But it's a fast-paced 157 pages and Allingham dispenses with anything monotonous or that might smack of filler.  The timeline jumps from one paragraph to another; sometimes by just a few hours, sometimes a few days, towards the end, a few years.  This might really aggravate some readers but if you're familiar with Golden Age mysteries, you won't find it unusual.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed it; so much so that it was 1am when I finally shut the light off, having finished the entire book in one sitting.  She had me guessing the entire way through, and not once did I come close.  I found DCI Challenor's advice at the end appalling; it would never fly in our time, but in the age it was written, it would have been standard.

 

A very good mystery and from my first peek, I'd say Allingham is under valued as a master of mystery, but to be sure, I'll have to read a few more - as soon as possible.



An Academic Question

An Academic Question - Barbara Pym, Kate Saunders

Pym is widely regarded as an Important Author in her time and genre, and as I've never read her I grabbed this at a library sale.  I knew going into it that it wasn't considered 'major Pym' but is was a dollar and I figured it would give me a general idea of what to expect from her other works, one of which is on the TBR cliff.

 

All I can say is I think I missed something.  Possibly, I missed everything.  The cover's pull quotes all talk about the comedy and the introduction, written by Kate Saunders, refers to it as a 'comic novel'.  I didn't see it.  It's not a cultural thing either, I don't think; I generally find the British sense of humour incredibly funny.  

 

Caro is the wife of an academic, in what I think must be somewhere around mid-century?  70's maybe?, who is bored, dissatisfied with her life and disinclined to do anything about it (or maybe feels helpless to do anything about it - it's unclear).  She starts reading to a blind academic at the local old folks home, who happens to have a trunk full of papers that will advance her husband's career, so he visits with her one day and steals it.  And lets her bear the burden of the guilt. Apparently a comedy of errors ensues; apparently so subtly that it flew right past me without notice.

 

I thought about going 2.5 stars, because honestly nothing ever happens, but in spite of its unfinished feel, I didn't mind the writing.  I wasn't bored when I was reading it, and that has to be worth something, I guess.



Just a gentle reminder...

If you submit a request for a cover change, please include a valid source link so the librarians can validate it.  

 

Cover change requests without source links are rejected.  Cover wars suck.

 

What's a valid source link? Glad you asked! 

The very best ones are:
Having the book in hand
Publisher web sites
Libraries
WorldCat
Publisher cataloging sites such as http://bnccatalist.ca or http://edelweiss.plus
NetGalley (they use publisher submitted data)
Author sites

 


The good ones are:
Amazon
BookDepository
KoboBooks
Audible

All others are suspect and/or inappropriate to use due either to permissions or reliability.  Please do not source book covers from any other sites (although please do contribute your own scans if you have them).

 

Thanks!



The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms - Amy Stewart

Yep.  Earthworms.  Unsung heroes.

 

Amy Stewart has become one of the few authors I'd wait in line for a signature for - have I mentioned that before?  She makes a great spokesperson for these unfairly maligned little earth movers.  In a chatty but informative style she covers the earthworms' role in history, agriculture, backyard gardening, forestry and even sewage treatment and soil reclamation.

 

Did you know that Australia has an earthworm that grows over 3 feet long, and when it moves around under the earth, farmers can hear a gurgling sound?  They're native to a farming area called Gippsland, here in Victoria, so of course I want to go and stand in the middle of a pasture like an idiot in hopes of hearing them gurgle along beneath me, while trying not to think of the movie Tremors.

 

There's no denying this is not a book for everyone.  But gardeners, environmentalists, and armchair scientists will all find something interesting and fascinating here.



Better Late Than Never (Library Lovers' Mystery, #7)

Better Late Than Never - Jenn McKinlay

McKinlay has to be the most inconsistent writer to have ever graced my shelves.  She creates fantastic, likeable characters, and then proceeds to play with them like a disturbed child pulling wings off of flies.

