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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.

24 Festive Tasks: Guy Fawkes Day, Task #1

I'm playing a mad game of catch up tonight, so expect a flood of Festive Tasks posts from me, assuming I don't get pulled away by something shiny.  


Burn a book in effigy.  Not that anyone of us would do such a thing, but if you HAD to, which book would be the one you’d sacrifice to the flames (gleefully or not)?


I'd never actually burn it, but this one was a no-brainer for me.  As many of you know, I loathe this book:



Don't care how literarily important it is, this book just pushes all my buttons, and just thinking about it leaves me hostile.


Save a Truck, Ride a Redneck (Southern Eclectic Novella)

Save a Truck, Ride a Redneck - Molly Harper,  Amanda Ronconi

If you read the Southern Eclectic novels, this is a prequel back story for one of the characters, Marianne, and how she ended up with Carl.


It's short, but it covers all the bases, introducing most of the family, including one character that dies before the full-length books begin.  We get a bit more insight into Donna, Marianne's curmudgeonly mother.  Less funny than most of the other books, it's sweet in its way and since I went in already invested in the characters, I enjoyed it well enough.

My Bluegrass Baby

My Bluegrass Baby - Molly Harper, Amanda Ronconi

Straight up chick lit romance and not Harper's best.  Lots of very worn tropes get page time in this little romance about a woman fighting for the job she was promised when a new and, of course, gorgeous interloper comes into the picture.


I love Harper's work in general; it's funny, sweet, snarky, and often unpredictable, but this (admittedly early) work of hers just fell flat.  It wasn't bad, it was just very formulaic.


Amanda Ronconi did a wonderful job, as usual.

I'm like a duck on a pond...

...madly scrambling to try to catch up here and get back into co-hosting duties for Tasks of the Festive Season.


BookLikes really doesn't like scrolling down a week's worth of posts though.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Hogwarts Library Book) - Newt Scamander, J.K. Rowling

A fabulously fun A to Z of the beasts in the Harry Potter world.  The book starts with an introduction by Newt Scamander (the nominal author) that discusses the purpose of the book, along with a brief history of muggle/wizard/beat relations and the evolution of which magical creatures is deemed a beast and which beings.  Each beast's entry includes a danger rating, it's primary locals, and a description.


Total catnip for a Harry Potter fan; there are a few illustrations, but generally the author and publisher missed a golden opportunity to make this book amazing.  Hopefully a fully illustrated edition will appear sometime in the future.

The Road to Cardinal Valley (Cardinal Valley duology, #2)

The Road to Cardinal Valley - Earlene Fowler

Where to start with why I didn't like this book.  Let's start with the fact that I was invested in the characters from the beginning.  I cared about what happened to them and after the last book I felt confident that things would work out as the author led this reader to believe.


Then she yanked the rug out from under me.  I don't like authors to set up relationships only to start jerking them around.  Call me dull, but I like a certain ... not predictability, but continuity.  So nothing was going to end up the way she led me to believe at the end of the first book.  Certain heartbreak - most undeserved - was on the cards for a major character, when suddenly the author introduces, if not an outright deus ex machina, then one hell of a coincidence, and happiness ever after is magically guaranteed for everyone.  Even I had a hard time swallowing this one.


The Road to Cardinal Valley focuses on Ruby's dysfunctional mess of a younger brother, an alcoholic with hepatitis who has no desire to sober up.  What follows is just enough codependency to thoroughly irritate me.  I could care less about Ruby's brother by about mid-way, but in another stretch-too-far, it all works out in the end with an act of redemption that coincidentally solves everyone's problems.  


Earlene Fowler writes a top-notch mystery that I'd happily recommend to anyone who likes traditional mysteries with strong, heartfelt characters.  But she was definitely trying something new here and, for me at least, it just didn't work.

The Saddlemaker's Wife (Cardinal Valley duology, #1)

The Saddlemaker's Wife - Earlene Fowler

I love Earlene Fowler's Benni Harper mystery series, but shied away from this book for years because it sounded sappy.  It wasn't sappy, but I still didn't like it much.  Even though I knew from reading the acknowledgments in her Benni Harper books that she is a vocal Christian (not in a bad way - just an active credit to her faith front and center in  each book - I did not know this one and its follow up would have a concentration of faith and Christianity as part of its storyline.  


It wasn't too heavy handed, and the author made sure the characters were non-judgemental and weren't too picky what the 'higher power' was called, but it still wasn't my jam.  It's not that I'm an atheist; I'm not.   But I am cynical; the more you talk about it, the more apt I am to to think you're trying too hard.


