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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.

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

Nothing really to say about this except it's fabulous.  So fabulous that after the half-way mark of the audio, I went out and bought it in print, too.  But if you have the option, I highly recommend listening to the audio.  Neil Gaiman narrates it himself, and he's... I can't imagine anyone could do it better.  Except the late Alan Rickman and the only reason he came to mind is because Neil Gaiman sounds like Alan Rickman.  At least, he sounds like a gentle Alan Rickman.


Anyway - the book.  It's a collection of Norse myths; not all of them, but as Gaiman says at the beginning these are ones that are complete (there are many fragments of other stories, apparently) and are ordered in such a way that a vague timeline is constructed: from Odin's beginnings as the All-father, to Ragnarök. 


If you like mythologies, read it.  Better yet, listen to it.  It's excellent.

Book Haul!

Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies - Harold Holzer The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books - J. Peder Zane The Animal Review: The Genius, Mediocrity, and Breathtaking Stupidity That Is Nature - Jacob Lentz, Steve Nash If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't) - Betty White Living With Books - Alan Powers

So after all that cleaning and tidying of the library last weekend I felt the need to undo all my good work, and went on a small binge.  Ok, medium sized binge.  The first batch arrived today, which was pretty good timing because a trip to the city centre of Melbourne had me pretty cranky with humanity.


Normally, I'd include a pic of the books, but, while my library might be tidy, my coffee table is absolutely not and I'm not letting y'all see my mess.  


A bit of everything in this box, including Living With Books, which is probably what I'm looking forward to most, and the title that will surprise everyone the least. 


Here's hoping everyone has a lovely weekend!

Thunder on the Right

Thunder on the Right - Mary Stewart

Meh.  Not her best work.  Touch Not the Cat was better.


The writing was flowery, which is common for the period it was written, but it's really flowery.  And heavy on the exposition.


The plot itself felt half done; everything moves fast and I don't think the timeline was more than 48 hours (so much exposition!), but it is extremely linear.  No red herrings, so suspect pool, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars.  But what was there was interesting enough to keep me reading, and there wasn't anything I hated (except the tedious exposition).  I just didn't much care about it one way or the other by the end.


The romance... eh, not worth mentioning.


They can't all be winners, and at least this wasn't a total loser.

Bird Watching


Easter-cat, sitting in the sun, chattering away at the turtle doves; hopefully, giving them hell over the whole chicken debacle.

Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties

Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties - Rachel Cooke

Just what it says on the wrapper, this book is an encapsulated look at the lives and careers of 10 British women at their professional peak during the 50's, a decade that, in my entirely biased opinion, was the beginning of the end in so many ways.


But not for women; they were just starting to gather momentum.  Rachel Cooke writes about these women in an extremely casual, laid-back style that is often funny and always easy to read and entertaining.  She manages, in just a few dozen pages at most, to give the reader a really good feel for these women, their lives, and the trails they blazed.  


For at least half of them, I have to say, that feeling is that no matter how successful they were, they were also a hot mess.  There is a long trail of deceit, neglect, and dishonesty behind some of these 'extraordinary' women; at least 3 of them should have had their children taken from them (although that's just my opinion of course).  By the third chapter, I was wondering why, as much as I was absolutely loving Cooke's writing, I was continuing to read about these women; they may have achieved great things professionally but they hadn't done it with any grace or integrity.


But perhaps Cooke wanted to get the brilliant, scandalous, and brilliantly scandalous out of the way at the outset, because the remaining 70% of the book highlights women who were able to achieve great things and make a name for themselves without neglecting their children or cheating on their partners.  Mostly.  Well, ok, they did it without neglecting or abandoning their kids.


The highlights for me were reading about Margery Fish and Rose Heilbron, gardener extraordinaire and the first female QC, respectively.  Margery's subversiveness towards her husband was hilarious and her ethos on gardening is exactly the same as my own; building and maintaining 2 acres of gardens by herself, however, is way out of my league.  I loved, though, that she didn't even begin what she would become so famous for until she was in her 40s.  


