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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.

For Themis

Since I've been working remotely the last 2.5 months, this is what my workspace has looked like:

 

 

I had to put that stool next to the desk for 'lito; I tried 'putting it away' this past weekend and Monday morning he was pawing and scolding at me until I went and got it again.  He stays there all morning, until MT gets home from his current half days at his office.  

 

Easter-cat's domain is between the screens, where I find her waiting for me every morning:

 

Once MT gets home at noon, Carlito relocates to MT's lap:



Booklikes-opoly 2020; low key edition

2020 has, so far, brought many things: fire, plague, and I hear a swarm of 17-year cicadas are due any moment to the Eastern seaboard of the US.  Good times.  In the midst of this, I'm in a reading slump, so while I love and look forward to the BookLikes games, I've decided I'm probably not prepared to commit - but I don't want to miss out either.  So, I've got my board setup:

 

 

and I found a little copper pot to use as a marker.  I'm going to try to play, with the caveat that I'm not going to report/track $ earned; I'll be auditing, rather than playing.  This way I can play without any pressure to be responsible, or rule-abiding.  Hopefully it'll help me get excited about reading again.

 

My first role of the dice was a 6, which lands me on one of the prescient Stay-cation space.  My choice is Phyllis A. Whitney's Amethyst Dreams.  It takes place in my home country (USA) and has been on my TBR shelves for a couple of years now, since I bought it on a trip home to FL last summer.



Cotillion

Cotillion - Georgette Heyer

I was in the mood for a light read and while I was perusing my TBR piles, boxes, and shelves, I came across this and remembered that Lillelara had recently read it and enjoyed it.

 

I definitely enjoyed The Grand Sophy better, but this one got me through without complaint.  I struggled to really feel invested in the story or any of the characters though; it seemed to missing just that little bit of depth - or else my reading slump had dulled my reading sense, rendering everything a bit duller.  Given Heyer's hit and miss record, either is possible.  Or perhaps a bit of both:  the final scene at Rattray's rectory perked me right up; in that moment, the characters popped to life for me and I cared about what happened next.  

 

I haven't read even close to Heyer's entire backlist, but I'd firmly place this midway on a scale of those I've read so far.



Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables  - L.M. Montgomery

Yes, this is my first time reading it.  I was book shopping back in January with my 9 year old niece and she was pressuring me to read Little Women, which isn't going to happen, and in a panic, I volunteered to read Anne of Green Gables instead.

 

Keeping in mind that I'm 40 years beyond the target audience for this book, omg, it's so twee.  468 pages and about 368 of them so twee and precious I almost gave up and dnf'd it.  Suffice it to say, I identified most strongly with Marilla.  But if I skimmed the gratuitous expository narrative, there was a charming story that kept me going (after a 3 month hiatus).  And as Anne grew up, the story got progressively easier to read.  That part of the story earned it the extra half star.

 

The reasons this book is a classic are clear, though I'm confident I wouldn't have been much more enamoured of this book when I was in its target audience; even as a child I lacked the requisite imagination to feel like Anne was a kindred spirit, and Heidi pretty much killed the orphan sub-genre for me anyway.  But I have one niece for whom this book might be a perfect fit, and I'll be holding in on my shelf for her next visit, assuming that happens before she's old enough to drive, given current border closures.  Or maybe I'll just send it to her in the post.



Love and Death Among the Cheetahs (Royal Spyness, #13)

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs - Rhys Bowen

The author starts this instalment with an apology in advance; the book is set in Africa - Kenya - during the late 20's/early 30's, a time when race relations and the views of the British Empire (as were the rest of the world) were shameful.

 

This had me braced for difficult reading, but I have to say, that was not the disclaimer I needed.  In true cozy style, Bowen acknowledged the dichotomy and inequality between white and black without really verbalising it.  What caught me unawares (and shouldn't have; I can only wonder if the pre-apology diverted me), was the casual references to hunting big game.  Of course it was a thing back then, and of course I should have seen it coming.  

 

The other unexpected part of the story was the behaviour of the upper class in Kenya; a risqué path for a cozy, but done well by the author, and based on actual events and a real person: Lady Idina Sackville.  Bowen closes with a short bibliography of texts she used in an effort to write about the times accurately.

 

All in all, another enjoyable instalment in a long-running series that has remained fairly strong throughout, balancing cheeky naiveté and interesting murder plots.



A Sprig of Sea Lavender

A Sprig of Sea Lavender - J.R.L. Anderson

I bought this a few years ago, when Otto Penzler was selling his collection through his bookshop, Mysterious Books.  It's a review copy of an author I'd never heard of, but the short catalog blurb made it sound interesting: mysterious death on a train, unknown works by Gainsborough, Turner and Constable found with the body, along with a  sprig of - you guessed it - sea lavender. 

 

This is a mid-century mystery, and it suffered from the usual quirks of that age:  instant, yet chaste, romance, and a complete disregard of the fair-play rules of mystery plotting.  As such, the reader, by the end, is presented with a fait accompli in both the romance and the mystery's resolution, without having any idea whatsoever how the main character got there, although he does explain it all at the very end.  