So, I wasn't inclined to enjoy the story, although I did, like all the author's other books, become invested in the characters and this is what kept me reading.  A lot of characters were American Indian, which added a more realistic roundness to the community of Cardinal Valley.  And the story's 'mystery' was pretty damn shocking.  Mostly because I wasn't expecting this to be a story that went in that direction, but also because Fowler's other work avoided the decidedly less functional dynamics that happen when people have too much power and influence.  Everything about this story was tragic.


In retrospect, I probably liked this book more than my rating suggests.  I read the second one before I wrote this and I'm pretty sure it coloured my feelings about this book.  The story here was compelling and the book ended on a hopeful note.  Unfortunately, it ends with unresolved issues, making the second book necessary if closure for the reader is a priority and well... I didn't like the second book.

Playing tourist - part 2: the scenery (Photo heavy)

If you're seeing this in your dash, it's probably in the wrong order, but oh well.  


Along with the Aussie Animal spotting, there was an incredible amount of hiking done.  The pedometer on my phone (which I had with me about 90% of the time) reports that in the 8 days she was here we walked 67 kilometres, or 41.6 miles.  It wasn't the steps that just about did us in though, it was the climbing.  iPhone reports 125 floors worth.  It was worth every gasping breath, not only for the wildlife, but the breathtaking (literally in some cases) views, and a few adventures.  We covered a mix of coastal bushland and mountain rain forests.  Most of the mountain rain forests looked like this:


(Made even better by the name of the area:  Sassafrass)  


The coastal bushland though... that's where I'm going to inundate you with photos:


The 12 Apostles:

(don't count them - 2 are behind me and 4 have collapsed)


The London Bridge (what's left of it):


An unnamed nook we found while hiking over the rocks on the shore (that's me):


The Nobbies (there's a cave down there you can see, which they call a blowhole - a case of 'that word doesn't mean what you think it means'):


and Cape Woolamai:



I swear on every book I own those blues and greens are the real thing - no filters or photoshopping was involved in the posting of these pictures (except to resize them).  The Great Ocean Road might be the most photogenic place in Australia.  I could spend hours talking about how much fun we had, but I like you all, so I won't.  Suffice it to say it was a blast; I got to act like a 14 year old tourist, wandering around, exploring at whim, with a great friend who was as curious as I am and game to try it all.


I'm back ... I'm tired ... I had a blast. (Long and Photo heavy)

My friend got on the plane back to South Korea yesterday afternoon, after a week of hard core sight seeing.  We always warn visitors that the likelihood of seeing Aussie animals in the wild is slim; those YouTube videos showing kangaroos in residential neighbourhoods represent the exception rather than the rule.  Nevertheless she had an extraordinary run of amazing luck and got to see not only the standards, but a few of the more exotic (even by Aussie standards).  


First up is an animal that's not to everyone's tastes - some might even be creeped out, but it is an iconic Aussie Animal, and definitely not one you're going to see in North America or Europe.  Meet the Fruit Bat, or as they call them here the Flying Foxes:


That's a wing span of about 1.5 metres, or 4.5 feet.  Not the kind that will get stuck in your hair, but definitely the kind that will eat all the figs off your trees.


The next animal spotted was the Koala.  We not only saw Koalas hanging out in the trees:


which is rare enough, but we also saw them on the ground, making tracks for a better tree:


And as a cherry on top, I'm pretty sure we saw one hung over:

(technically, this one was spotted in a Koala preserve - they're all wild and can move about at will, but it still somehow feels not-quite-wild)


Next was an Aussie critter that was so unlikely to be spotted, I didn't even tell her about it. On a hike about an hour outside of Melbourne, we rounded a bend and there were two of them, foraging way in the grass right off the path.  I lived here 9 years before I spotted my first Echidna; she was here 36 hours. 


LOOK AT THAT FACE!  (For those interested, they are the only mammal that lays eggs other than the Platypus; they eat ants, but are not related to anteaters, spines not withstanding.) (Side note: on her last day, I took her to an Aussie animal sanctuary, to cover all the wildlife bases;  I got licked by an Echidna.  Freaking adorable.)


The itinerary included a trip to Phillip Island, home of the Fairy Penguins - the smallest of the penguins - and the #1 rule about watching them come in from the ocean at night is zero photography/videography, a rule they're pretty dictatorial about enforcing.  So I suggested her best bet was a postcard.  Then, before the nighttime parade, we went for a hike around part of the island called The Nobbies (no, I don't know why) and, lo and behold, there was a penguin playing hooky:


We later found out it was probably sitting on an egg ('it' because it could have been either the male or the female), and therefore didn't go out hunting.  At this point, I'm about to tell my friend to buy a lottery ticket.


On our way out that evening to the penguin viewing platform, what should be waiting to greet us randomly on the side of the road, but a Wallaby.