 

If someone purporting to love you, or at least be infatuated enough to want to pursue you, isn't listening while you repeatedly say "no, I'm not going to date you", it's not charming, even if he's British.  Making your normally intelligent, independent MC constantly roll over and accept not being listened to and laughing each time her feelings are dismissed isn't anything to be proud of either.  Mixed messages much?

 

"She was just lying there, with her arms crossed over her chest and her feet crossed at the ankles, looking perfectly peaceful - almost as if she was taking a nap."

 

Not if she was strangled, she wasn't.  Suffocation and strangulation are entirely different deaths and strangulation is never pretty.  This isn't an obscure fact; McKinlay was either wilfully ignorant or lazy.

 

Her plot twists weren't subtle, neither was her plotting.  In quite a few areas, the narration was unnatural and stilted; people don't talk like this is real life.

 

She did two things right, for which I'm happy to give each a star:  the love triangle is resolved, and boy howdy, McKinlay should stick to romance.  The moments between Lindsay and *ahem* almost made reading the book worthwhile all on their own.  The chemistry was palpable.  

 

She also ends this book with Lindsay swearing off sleuthing for good.  I don't know if this is the end of the series or just a weird cliffhanger-ish thing, but either way, it gives me the perfect opportunity to stop reading this series, always hoping in vain for improvement - for which I am heartily thankful.



The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crimes, #1)

The Big Over Easy  - Jasper Fforde

This book...  I have so many random thoughts about this book.  In no particular order:

 

1.  Easily the most highly quotable book I've ever read.  Including books of quotes.  
One of my favourites:

 

Mr. Pewter led them through to a library filled with thousands of antiquarian books.

'Impressive, eh?'

'Very,' said Jack.  'How did you amass all these?'

'Well,' said Pewter, 'you know the person who always borrows books and never gives them back?'

'Yes–?'

'I'm that person.'

 

Don't know why, but that cracked me up.

 

2.  I'm pretty sure Fforde had no intention of writing a satire (based on what I've found on the interwebs) about the sensationalism of the free press, but this is definitely a case of current events shaping a reader's interpretation of the text.  I had a really hard time reading this and not drawing parallels.

 

3.  I'm equally sure he definitely meant to write a satirised murder mystery and this was easily the closest I've ever read to my blog's namesake movie, Murder By Death, which in my totally biased opinion is the acme of mystery satire.  Which brings me to another quote:

 

Dog Walker's Face Body-Finding Ban

 

Anyone who finds a corpse while walking their dog may be fined if proposed legislation is made law, it was disclosed yesterday.  The new measures, part of the Criminal Narrative Improvement Bill, have been drafted to avoid investigations looking clichéd...

 

Now this is legislation I can get behind.

 

4.  I wish I'd picked this book up directly after reading The Well of Lost Plots.  It makes no difference to someone new to Fforde's books, but I think those that have read TN would feel a stronger connection to the characters here when The Well... was still fresh in the memory.

 

5.  Prometheus has an incredible monologue on pages 271-273.  A popular fiction novel that can weave serious philosophy into its narrative always earns huge bonus points with me.

 

6.  Oh, yeah - good mystery plot too!

 

Off to order the second one...



Food: A Love Story

Food: A Love Story - Jim Gaffigan

This was my first exposure to the comedy of Jim Gaffigan.  I went with audio because I figured it would come the closest to seeing him live; he's the narrator, so you experience this book presumably the way it was intended to be delivered.

 

It was good.  At no point did I ever want to fast forward, or yell at him through my car speakers.  I found almost all of it amusing, and there were some great one liners, but other than one out-loud chuckle, most of the humour remained at the amusing level.

 

If asked about my favourite bit, I'd definitely say it's the part where he talks about McDonalds, and how everybody has their own McDonalds, whether it's Star Magazine, or the hidden stash of chocolate, or the Ben and Jerry's in the freezer, we all have a McDonalds equivalent.  This had me talking back to my dashboard: "Yeah, that's right, I never thought of it like that - we do all have our own McDonalds!".  

