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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 Snark Bible: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring, Comebacks, Irony, Insults, and So Much More

The Snark Bible: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring, Comebacks, Irony, Insults, and So Much More - Lawrence Dorfman

Pretty much what it says on the wrapper.  I love snark and this random gift from a family member is just the sort of thing that makes me chuckle.  It's a great collection, and was heading towards a 5 star rating, but it floundered a bit at the end.  I was willing to overlook a couple of quotes - and really it was only a couple - that were repeated in slightly paraphrased form.  


It's a thick book and one or two passing through the keeper is not unexpected.  But at about the 80% mark, specifically the chapter on Motherhood, the quotes stopped being snarky and were just quotes about motherhood, some of them quite endearing and touching.  


Then in the last 2-3 chapters, Dorfman lost that fifth star all together when he stopped quoting the greats and started ad libbing his own brand of snark, or at least what he likely considered snark.  It was too acerbic for my tastes; it didn't read snarky nearly as much as it read angry and bitter.  Vitriolic, even.  The dude does NOT like Christmas.  That's fair enough; Christmas can be a trying time for even the most festive feeling of us, but his barbs failed to find that sweet spot of gracious lunacy that can be Christmas.  After that chapter, his further attempts at snarky comebacks to enduring cliches just fell flat.


Still, overall it's an excellent compendium of sarcastic and witty quotes that will serve me well as a handy reference when I'm at the end of my rope trying to be polite to the more challenging people in my life.  Mostly time well spent.

Enter a Murderer (Roderick Alleyn #2)

Enter a Murderer - Ngaio Marsh

I've had Ngaio Marsh on my TBR pile for a few years now, and kept putting her off because the titles I have are all related to acting (Marsh herself being a former actress), and the stage and it's behind-the-scenes drama doesn't interest me much.  Still, she's a Golden Age writer of note, and I was determined to give the books a try.


I got off to a rough start; Golden Age writers generally have a very different writing style from most of today's fiction.  More staccato, more concise, and it takes me a period of adjustment to find the rhythm.  Enter a Murderer felt like that adjustment period took longer than usual, but once I found the groove, it was easy reading.


Alleyn has pale shades of Holmes about him; he's a thinking man's detective, and he likes to hold the clues close.  This was not a fair play mystery, though it was written smack in the middle of the era of Fair Play.  Still, I liked Alleyn well enough and I quite liked his sidekick, Nigel Bathgate.


The plot was, perhaps, trying too hard to be clever.  By the end (after the reveal) it's obvious what Marsh was aiming for, and it was an admirable goal, but achieving it required a fair amount of convoluted plotting.  I don't know if it didn't work for me because it was overdone, or because it required too much time with the secondary characters, all stereotypical stage actors of one sort or another, and hence, unreliable in the extreme.  Either way, I was unable to buy the motive, although I did enjoy the ride for the most part.


I have a few other Marsh books on the TBR pile, and I'll happily read them; there's enough here to peak my interest, if not quite enough to spark my devotion.

24 Festive Task Players: Meet Charlie - our adopted Book Bus



And "Charlie" wrote a letter too:




Marian, the woman I've been speaking to, also passed along this message:


Of course our reading volunteer scheme is open this year in Livingstone, Zambia from 1st July to 6th September. We are always looking for people who are passionate about books and reading to join our local children's literacy team for two weeks of sharing stories, reading and having fun. Maybe you could share with your group in case anyone might want to join us.
Here is the link to details on our site. 
I know that's a stretch for most of us, but I'm passing it along - just in case.
There's a video, but Marian says it's on the What's App and I don't have that - not sure if there will be a way to get to it or not, but if there is, I'll post it.  

An Atlas of Natural Beauty

An Atlas of Natural Beauty: Botanical Ingredients for Retaining and Enhancing Beauty - Victoire de Taillac, Ramdane Touhami

I bought this because of 1. the cover, and 2. I'm always on the lookout for ways to use the things I grow.