Because why not?  It's not like I've EVER seen a wallaby in the wild in the 11 years I've been here.  Turns out they are pretty much everywhere on this island, and we saw dozens more on our hike the next day.  For those looking at he/she and wondering what the difference is between a wallaby and a kangaroo, the answer is: not much.  They're much smaller than roos and, while there are those that would argue with me, I still maintain wallabies have a lot more ... heft in their undercarriage.  My rule of thumb is if it's short and pear shaped, it's a wallaby.


Amongst all these amazing creatures was a truckload of birds (which will probably be a separate post at some point).  Yes, I know, a penguin is a bird, but it was iconic enough to go in this post instead.  You might be asking 'Kangaroos? She saw kangaroos of course, right?'  Well, almost no.  I seem to be a jinx when it coms to roos.  People claim they are just outside the cities in great numbers, but damn if I ever see them and so it went with this week.  We traveled all over this state and not a roo did we see.  But luckily MT has a friend with 20 acres in the bush in a place called, aptly enough, Kangaroo Ground, Victoria.  So on her last night here we went to their house for curry night and on the way:

This is a closeup of just 5 of them, but her luck was holding - the mob (collective noun for Roos) was about 60 large, and they were right off the side of the road.  It was an unusually large size for the area, and when we stopped and snapped a few pictures they all hopped away, which is actually a bonus, because there is nothing more amazing than watching a large mob of Roos all taking off at once.  (Fun fact: the largest boomer (male) was about 6 feet tall.  These are the Grey Kangaroos; the Reds live in the outback, and are the largest, topping out at 6.9 feet.)


It wasn't all about the animals; there was stunning scenery too, but I'll put that in a separate post.

MbD's presence will be spotty for the next fortnight...

A high school friend is coming to visit, taking advantage of her husband's current posting in South Korea.  While I run around playing tourist with her, Themis-Athena will be posting the next X number of doors (I can't remember how many).  I'll likely check in here and there, and I'll try to keep up with everyone's posts, but if I don't, please forgive the rudeness of this co-host ducking out of her own party; it's temporary.


24 Festive Tasks: Door 4 - Diwali (November 7th)

It's time for door #4!:

Guy Fawks Night


dio de los meurtos

Melbourne Cup Day


Diwali is a Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated every autumn in the northern hemisphere (spring in southern hemisphere). One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolises the spiritual "victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. (courtesy of Wikipedia)


Tasks and Books


Task 1:  Share a picture of your favorite light display.


Task 2:  Cleaning is a big part of this holiday; choose one of your shelves, real or virtual, and tidy / organise it.  Give us the before and after photos.  OR Tidy up 5 of the books on your BookLikes shelves by adding the CORRECT cover, and/or any other missing information. (If in doubt, see here: http://jenn.booklikes.com/post/1782687/state-of-the-database-booklikes-database-halloween-bingo-and-a-mini-rant-with-pictures).


Task 3: Eating sweets is also a big part of Diwali. Either select a recipe for a traditional sweet, or make a family favorite and share a picture with us.


Task 4: During Diwali, people pray to the goddess Lakhshmi, who is typically depicted as a beautiful young woman holding a lotus flower. Find 5 books on your shelves (either physical or virtual) whose covers show a young woman holding a flower and share their cover images.


Book: Read a book with candles on the cover or the word “candle” or “light” in the title; OR a book that is the latest in a series; OR set in India; OR any non-fiction book that is ‘illuminating’ (Diwali is Sanskrit for light/knowledge and row, line or series)



Previous door's tasks are "beneath the fold"


read more »

Couldn't have said it better myself...


It's not often Google does something I can get behind, but this made me smile and think "Hell yes!". 


I can't vote from here (expats can only vote in Federal elections; i.e. for presidents), so can someone please go out and vote for me?  Someone moderate and educated would be nice.  Sane would be a bonus.


But most of all, please vote.  


Note for anyone seeing this after-the-fact:  I meant vote *for* someone educated and moderate with sane being a bonus; not that the person doing the voting had to be those things.    Remember: grammar matters.

Ask Me No Questions (Lady Dunbridge Mystery, #1)

Ask Me No Questions - Shelley Noble

I got an uncorrected advance reader copy at Bouchercon this year, but it was from a freebie table, meaning there is zero chance of bias.


Up front this is definitely an uncorrected ARC and I sincerely hope that someone not only corrects the grammatical and punctuational errors, but the huge, gaping plot error.


Briefly as possible:  Lady Dunbridge's friend's husband is murdered.  Lady D and friend find a hidden safe deposit box key in a safe, and checking the box they find thousand of dollars in cash, which they take out and hide.  At the denouement it is revealed that he had this cash with him when he died, that the murderer took it after shooting him.  Which would make it impossible for Lady D and friend to find it in his safe deposit box afterward. I mean, I'm pretty sure the murderer didn't kill him, take his money, and then return it to the victim's safe deposit box for the two women to find.