 

The narration was... ok.  I don't think anyone could have done it better - but there was, especially at the beginning, a bit of stiffness; a sense that he hadn't seen the material for some time before he started recording the narration.  Sometimes, he really got into it and then the narration was great; the listener got a good idea of how great he'd be in a live show.

 

I'm glad I listened to it; it was entertaining.  If Gaffigan were ever to make it this far on tour, I definitely pony up the money to see him live.



A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

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

This one is for all the Agatha Christie fans out there who also love science.

 

Harkup devotes a chapter to each of the 14 poisons Christie used to eliminate so many of her victims over the course of 56 years writing mysteries.  In each chapter she discusses the history of each poison's discovery, its use in real crimes throughout history, its antidotes (if any), how its tested for, and how Christie used each poison in her books (as well as how accurate her knowledge was - hint: very).

 

I found the writing compelling and incredibly interesting, but this is not a book for people bored by, or disinterested in, chemistry and anatomy.  Harkup knows her stuff both as a chemist and as a Christie fan.  She gets into the nitty gritty details about how each poison wreaks its havoc in the human body; this might cause some eyes to glaze over.  In almost every chapter, she manages to discuss Christie's books and plots without revealing the killer, and when she can't avoid it, she clearly warns the reader upfront that there are spoilers ahead, offering "go to page xx" to readers wanting to avoid knowing whodunnit.  Some might still find her discussions too revealing, so be warned; if you want to know as little as possible about the books, save this one for later.

 

At the end, she offers a fascinating appendix of every book and short story Christie wrote, with each US/UK title and a list of all the ways people die, a more esoteric appendix illustrating most of the chemical structures discussed in the text (the rest are on her website), a select bibliography and a comprehensive index.

 

I came away from this book having learned a lot, but possibly the two most important things:  strychnine is just about the last way I'd want to go, and that Christie would have been the last person I'd ever want to piss off.



Another dose of 'lito...

I took this shot today, while MT and I were moving books in preparation for the delivery of our new bookcase (woot!), and he's so stinking cute... 


 

but this is actually one of those moments where it could have been so much better if only I'd had the camera on me the whole time.  As you can see he just barely fits in that box, but what I wasn't fast enough to get on film was his glorious entrance into the box.  Head first, leaving him fluffy-tail-up for about 5 seconds while he figured out how to manuver himself upright in the tight space.

 

That look on his face is one of pure reproach because MT and I were laughing so hard at his inelegance.



The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle (Book Club Mystery, #2)

The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle - Laura DiSilverio

I read the first in this series without high hopes, frankly, and I was pleasantly surprised by it.  It had great characters, with a strong focus on friendships and family, and I really liked the chemistry between the MC Amy-Faye, and Detective Hart.

 

This second entry still has all of that - including the great chemistry - and those are the things that carried the story for me.  I've read enough cozies now that it's impossible to not feel weary when certain over-used tropes are trotted out, and the family/friend in peril is one of the most threadbare.  Still, I could have over-looked it (because there really are only so many reasons a girl can get herself involved in a murder mystery) but plots that involve the amateur detective and her friends running "investigations" that involve questioning suspects always make me roll my eyes.  I always end up with the sense that these characters are playing dress-up and make-believe.

 

Still, if a cozy fits the mood, there's at least as much to like as there isn't.  DiSilverio can write well, and it's one of the better edited books I've read (especially from Penguin) in awhile.



Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores

Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers - Garrison Keillor, Bob Eckstein

The author and illustrator, inspired by an assignment for The New Yorker, chose 75 independent bookstores from around the world and painted a watercolour of each storefront.  Superimposed on these illustrations are quotes or stories about each shop, told by the owner, an employee, or a customer.  Some have a definite 'wow' factor, some are sweet, some are funny.  At the back of the book are a collection of stories that didn't fit into the book but couldn't be left out.

 

All of them reaffirm my desire to own a bookshop someday. 

