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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.

The Flat Book Society: March Read begins today! I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong

Who's excited to real all about the bazillions of microbes that live in, on and around us?  Who amongst us hasn't at some point wished they owned their own zoo?  The good news is: we do!  It's just really, really tiny.


Put away the hand sanitiser and read about how these gazillions of little critters are not only almost entirely harmless, not only beneficial, but, indeed, how we are the ones dependent on them for life.


I've only read the first chapter so far, but it's good.  Really good.  And I only felt the compulsive need to disinfect once, when he mentioned keyboards.  Because contrary to what Yong says, they are a hot mess of infective nastiness.  There might be less than 100 species that are pathogenetic, but I'll bet at least 90 of them are on your average keyboard.


Huggins asks:  have you cleaned your keyboard?

February Reading Wrap-Up

File on Fenton & Farr - Q. Patrick Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language - Emma Byrne This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection - Carol Burnett

Clearing my slate before the new Kill Your Darlings game and the Flat Book Society's March read begins.


I've read 19 books this month.  Real life in February was a cranky bastard and I just didn't have the luxury of time I usually do.  Still, 19 is a much higher number than I expected and I'm very satisfied, all things considered.


A few stats:

3 Five star reads

4 Four star reads

1 1.5 star read; my lowest rating of the month.


13 books by women

6 books by men

4 audiobooks

7 non-fiction

12 fiction


In an effort to curb my TBR piles this year, I'm only allowing myself to buy half as many books as I read in the previous month.  If I buy less than the month's budget, I can carry over the balance.

February cumulative balance:  19

Books bought in February: 13

Carry over:  6

March budget: 9

Total book budget for March:  15


In truth, I thought I'd have blown this by now; it helps that I accidentally missed the library sale last month.  Something tells me I won't do so well when the next one comes around.




Horrible Histories: The Groovy Greeks and the Rotten Romans

The Groovy Greeks And The Rotten Romans (Two Horrible Books In One) - Terry Deary

Eh.  Gross overuse of the word "Groovy" in the Greek part, and generally not as well laid out as the HH on World War I.  For me, that is.  For the teens it was written for, and as a teaching aid, it's great.  A lot of quizzes that were far more interesting than any I had to take in school during world history class.  I especially liked the sections where they described how to play the games of ancient Greece and/or Rome, and the sample Roman menu is a great idea of you're reading this with teens.  I personally plan on making a camera obscura with my niece one of these days.


As always for me, the cartoons in these books are the best bits.

Murder in the Museum

Murder in the Museum - John Rowland, Peter Wickham Murder in the Museum - John Rowland

Wow, this was really not good.  I started listening to it on audiobook, and meant to DNF it, but my phone doesn't unlock while I'm in the car and I kept forgetting to pick a new book before driving off again.  By the time I got home last night I was 90% finished and thought 'to hell with it', grabbed my print copy, and just finished it off.


What I didn't like:

Henry Fairhurst:  He's sort of the co-MC of the book, along with Inspector Shelly.  He's a damp, hen-pecked, Walter Middy sort of fellow; whingey too.


Henry's sister:  every horrible stereotype about single women, crammed into one book.  Truly a horrible character I would not be able to resist smacking in real life.


Inspector Shelly: the other MC of the book, the Scotland Yard Inspector that goes around not only theorising before the facts, but telling all involved in the case that they are the facts, never mind silly things like official coroner reports, or post-mortems, or blood analysis.  Shelly says the man died of cyanide poisoning, then by golly, that's what he died of.  And speaking of cause of death:


The cause of death:  A man does not fall asleep in the British Museum Reading Room and peacefully die from cyanide poisoning mid-snore.  The author was a contemporary of Agatha Christie; I hope she smacked him upside the head with his own book before setting him straight.  Cyanide is a nasty way to die and I'm certain his snoring would have been the least offensive thing everyone in the Reading Room that day would have had to witness.


The writing:  Rowland writes as though he imagines his reader to be an idiot, the result being his characters all sound like idiots.  There are some very Dick and Jane moments in this book.


The plot:  Let me put it this way:  I read cozies, and I thought it was preposterous.  


What I liked:

The cover.  The title.  The British Museum setting, which ended after page 24.  I gave each 1/2 star, but it was all downhill from there.

The Flat Book Society: Voting for May read will be closing soon (REALLY soon!)