I'd never heard of the Officine Universelle Buly, and hadn't a clue it was a shop until I received the book.  The writing style fits; there's a very strong marketing vibe to the phrasing.  But I thoroughly enjoyed all the information contained in it.  It's mostly a list of different natural ingredients that can be used as beauty regimens, though there are a few first-aid type recipes here too.  Each has a little segment on its history, mythology and cultivation/harvesting, as well as tips on how to get the most out of the ingredient.


Beauty regimens are not necessarily my jam, as I'm a low maintenance kind of girl (read: lazy), but nevertheless there were a lot of useful finds, including one that might help MT manage his painful flareups of rheumatism.


A beautifully constructed and laid out book that will serve as an interesting reference when I'm in need of a solution that can come out of my garden.

I Can't Remember the Title but the Cover is Blue

I Can't Remember the Title But the Cover is Blue - Elias Greig

Definitely a bandwagon book; a riff on The Diary of a Bookseller that isn't nearly as good as the original.  But it wasn't bad, either.  A few of the entries were, I think, not only very Australian specific, but very micro-culturally specific to the pocket of Sydney where the bookshop is located.  I had to ask MT to clarify the meaning of a few phrases, and there were a few that stumped even him.  (An alternative explanation, as the author is a Ph.D student in Literature, is that the references were to very high brow titles that sailed over both our heads).  


Most of the entires made me despair for humanity and civility in general, but there were some hilarious crackers.  One entry in particular made me laugh out loud until I teared up.  Unfortunately, the ratio of the funny/warn-hearted entries to just the 'eh' ones was not strong enough to bump my rating.  Not bad at all, but not a shining star either.

Bells, Spells, and Murders (Witch City Mystery, #7)

Bells, Spells, and Murders - Carol J. Perry

The book suffered on two fronts for me:  the story failed to capture my interest as much as previous books in the series, and the editing was so negligent that it fundamentally affected the plotting.


There's not really much I can say about the story itself; it was average.  A man who runs a vast charitable organisation in Salem Massachusetts is murdered in his office just before Christmas and Lee discovers his body when she arrives for a scheduled interview.  It wasn't the worst I've read, and it wasn't the best.  There never really was any question as to who was behind the crime, although the reveal at the end did have its own surprising twist.


The first indication that the editing was not up to professional standards was the repetition of comments made by the MC:  she tells the reader several times, for example, in almost identical words, that she knew her Corvette was impractical but she just loved it so much. (There was also a lot of brand-name mentions that felt gratuitous that I don't remember from previous books.)  


The repetition wasn't so bad, but then the story continuity started breaking indicating, perhaps, major re-writes that didn't get followed up with another thorough proof-reading.  There's a whole scene about Lee writing out her Christmas cards that's specific down to the number of cards: 49 which is followed up by a scene the next day where she stands in line at the post office to mail them, along with her Christmas packages.  Approximately 50 pages later, Lee is telling her Aunt that she hasn't done her Christmas cards yet, and a scene follows where she goes through the whole process again.  


Again, annoying but it wasn't until one of the suspects was an electrician, then suddenly he's a plumber, and then he was an electrician and a plumber, and the company names he works for keep getting swapped around.  At that point, I lost any and all faith that the book could recover and just finished it because I was trapped in a salon chair for the last bit of the book. 


I might have one more of this series in the pile, and if so, I'll get around to it eventually, but unless it drastically improves on this one, I may take my leave of this series.

24 Festive Tasks Players: We adopted a book bus!

As Themis-Athena said earlier, the 24 Festive Tasks of 2018 was a runaway success!  We amassed 1105 points between us, and from all reports so far, everybody enjoyed doing it. 


I can't thank Themis-Athena enough for partnering with me and co-hosting the game; I think we have two very different skill sets that complement each other perfectly, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the planning and executing of both last year's and this year's games. And thanks heaps to Moonlight Reader for getting both TA and I involved again this year.