 

 



Party Animal - the morning after...

Carlito likes to go a little hard at the 'nip sometimes...

(His head is in the catnip, but appropriately enough the rest of him is passed out in the hedgerow.)

 

Dude, it's all good; I'm not driving....



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

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

Peregrinations mentioned this book in one of her posts and of course I had to immediately get it.  I live in a place where I am daily questioned on how I talk, and this has fostered a fascination with the English language and accents in particular.

 

This is a larger format book, not quite coffee table sized, but it could definitely hold its own with the art and architecture tomes.  Each page features large full color heat maps, showing the prevalence for one word over another (or one pronunciation over another) in each part of the country.  Some maps are mostly homogeneous ("roundabout"); some look as though someone drew a line through the country (usually an east/west line dividing north and south, of course) ("pyjamas").

 

MT and I had a great time comparing words and pronunciations, and laughing at the differences (and sometimes even similarities).  We had fun trying to figure out his spirit state, and while it became clear that I've picked up words and pronunciations from around the country (mostly Minnesota), I was happy to see that my language still places me firmly in my home state of Florida.

 

An interesting look at the differences between us that are fun rather than confronting and a great conversation starter.



Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Mega Beasts

Encyclopedia Prehistorica - Robert Sabuda, Matthew Reinhart

The last of my pop-up book splurge, Mega Beasts is almost every bit as good as the Dinosaurs edition created by the same pop up artist team.

 

The same incredible level of paper art, the same solid writing; my only complaint is sometimes the spectacular paper art actually blocks the text, making it difficult to read without some maneuvering.  Otherwise, an awesome example of its kind.

 

Once again, MT provided a hand (or two) for the picture taking portion of this review:

 

King Kong wasn't just a myth y'all!

 

It was depressing to learn just how many creatures lived for ages without natural predators... until man came along.

 

My personal favourite spread.  Of course.  :)

 

 



The Persian Pickle Club

The Persian Pickle Club - Sandra Dallas

This was an impulse purchase at one of my local library sales, I think.  It's set in 1930's Kentucky during the dust bowl years and featured friendship and quilts.  How bad could it be?

 

Turns out not bad at all - it was excellent.  AND what they don't tell you on the cover is that there's a mystery to be solved, so of course I loved it even more.

 

Queenie is a young farm wife and part of the quilting circle called the Persian Pickle Club.  Rita is a newcomer to town and the club; a city girl who has just married a hometown boy reluctantly returned to the farm.  Queenie decides to make Rita feel welcome and tries her best to fold Rita into the daily routine of life in a farming community, but Rita doesn't want to be a farmer's wife; she has ambitions of her own to be a journalist and in her pursuit she digs up secrets people would rather remain hidden.

 

The beauty of this book is that it isn't trying to be anything it isn't; it feels like an authentic snapshot of time and place (and warning: it includes some language common to the time that we consider verboten now).  It doesn't make any moral judgements and the plot doesn't adhere to the strict definition of justice.  And that's all I'm saying because anything else would spoil it.  Let's just say I was giddy over the way it surprised me.

 

It's an easy read with potential to be a comfort read as well.  Definitely one of the better impulse buys I've made.



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

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

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this book was a gift.  An amazing gift made personal and unique by my bestie, so I was never going to rate this less than 5 stars.

 

Now that the bias has been disclosed, it is actually a beautiful book.  The cover is metallic gold cloth (not printed gold paper) and each page is set in it's own typeface, one that fits the spirit of the quote (as interpreted by the author and the typesetter, at least).

 

The best part:  each quote includes a small biography of its author and if the quote originated in another language, it's repeated in its native language.  This made it easy for me to curl up and read what is unarguably nothing more than a book of quotes as if it was a narrative, beginning to end, Saturday night.

 

If you are inclined towards collection books, I un-hesitatingly recommend this one.

 

"Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, a fate.

 

It is not a hobby."

 

-Jeanette Winterson