Rose Heilbron, however, was truly the most inspiring woman showcased in this book.  Not only were her achievements truly extraordinary by any standard, not just 'for a woman', but the manner in which she went about achieving them makes her truely worthy of admiration. The way Cooke writes it, she went through her life with such grace, integrity, intelligence and rationalism, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for some huge scandal to be revealed, which is a sad commentary on what I've come to expect from 'achievers'.  Fortunately, no such scandal was revealed.  This woman should be the role model of every female (AND male) in the world; not for what she achieved, but for how she achieved it.  


As far as these books go, I think Her Brilliant Career would appeal to a broad audience.  Cooke manages to write about history without causing chronic drowsiness, and about feminism without beating the reader over the head with it.  Instead she allows these women's lives to tell the stories they need to tell and in the process both entertain and inform the casual reader.

Fast Women

Fast Women - Jennifer Crusie

I've been talking up Agnes and the Hitman lately, and it got me in the mood for a re-read.  I wanted something slightly less madcap than Agnes though, so I went with Fast Women.


I've read this book at least half a dozen times - it's one of my favourite Jennifer Crusie books - and it never gets old for me.  Its three female leads are all extraordinarily three-dimensional; their marriages extraordinarily realistic; their coping strategies extraordinarily commonplace.  I love the interaction between the women, and between the women and their men.  What keeps this book from becoming a dreary, depressing drama is the humor that is constant throughout; these people are struggling, but they keep it in perspective.


Add to all of this a delicious murder mystery and for me it was, and still is, love.  The mystery is so well plotted, that even when you know how it's going to end, Crusie leaves you surprised at the end.


Chick-lit isn't for everyone, but if you enjoy some dramedy with strong female characters, tossed in with a murder mystery, I don't think you can go wrong giving this a try.  

Elementary, She Read (Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery, #1)

Elementary, She Read - Vicki Delany

A British expat running a Sherlock Holmes bookshop on Cape Cod, finds what appears to be an incalculably valuable original of A Study in Scarlet hidden on her shop shelves.  When she attempts to return it to the woman she suspects of hiding it there, she finds a dead body instead.


I wasn't sure about this one at the beginning.  Gemma (how is that pronounced anyway?  Soft g or hard?) is obviously supposed to be a modern day, female version of Holmes with superpower levels of analytical skill and a slightly detached personality.  The thing is, Delany doesn't seem to appreciate the subtle difference between absent/single-mindedness and thoughtlessness.  Gemma is thoughtless a couple of times at the start of this book, without remorse or shame.  Holmes was cold-bloodedly objective, but he was always a gentleman.


Things get better in the second half of the book, although the use of the evil nemesis trope had my eyes rolling around in my head a bit.  The mystery plotting was really excellent, and while I suspected something wonky, I didn't see where the author was taking me until I was there.


Overall, it wasn't as strong as it could have been, but it was good.  I enjoyed it enough to look forward to coming back to it.  Not sure if I'll read the next one or not though.  Maybe.


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

Due to a small miscommunication and shipping delay during the Christmas season, I have an extra copy of Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers


It's brand-new, never been read.  If you'd like it, be the first to comment below and I'll send it to you.  No matter where you live.


No, not an April's Fool gag, but we'll call it a celebration of a new month.  :)

The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe

The Haunted Grange Of Goresthorpe -  Arthur Conan Doyle

The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe is a previously unknown short story written by a young Arthur Conan Doyle, and was only discovered when Blackwood's archives were donated to The National Library of Scotland in 1942.


In 2000, the Arthur Conan Doyle Society received the necessary permissions to publish the story for the first time.  I found a copy of it in a used-book sales list and snapped it up because A. it's Doyle and B. it's a ghost story.


As with any kind of previously unknown story posthumously published, this slim volume has a preface, an introduction and an afterword.  But in this case, the result is so presumptuous it's hilarious.  We start with a reasonable 2 paragraph statement from the copyright holders and a 1.5 page preface by the Librarian of the National Library of Scotland.  This is followed by a 38 page introduction by the head of the Arthur Conan Doyle Society, broken into chapters.