I also can't thank all the players enough - you guys really got into the game and made it your own.  I loved the way everybody really got into the tasks, and in some cases, turned those tasks on their heads, taking them in a (for me) totally unexpected direction.  It was brilliant!  And the amount of time and creativity so many people put into their task posts was amazing; well, it was unneeded proof of how great our little BookLikes community is.


So, you're probably wondering about the bus?  Well, as you know, Moonlight Reader, Themis-Athena and I agreed to donate up to $100USD each to the book charity of our choice in the name of the Festive Tasks Game.  Since 1105 points (!!!) definitely exceeded our expectations, we're each giving the full $100.  The charity I chose is The Book Bus*



The Book Bus began work with schools in Zambia, delivering books and working with teachers and volunteers to help get more children reading.


Over the last ten years, The Book Bus and its fleet of five buses has travelled 250,000 miles and opened further reading schemes in Malawi and Ecuador.


With help from our supporters, volunteers and teachers, over 100,000 children now have books. Not only have they boosted their reading abilities, they share their love of learning and literacy skills with families and communities.


While BookBus.org accepts standard donations, they also allow for 'adopting' one of their book buses; a small monthly donation, paid over 1 year, is dedicated to the upkeep of one of the 6 buses.  So, the participants of the 24 Festive Tasks are now the proud (I hope) adoptor of Charlie:


Charlie was our first overland truck converted to a bus, and he’s still the largest.


A lovely book mover, he has side-stepped hazards, humps and hippos to bring books to kids in remote parts of Zambia. He’s getting on a bit, and with expensive tyres and parts, he needs a little more TLC.


As with all such things, choosing just 1 bus was a difficult choice, but I had to go with the oldest and in most of need of some love from book lovers.


An adoption packet is supposedly being sent out, and as there was a glitch with the payment process (PayPal redirected me to the wrong page), I didn't get to say who did the adoption.  I immediately sent an email to the organisation, asking that the donation be done in the name of BookLikes Festive Tasks 2018 - so I hope that's what the certificate says when it arrives.  Fingers crossed, and I'll post it when it does.



Congratulations again, and thank you to everyone who played!  


*The Book Bus Foundation: Registered Charity No: 1117357
Postal Address:

The Book Bus Foundation,

11 The Orchard, Montpelier Road, London W5 2QW

The Flat Book Society: January's Read, delayed start.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

Ok, after some discussion by the group members, it's been decided that we'll carry on with our January Read of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean, though since it seems a few members are still awaiting library holds, and because your host got such a late start anyway, we'll delay the start of the read until January 15th.


All are welcome to join in if interested.  Either solo, or by joining us at The Flat Book Society.


From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes incredible stories of science, history, finance, mythology, the arts, medicine, and more, as told by the Periodic Table.

Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?*

The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery--from the Big Bang through the end of time.

*Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear.


My spoon!  It's mmmeellltttiiinggg....

Big Science for Little People

Big Science For Little People: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Child Discover the Wonders of Science - Lynn Brunelle

I knocked half a star off because there are some detrimental editing errors scattered throughout (i.e. errors that affect the ability to carry out the instructions).  Otherwise, it's a great collection of experiments to do with kids that illustrate some fundamentals of science.  A few are super-basic, like how to make a paper airplane.  But a lot of them are clever, creative, and sound like a lot of fun.  A bonus for me were the number of experiments that involve exploding things.  (What can I say? I like exploding things. Safely.)


The author did a decent job writing up the instructions and explanations.  Her introduction was a little too parent focused, if I'm being nit-picky (obviously, I am). You don't have to be a parent to find this book useful; aunts, uncles, grandparents, and teachers will all find it a fun resource too, and it wouldn't have taken much thought to write for the wider audience.