Just a quick reminder in case anyone would like to squeeze a last minute vote in for The Flat Book Society's May read.  We have 9 books on the list this time around and one book in the lead by a slim margin, A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup. BrokenTune and I both loved this book – enough to read it again! – and she has, in fact, just spent a delightful few hours with the author at a cocktail party designed around this book (she's still with us, so presumably the cocktails didn't contain anything potent enough to wipe out Deborah Harkup's readership). You can real all about her enviable experience here.


I will announce the May book on March 1st, so consider this a 48 hour warning to vote if you haven't already.



The Flat Book Society: March Read begins in 2 days!

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong

Our newest Flat Book Society read begins on Thursday, March 1st.  It's not too late to join us as a buddy read, or join the club and help us decide what to read.


This month's book synopsis:

Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are.

The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squid with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.

Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—build our bodies, protect our health, shape our identities, and grant us incredible abilities. In this astonishing book, Ed Yong takes us on a grand tour through our microbial partners, and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.


The Virago Book Of Women Gardeners

The Virago Book Of Women Gardeners - Deborah Kellaway

This started out as a 5 star read for me, but as with any anthology, some of the writing bogged me down, made my eyes glaze, and skimming was taking place.  Especially those excepts that ran more like garden inventories; I loved reading about new plants, but there are only so many latin botanical names one can read in a row before it all starts looking like Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...


Most of it was great though, if you're a gardener.  It's a collection of excerpts, essays, diary entries, even a little poetry here and there, written by women known for their mad gardening skills and wickedly green thumbs throughout history.  It's all non-fiction, and the book bursts with suggestions for plants; mostly oriented to the UK, with a little USA thrown in.  I did a LOT of googling while I read, and most of the plants that caught my eye are available in some form or another here in Australia, the country with draconian import laws, so despite the bias in the book, there should be something for every gardener here.


Also, the cover is gorgeous.

Telling Tails (Second Chance Cat Mystery, #4)

Telling Tails - Sofie Ryan

Meh.  Definitely not the strongest in the series so far.  Ryan had a Rear Window theme going on in the plot, and I'm not a fan of the trope, although I give her credit for using it as an effective device for bringing society's view of seniors, and how easily they're dismissed, into the book's storyline.


The mystery itself was obfuscated by both the question of whether or not a crime took place at all, and the lack of any clear motive until very nearly the end of the book.  By the time it's revealed that a crime did take place, it was pretty clear who had to have done it.


While I generally love the setting (I find the whole repurposing thing interesting), and I like the characters, I found Rose (the witness the maybe crime), in particular, a bit trying.  She was just a little too exaggerated.  There's a weird romance vibe going on in the series too; it's not quite a love triangle but the potential is obvious.  Meanwhile nothing but internal musing has been going on for 4 books and I'm tired of hearing about it.  One party of the triangle, Nick, seems to have zero chemistry with the MC and was a total ass in this book. Total. ass.


I'll read the next one on the strength of the author's other books, and how much I usually enjoy them.  Hopefully the mystery, at least, will be a better one.

My week sucked ... but it's getting better.

Some of you know that MT and I have chickens and that they've brought great joy and hilarity to our lives the last 5 years.  They're the first chickens either of us have ever owned so it's been a steep learning curve, but I think, based on the overall  general good health of the girls, we've done a pretty good job.


So it was a shock last weekend to lose one of our chooks.  Princess Parmigiana (Princess, or Parma, for short) had been looking a bit listless the previous week; not blatantly unwell, but acting even more introverted than usual; she's never let us get close to her, making it harder to tell if she was sick.  We were concerned, but not panicked, and decided to haul her to a poultry vet.  An extraordinarily nice man, who gently broke the news that she had a tumour that had progressed beyond the point where surgery would have been successful.  (I never considered that surgery on poultry was a thing, btw.)


MT and I don't see our chickens as egg machines; they're ours for the long haul, eggs or no eggs.  But they're chickens; not cats or dogs you hold, play, and develop emotional bonds with.  Not in an obvious way.  So the impact of this news about Parma broadsided us.  Neither of us were prepared for how sad we were to lose her.  Aloof she may have been, but she played an undeniable role in our chicken family dynamics.


As if we weren't already weepy enough, we came home to discover that chickens grieve.    Eggy and Henri looked terrified and confused, staying clumped together, not uttering so much as a bwark between them.  Healthy, but not understanding where their coop mate went.  We had no plans to bring another chicken in, but after 3 days of depressed chickens we re-evaluated.  The vet recommended we get two more instead of just one, since integration would be easier (strength in numbers).