Lots of introductions are long, although I've never actually seen one split into chapters before.  But here's the kicker:


The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe is only 9 pages long.


So we have an introduction that is fully 4 times longer than the story itself; to add insult to injury, Owen Dudley Edwards spends much of that 38 pages talking about how juvenile an effort this story is on Doyle's part (in fairness, he argues this is understandable, as it's believed to be his first effort).  


I realise I'm not a lettered, learned, literary expert (although I can alliterate with the best of 'em!), but I must respectfully (or not) disagree with Mr. Dudley Edwards:  I thought this was a ripping good ghost story!  Conan Doyle is an undisputed master of the short story form, and in 9 measly pages he sets the scene, the atmosphere, the backstory, the dare, and finally a delightfully hair-raising climax and ghostly encounters.  I didn't find the writing juvenile in any way; indeed the writing never got in the way of the story; unlike Dudley Edwards' attempts.


If you have the chance to read this, do.  Just skip the introduction, and enjoy the story; it may not be his best, but it's still better than most writers at their best.

Confronting Mt. TBR...

As much as I love printed books, I have to admit I am not in love with the smell of old books.  That musty book smell so many people love just smells... musty to me.  The last few days I've noticed a faint whiff of that used book store smell in my library; admittedly it's been a little neglected of late because I broke my own rule and temporarily stored a piece of furniture in it, making it hard to get around (it's a very small library).


The storage gig ended Friday, so I decided to tackle putting the room to rights today.  Apparently I was in a rather compulsive frame of mind too, because I not only did the standard cleaning but I took every book off the shelves, dusted each one, cleaned and oiled all the shelves, refreshed the sachets I make to keep bugs out, and re-shelved the books, doing a mini-purge as I went.


Then, I tackled the TBR.  Those each got cleaned too, and re-sorted by subject, because I keep forgetting what all I have lurking in those stacks.  I also created a stack of can-read-in-one-day books, hoping for some fast knock-offs (before the new books I ordered arrive - honestly, it's a snake eating its own tail).


So, since this room is probably never going to look this good again, nor my TBR piles be so tidy, I'm posting a few pics, as documented proof of... something.  Hopefully, not liability should my floor cave in and the insurance company gets curious.









What does your TBR look like?  Share your shelves!  :)

March Reading Review

More Baths, Less Talking - Nick Hornby My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth - Wendy E. Simmons Silence Fallen - Patricia Briggs Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders - Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton, Joshua Foer The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps - Edward Brooke-Hitching

Well, this month was an average killer.  I went on an atlas reading spree this month and it too so much longer than I thought it would.  Then there was the whole grudge match between myself and The Name of the Rose, when it wasn't just the lord for whom a day was like a thousand years.


Still I had a good reading month by anyone's standards, with 16 books read and a total of 4879 pages.  Contrarily, I smashed by Fastest Read of 2017, with Etched in Bone, devouring it in one day.


3 5-star reads this month:

Silence Fallen - Patricia Briggs 

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders - Dylan Thuras,Ella Morton,Joshua Foer 

My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth - Wendy E. Simmons 


2 4.5-star reads:

More Baths, Less Talking - Nick Hornby 

The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps - Edward Brooke-Hitching 


No 1-star reads this month, thankfully.  Lots of non-fiction, although I counter-balanced them with the most fictional stories possible.


How was your March reading?

Bitter Harvest (Greenhouse Mystery, #2)

Bitter Harvest - Wendy Tyson

I like this series (all two of them so far).  It's cozy, but not insipid; the setting is interesting (if you like gardening/farming) without being a preachy sledgehammer.  The romance incidental...but could be a bit better.  There's discreet and then there's 'wait...did they or didn't they?'.


The town of Winsome is holding its first Octoberfest and Megan starts to question when the committee starts doing things contrary to the rules they themselves setup.  A dead body ups the ante.