Her explanations are bare-bones basic, but they seemed to cover the broad-concept basics, and often included suggestions for how to explain the science in terms kids could easily grasp.  My only other complaint that went towards the 1/2 star deduction is that while she offers suggestions for how to take the experiments further, she doesn't offer any explanation for why these supplemental variations might deviate from the original experiment.  I can see how this might leave the adult at a loss for a properly scientific explanation.


Some of the experiments that will get a go here next time the nieces are around include Magic Milk, Crystal Snowflakes, Marshmallow launcher, Super-squirter water blaster, and the one I'm personally most excited about: Exploding Sidewalk Chalk.  It's messy, it's colourful, and best of all, it EXPLODES!  :D

The Flat Book Society: Decision time on a number of fronts.

First things first: Happy New Year Flat Bookers!


Ok.  We were supposed to start our first book of the new year yesterday/today.  The winning book at this moment is:


The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean


Obviously, I completely failed at notifying anyone of the scheduled read.  Health and work issues here at Casa de Campo have just left me dropping balls left, right and center.  It's not an excuse, but it's something I need to address (see below). 


So we have a few options:

1. We start this month's read, with this book, right away, and carry on normally.


2. We start this month's read, with this book, in a couple of weeks and have a compressed timeline for reading it (generally we have 8 weeks between books, so this is not as bad as it sounds).  This would give people time to acquire the book.


3. We toss this vote out completely and start from scratch, with a delayed start*.


4. We skip this month's read completely and start fresh in March**.


* - This one is going to require us to do everything in a big fat hurry. (See **)

** - Of course we could push back to February, but that puts us on a schedule that has us reading a book in December, which seems even more fated to failure, with the holidays etc.


I'm inclined to say let's do #1 or #2; but I have the book on hand, and this group is a sort-of democracy, so please let me know what you'd like to do in the comments.


Also, while I'm feeling much more energised and optimistic now than I was 2 months ago, or even 2 weeks ago, I am going to be up-front and say I still have an insane work schedule waiting for me in a few weeks, and health issues on the home front that are gong to sap my attention for the foreseeable future.  


So, I'm asking if any of the members would be interested / willing to be a co-host with me and Huggins?  Co-hosting would involve sharing the load of the voting announcement posts, update posts, and clearing/adding to the voting list in the book group (which I'm happy to explain the mechanics of, if needed).  


The only downside to a book group that only reads 1 book every 2 months is that it is easy to loose momentum unless the host/s keep it going with posts.  I'm obviously struggling/failing too much to do that effectively.  So, anybody interested?  Let me know in the comments.


Huggins says: Happy New Year!

My 24 Festive Tasks Tracking Post

think this is as close to final as I'm going to get - it's not impossible a few more might not get completed, but odds are not strong, either.  Total points: 94 points, if I did the math correctly.


Each tree or book is linked to the task's post.



Door #

Task #1

Task #2

Task #3

Task #4


Total Points

Dia de los Muertos



Guy Fawkes Night




Melbourne Cup Day








Veteran's/Armistice Day



International Day
for Tolerance







Penance Day





Bon Om Touk


Russian Mother's Day



St. Andrew's Day











SinterKlaas/St. Nick




Human Rights Day


St. Lucia's Day











New Year's Eve








 * bonus point awarded for task







24 Festive Tasks: Bon Om Touk, Task #1

I had plans for this task.  I had pretty paper all lined up.  Except, the pretty paper is too brittle and I couldn't make a boat.  :(


So, Plan B: here's a picture of my plain, unmarked, boring boat.  I was going to take the picture of it floating in my pot fountain, with the Betty-bees buzzing around, except the blinding white paper blows out the picture.  Plan C:



24 Festive Tasks: Epiphany, Task #2

Task 2:  Chalking the door is an Epiphany tradition in some places, to bless a home for the coming year.  Different patterns exist, with different meanings.  If you could create your own pattern to bless your house next year, what would it look like?