After researching our area, we had a choice:  we could get two more right now, or we'd have to wait several more months before anyone had any chickens old enough for us.  So today we brought home Auburn and Molly  (I'm not sold on these names, btw), two French Black Copper Marans. 



They're young yet - only about 18 weeks old, so they have more filling out to do, both in size and feathers, and their combs haven't fully formed or gone red (a puberty thing).  Auburn's body feathers (she's in front, I think) have more brown in them and we're hoping as she gets older this will become more pronounced, otherwise we're never going to be able to tell them apart.


The bad news is that MT and I still feel Princess Parma's absence, but the good news is that Eggy and Henri are too busy looking at Auburn and Molly thinking WTF? to be depressed any longer.  There's something to be said for indignation in the grieving process.  ;-)

Fix for Firefox Users of BookLikes

BookLikes user Linda Hilton has been having trouble using BookLikes for several months now and today (yesterday?) she posted a screenshot of what happens when she tries to create posts.  This made it possible to recreate the issue on my machine using the latest version of Firefox.  Note: Linda is on a Windows machine and I'm on a Mac, but the behaviour was the same for both.


Turns out this is a widely experienced problem for a lot of Firefox users on an odd variety of websites.  For this reason, it seemed a good idea to create a post about it in case others are also having this issue.  Of the threads I researched all indicated only one solution, which is outlined below.


I DO NOT TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANYTHING.  The directions below are easy, but they DO involve altering Firefox's configuration, which in most normal circumstances is NOT something anyone should feel free to do out of curiosity.  


Only do this if you are experiencing the same issues Linda is with creating posts and leaving comments on other people's posts.


Again, I have to stress it's important to BE CAREFUL!


Here are the directions - do it ONLY if you feel comfortable; standard disclaimers apply, I guarantee nothing, etc.


1. Take a deep cleansing breath and type:
in the firefox URL/address bar. You will get a pop up with dire warnings about voided warranties (??). This is because if you change things willy-nilly from this, you will break your browser. As long as you ONLY change this one setting, you'll be fine. Click the "I'll be Careful" button to get a list of all possible configuration settings in Firefox.


2 Scroll through the list (it's in alphabetical order) - or use the search bar - and find:


It's entry will look something like this (might differ slightly between Mac and Windows):
dom.disable_beforeunload       default         boolean        false


Double click it and it should change to:
dom.disable_beforeunload     MODIFIED       boolean         TRUE
(capitalisation mine for emphasis)


Note: Double clicking on it again will return it to its default/false state should you wish to undo the change.


That's it. Once you've done that and it reads 'modified' and "true" you can close that tab, reload Booklikes and it should work. It worked for me.


This is NOT the ideal because it's not something any average user would/should know about, but of the half-dozen links I read, every single one said this was the only solution. And it works, so there's that. :)



(Please feel free to reblog if you know of anybody who might benefit from this.)

The Essence of Malice (Amory Ames, #4)

The Essence of Malice - Ashley Weaver

Meh-ish.  It would have been much, much better if Weaver hadn't dragged me through Amory's marriage angst for most of the story.  I'd rather thought we'd left all that crap behind, but I was wrong.  Milo's an ass.  She absolutely should have dumped him for the guy in book 1; there might have been less passion for Amory, but the readers would have had to put up with a lot less fretting.  I hate fretting.


Beyond all that trying nonsense though, is a good mystery and setting.  When Amory wasn't wringing her hands over her ass of a husband, she was interacting with interesting characters in 1920s/30s Paris.  Even better, the story centers on the perfume industry, which I found intriguing.


The plotting was...  it was good but also a cheat.  Weaver cheated.  She didn't write a mystery readers can solve because she withholds information from both her characters and her readers.  This doesn't generally bother me when the story is good, but it is cheating, strictly speaking, and it was so blatantly done one can't help but notice it.  


So:  good story marred by a lot of anxious fretting, an ass of a romantic interest, and a mystery nobody has a hope in hell of solving.


Oddly enough after reading through this, I'm still on board for the next book.  If Amory and Milo can't sort their shit out and grow up though, I'm out.



Reading progress update: I've listened 75 out of 378 minutes.

Murder in the Museum - John Rowland, Peter Wickham

I gotta say, I'm not loving this so far.  Close to dnf'ing, in fact.  The MC has this weird Walter G. Middy vibe and he giggles.  His sister is a harridan.  The writing is simplistic and the police are completely unrealistic, with the investigator telling the victim's daughter the determination and method of death before any official ruling has been made (and this by his own admission).  