The characters and setting are really well written and so is the mystery plot.  Complex, lots of clues that don't seem to connect to anything at all and an interesting sub-plot running along in the background.


It seems Tyson also writes thrillers and there's a hint of that vibe running through the story, giving it that slight edginess over most cozies.  I'm definitely on board for the next one.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders - Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton, Joshua Foer

Atlas Obscura is a distillation of the entries on the atlasobscura.com website; it's two creators tried to pick the best entries for most of the world and bound them in a beautiful book full of color photographs and illustrations.


I was unaware of the website when I got this book, and I think that probably made it even better: almost all of the entries were new to me and almost all of them were fascinating, or macabre, or so weird they were worth reading about (a breakout section included examples of doctors on Antartica forced to operate on themselves; a man in Vermont that makes art out of spider webs; the breakout map of Lake Monsters of the USA).


Each of the entries are only a few paragraphs or less, making it easy to pick up and put down at your leisure. If you like traveling, or armchair traveling, and you enjoy reading about the weird and the wonderful, definitely check this book out.  

The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

I'm not sure there's much I can say here that I didn't already say in my status updates.  


This book is long; perhaps not by page count, but psychologically, it often felt endless.


Eco is a very talented writer if the only measurements of talent were creating a sense of place, bringing many characters to life, and plotting out a good story.  But he writes excessively.  His sentences run on well past anybody's idea of reasonable, he cannot stop himself from creating lists in narrative form that often run over a page long, and the theological lessons were excessively excessive.  All up, if you could go back and edit the book to include only plot related scenes, I'm not sure the book would be 200 pages long.


But those 200 pages would have made a spectacular read.  The abbey, the labyrinthine library, the passages, the codes, the books... the murders.  So much atmosphere, so much potential!


The book is broken into 7 days and most of the plot snowballs and takes place in days 6 and 7.  Here William of Baskerville once again channels his inner Sherlock, and the showdown is magnificent.  And tragic.  Days 6 and 7 earned this book the third star.


I'm not sorry at all that I read this; I complained a lot along the way, but a lot of it stuck with me.  Still, unless you enjoy a richly written verbosity in your reads, I can't recommend this one.  If the setting and plot sound like your thing - and I can't believe I'm going to say this - watch the movie instead.

The Phantom Atlas

The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps - Edward Brooke-Hitching

Everybody who isn't me knows an atlas is a reference, not something to be read cover-to-cover.  Me?  I had to read it cover to cover, which made this gorgeous, well-written, informative book feel more like a chore than it should have.  


This is an atlas of all the places on the maps throughout history that never existed.  Atlantis will be the first example that comes to many minds, but there are so many more.  You wouldn't think maps would be enduring evidence of the human ability to spin a yarn but our ability to make stuff up is timeless.


Each entry gets at least a spread and the old maps included (in color where applicable) are gorgeous; almost worth the price of the book on their own.  


If you love maps, or geography, this book is beautiful and worth a look; even though I'm glad to finally finish it, it's something I'll treasure and look at again and again. 

Reading progress update: I've read 412 out of 536 pages.

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

Well.  Day 5 was a humdinger.


Eco found his groove in day 5; he managed to squeeze in a brawl among monks (which was hilarious, another dead body, a witch, two heretics, the missing book, which was found, then lost, then found, then lost, then found again, only to be lost again and finally an inquisitional trial capped off with a recitation of the book of Revelation, disguised as a eulogy.


All this plot development might lead one to believe that Eco finally got all the soliloquies and monologues out of his system, but one would be wrong.  Eco is a multi-tasker! He juggles fast paced, mysterious developments with mind-numbing exposition and I'm betting at this point he can do it one handed with his eyes closed.


I'm teasing (mostly), as things are moving at a decent clip now - they'd have to be, there's only two days left! 


But I gotta admit, I'm not sure I'd have wanted to find myself cornered by Eco at a cocktail party.