UGH!  I fell down the rabbit hole with this one.  The right mood and several hours available to lose, I came up with this:




24 Festive Tasks: Epiphany, Task #1

Task 1:  Tell us: What’s your favorite trilogy?


I feel like I've forgotten something here, but I keep coming back to this one, and it IS amongst my favourites, if not my absolute favorite, trilogy.  I've listened to the audio versions of these countless times (in fragments, because I find the narrator's voice so soothing, I can fall asleep to it at night).  


A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness  Shadow of Night - Deborah Harkness  The Book of Life - Deborah Harkness  


I know a lot of people don't like this one; don't care.  I love it.  (And to those of you out there muttering under your breath, I say: it's a damn sight better than 50 Shades...  ;-P)


24 Festive Tasks: Hogswatch, Tasks #1-4

Task 1:  glingleglingleglingle – if you could wish any kind of god(dess) into existence, what would they be in charge of?  Dusting?  Weeding?  We’re not aiming high here… tell us!


Well, my automatic default when I read this task (one of TA's) was "a book-shelf fairy - of course!".  And I think I'm sticking with that.  A magical fairy that would come make more bookshelves/bookshelf space (without getting rid of my books, so thankyouverymuch MT but you can't be the bookshelf fairy) while I slept.  I'd never run out of shelf space.  Heaven!  If said fairy also knew the Dewey Decimal system, that would be a bonus.


However, so many people have come up with great household goddesses/fairies, that I'm tempted to jump on that band wagon with a request for a fairy that cleans the shower.  I loathe cleaning our shower to the extent that I imagine blowing it up.  It's a horrible corner shower covered in 2-inch (?) tiles.  Which means miles and miles of grout.  I hate grout.  Grout is evil.  Anything I feel compelled to clean with an old toothbrush is evil.  A goddess that battled that would be a welcome minor deity in this house.  Though not as welcome as a bookshelf fairy.



Task 2: Tell us: Did you or any kids you know ever have a funny or weird (the good sort of weird) encounter with a department store Santa, um, Hogfather?


No, Maybe.  When I was 14, 3 of my bffs and I decided it would be great fun to have our picture taken with (mall) Santa.  All at once.  With at least 2 of us sitting on his lap.  Seems somehow hideously inappropriate now, (though hilarious) but at the time, being stupid teenagers, we thought it was brilliant.  Of course we did.  I shudder to think what Santa thought of it.  I still have the photo - boy did we wear a lot of make up. 



Task 3:  Which children’s myth / mythical character (Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, etc.) did you never believe in even when you were little?


I believed in all of them.  I drank the mythological Kool-Aid.  Still do, by the way.  I still believe in all of them (ok, not the tooth-fairy) to this day and none of you can convince me otherwise.  ;-)



Task 4:  Discworld features a number of inventions that mirror our world’s technology but work according to Discworld’s very own specifications; e.g., Hex, the ant-powered sapient thinking machine (computer) and a demon-powered picture box (camera).  What other invention from our world would you have liked to see appearing in Discworld and how might it have worked there?


Yikes.  I haven't read all the Discworld books yet - I haven't even read a quarter of them.  So I have no idea what inventions are on the Disc, still awaiting my discovery.  Also, I suck at this pretty badly - Maybe a television?  One where you insert the book into the top and magical imps that live in the box, take the book, magically absorb the story, and then act it out on the screen for you?



24 Festive Tasks: New Year's Eve, Task #3

Task 3:  New Year’s Book Lottery: Write the names of the first 5 books you’re planning to read in 2019 onto identical pieces of paper, fold them, place them in a bowl (or bucket, jar, box, etc.), and draw one to determine the very first book you’re going to start in the new year.



A narrative in (mostly) pictures:

Yes, they are all thin books - I'm culling the TBR of low-hanging fruit to get a running start on the year.



MT was recruited as he came in from the garden for maximum objectivity.


Given the winner, it seemed appropriate to include Fang, our Venus Fly Trap, in the picture.