It got a little better just before I pulled up to the house, so I might give it one more day, or at least 1/2 of my daily commute.

Playing Beatie Bow

Playing Beatie Bow - Ruth Park

An Australian YA book from the 80's, this was a RL book club read.  Though not science-fiction so much as historical time-travel, the book feels akin to the Australian equivalent of A Wrinkle in Time.


Abigail is an unhappy 14 year old, bitter and bratty after her parents' separation.  She spends time with her next-door neighbour, Justine, helping her out by taking Justine's two kids to the playground, where the youngest, Natalie, likes to watch the other kids play a game called 'Beatie Bow'; a cross between Bloody Mary and tag.  Natalie and Abigail notice another child that only watches, the 'furry girl' that stands in the shadows.  One day, Abigail sees the girl and approaches her, then gives chase as the girl runs away.  As she runs down the street, she suddenly finds herself in 1873, stuck there until she helps the furry girl, who turns out to be Beatie Bow, and her family figure out how to save the family 'Gift'.  


More than a few of my friends here consider this a beloved classic, so imagine my chagrin when I showed up to book club and had to admit I didn't like it.  Fortunately, I wasn't alone.  The book has a lot going for it: the writing is beautiful, the setting evocative; Park puts you in Sydney in 1873, and let me tell you, it's filthy.  Park won the Australian Book of the Year Award in 1981 and it was well deserved.  


But...I don't like time travel books, I'm not a fan of the dark edge so prevalent in even Australian YA, and most unfortunate of all, I didn't like a single character in this book.  Abigail was a spoiled, whiney, brat; Beattie Bow was too ornery to be considered charming and the rest didn't get enough page time to be anything other that friendly shadows.  Abigail's first love was just too trite; I couldn't buy it, it was all too neat and pat (although to be fair, I might have totally bought it when I was 12). 


The book is a worthy read, I just wasn't the right audience for it. 

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)

A Treacherous Curse - Deanna Raybourn

I love Veronica Speedwell.  Her character is almost everything I admire in a person, with the exceptions of her penchants for collecting butterflies, necessitating her killing them, and her need to verbalise her sexual liberty.  This isn't hypocrisy on my part; I think it's distasteful when men make their sexual needs topics of casual conversation, and it's no less so when a woman does it.  Boundaries.  Good fences make good neighbours and all that.


But these are very minor niggles.  Everything else about Veronica is excellent and Stoker doesn't suck either.  Raybourn has found that perfect balance of rawness, gentility, intelligence, anger, and grace in her hero (although I have to say, what's up with the eye patch? Is that really considered sexy?  I see one and have to resist the urge to pull it and watch it snap back).  The dialog between the two of them is snappy and sometimes electric.  There's no doubt as to where these two are headed, but Raybourn is taking her time sending them there, and doing it well enough that I, for one, feel no impatience for them to get on with it already.


The mystery plot is the only thing that held this book back a bit for me.  It succeeded in terms of leaving me guessing until the very end, but honestly it was so convoluted that I stopped trying to figure it out about halfway through and just focused on the characters until the end.  That's not necessarily a criticism; this is a strong book just on the merits of being an engrossing work of historical fiction.  But my enjoyment came from the story first, with the mystery an afterthought.


Sadly, I'm going to have to wait an entire year for the fourth book.  But I'll be looking forward to it with anticipation.

Living the high life...

Where's my piña colada?

The Golden Mean and Alexandria: Griffin and Sabine

Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Unfolds - Nick Bantock The Golden Mean - Nick Bantock

I'm reviewing these two together because I read them totally out of order. leaving me with little idea of story quality.  I'd read Griffin and Sabine years ago and loved it - the artwork, the interactivity of it, and the way it ended mysteriously.  A couple of years ago I acquired these two books at a sale and put them away until I could get the missing three, and read them in order.


Except last night I was in the mood for books with pieces, so I grabbed them to read anyway.


Definitely not a series to read out of order.  The Golden Mean was ok - I figured out enough from having read the first book to follow along fine, but Alexandria has new characters that were somehow involved in everything and I was more than a little clueless, although I was left with the feeling that Bantock was reaching for plot by the end.


Regardless, the art is still stunning.  I love the postcards and whenever a 'real' letter appeared on the page, the thrill of opening it, extracting the letter and reading it, never got old.


I'm still going to search out the rest of the books; if I ever find them, I'll read the whole series again - in order - and see if the plot goes as off the rails as it looks to me now.