(show spoiler)


Those issues aside, it's not a bad read.  Lady Dunbridge is an interesting mix of traditionalist and modernist, in much the same way I'd bet a lot of women were at the turn of the century, just before WWI.  Her morality has left the Victorian Age behind, but her pragmatism has her actively searching for a new husband who can maintain her in the lifestyle befitting her Countess title.  That she decides to do that in America is a slight twist on an old theme. 


Some of the secondary characters are all written to be interesting in their own right, with Lady D's ladies maid being a downright lady of mystery with some mad and disconcerting skills.  Others are more cardboard prop-ish; either they have more development planned in future books (?) or they weren't meant to be more than props.


There's no romance, although the Countess is plenty interested, and there's heavy foreshadowing of mysterious men and sadly, a possible love triangle.   Nothing specific, just inferences that can be made from inescapable tropes.


The plot, other than the train-sized hole running through the end of it, was pretty interesting.  In a very weird coincidence, the book centered on horse-racing; the Belmont Stakes, specifically.  (I was completely unaware of this when I picked it up to read.)  It was an interesting story, and I loved the tie in with Doyle's Silver Blaze (which, towards the end of the book became Silver Blade, something I really hope they catch before publication).   It could have been a tighter story - it did drag a bit in the middle - but overall, it held my attention.


I'd probably read another one if it comes across my radar; there's enough here to show promise.


I'll use this book for my Melbourne Cup Day Festive Task, since it's been handed to me.  (Read a book about horses or a horse on the cover.)

24 Tasks of the Festive Season: Melbourne Cup Day RESULTS

The results are in!  The winner of the Melbourne Cup for 2018 is:


Cross Counter


2nd place: Marmelo

3rd place: A Prince of Arran


Last over the line was Red Cardinal.



The following Festive Task participants picked one or more 'winning' horses.  Their results, in order of when they commented:


Darth Pony:  

Marmelo   -   1 point


Portable Mistletoe:

A Prince of Arran  -  1 point


Person of Interest:

Marmelo  -  1 point

A Prince of Arran  -  1 point


Sir Surly:

Cross Counter  -  1 point

Marmelo  -  1 point



Marmelo  -  1 point

Red Cardinal  -  1 point


Themis-Athena's Garden of Books:

A Prince of Arran  -  1 point



Cross Counter  -  1 point



Cross Counter   -  1 point
(I'm guessing that's what you meant when you wrote "Cross Check?")


Kitty Horror:

Cross Counter  -  1 point


Moonlight Snow:

The Prince of Arran  -  1 point


Obsidian Blue:

Red Cardinal  -  1 point


Total:  14 points

Congratulations to everyone who picked a winner (whether it was actually the winner or the loser in this case).  I hope everyone had fun at the races!  

24 Festive Tasks: Door 3 - Melbourne Cup Day (November 6)

And now for the rest of Door #3:


Guy Fawks Night

dio de los meurtos

Melbourne Cup Day


The Melbourne Cup is Australia's most prestigious annual Thoroughbred horse race. It is a 3,200 metre race for three-year-olds and over, run on the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria as part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. It is the richest "two-mile" handicap in the world, and one of the richest turf races, with this year's purse totalling 7,050,000 Australian Dollars (no, that's not a typo; it's just a weird amount).  The event starts at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November and is known as "the race that stops a nation".


Tasks and Books

Melbourne Cup Day

Task 1: Pick your ponies!  MbD has posted the horses scheduled to race; everyone picks the three they think will finish (in any order).  


Note: We've gotten so much rain this morning there's talk of a first-time-in-history cancellation of the day.  This would be monumentally huge, and is unlikely, as the weather is supposed to clear in time. (Too much rain, too fast, is over-whelming the drainage system, causing flooding.)  In the event of an actual cancellation Themis-Athena and I will re-group and update everyone with what happens next.


Task 2:  Cup day is all about the hats.  Post a picture of your favorite hat, whether it’s one you own or not.


Task 3: The coloring of the “horse of a different color” in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz was created by rubbing the horse’s fur with jello. What’s the weirdest use of jello you’ve ever come across?


Task 4: Have you ever been to or participated in a competition involving horses (racing, jumping, dressage, whatever)? Tell us about it. Photos welcome, too!


Book: about horses or a horse on the cover.  Books with roses on the cover or about gardening; anything set in Australia.



Previous door's tasks are "beneath the fold"


read more »

24 Festive Tasks LAST Reminder: Last call to Pick Your Ponies!

I had a new follower today (Hi Mike!) and just in case he hasn't seen this, task, here's the last reminder.


Don't forget to pick your ponies before the big Race that Stops a Nation today!  Deadline is in 4 hours.


Remember: you can't win if you don't play.  :)