 

By today's standards, it's all a bit thin, naive and 2 dimensional, but I had fun with it nevertheless.  It wasn't trying to be anything other than an entertaining mystery and, while I've read others that are greater successes, it generally achieved its goal.  



What Lola Wants (Lola Cruz, #4)

What Lola Wants - Melissa Bourbon

The first three books in this series were published years ago, and, I'm guessing, got dropped from the publisher.  I was disappointed at the time because I enjoyed the series, and I generally enjoyed the author's mystery writing.  Fast forward several years later, and Henery Press published this fourth instalment. 

 

Meh.  Either my tastes changed, or the author lost her groove during the hiatus.  It was still an interesting plot, and I still enjoyed the characters, but a lot of her romance writing history bled through into the story and the chapters' angst.  And seriously, the editor or author need to repeat things over and over is grating on my nerves.  Lola's always wanted to be a detective; she knows jujitsu; I get it and I got it the first time it was mentioned.  I'm smart that way.

 

Not sure this series is for me anymore.



Stick Together (Awkward Squad, #2)

Stick Together - Sophie Hénaff, Sam Gordon

I can't remember how I discovered the first book in this series, The Awkward Squad, but I thoroughly enjoyed it; it felt fresh and it amused me, and I chalked up any small irritations to the translation from the French.

 

This second book was much the same, although there were more straight-up translation issues this time; errors that should have been caught in editing - like saying the "France people" instead of the "French People" in one spot.  And a few things were just cultural references I didn't understand, not being French myself.  Glossing over them didn't affect my understanding of the plot or the mystery, though undoubtedly I missed a layer of enjoyment.  

 

The series focuses on a department of the police judiciaire, which was occasionally referred to as PJs, which made me giggle more than it should have.  This department was created as a repository for all the misfits that couldn't be fired; they were established in an old office building offsite with all the cold case files that have never been solved, and then left to fend for themselves. 

 

I didn't expect this to work as well as it does, but I enjoy reading about the individual misfits and how their odd contributions further the pursuit of criminals and solve cases.  It's far-fetched, sure, but it never feels silly or slapstick, somehow.

 

It's not perfect, but it's highly enjoyable, and I sincerely hope the author continues to write more in the series, and that they continue to be translated into English.



The Glass Thief (Jaya Jones Treasure Mystery, #6)

The Glass Thief - Gigi Pandian

I never know what to say about these books.  They're cozy, but with an Indiana Jones/Where in the World is Carmen Santiago mash up vibe.  All the mysteries in this series are rooted in off the beaten path historical fact, usually, but not always, India's past, and always center on some type of treasure that's been looted, or being searched for in order to be looted.  It's this that keeps me coming back to these books if I'm honest.  I like the characters well enough, but I'm not as invested in them as I could be.

 

The Glass Thief is supposed to be an homage to Elizabeth Peters' character Vicky Bliss, but - and admittedly it's been over a decade since I've read them - I didn't see it.  The romantic relationship here is similar, but otherwise I'd have to re-read the Vicky Bliss books to see more.  The plot twist was obvious from the beginning, so the "gasp!" moment mid-way was less gasp! and more eye-roll.  But overall it was a good story that kept me entertained, which is something of an accomplishment lately, so it deserves merit for that.



Bird of the day

Just a Common Myna, but his birdsong, which I can only describe as 'pretty' drew me to him during our walk, and he looked so comfortable, with the sun hitting him just right, nestled in a tree gone all autumnal.  I couldn't resist.

 

 

These birds when flocked together are deafening and unpleasant, but this single one, as I said, sounded 'pretty' - and as I got closer, also a little funny.  They have a way of sounding as thought they're holding entire two-way conversations with themselves.  If anyone is interested in hearing an example, you can find a good one here:

 

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Sturnus-tristis

 

and it's in the far right column of the page, underneath the pics, under "Calls".



Lowcountry Boomerang (Liz Talbot Mystery, #8)

Lowcountry Boomerang - Susan M. Boyer

I continue to really enjoy this series; Boyer doesn't overplay the ghost, and keeps the mysteries solvable by strictly corporeal measures.  

 

The plots are always well done, though this one's solution sort of felt like it came out of left field.  Looking back at the end, I can see where the author placed the 'clues' (though they wren't really clues) but I'm not sure really works, and it left questions for me.  Still, I really enjoyed watching Liz and Nate go about solving the crime, absolving their client of a false accusation.  And the Talbot family had a few moments in the spotlight to let their crazy flag fly, which I always enjoy.

 

The inside flap of my book says there's already a ninth book out, so maybe I won't have to wait longer than the slower than usual post before I can jump back in.



Penny for Your Secrets (Verity Kent, #3)

Penny for Your Secrets - Anna Lee Huber

Each time after reading the first two books, I told myself I wasn't going to read the next one, because I really dislike the way she setup the characters.  To explain more would be a plot spoiler for book 1, sorry.  But yet, I keep on picking up the next book and reading it.  

 

Characters' lives aside, Anna Lee Huber writes a good mystery.  The plots are generally intricate and mostly avoid the trite or well-worn paths of the genre.  This one was no different, except that it's setting up a multi book arc with a nemesis, and I'm pretty wishy-washy about nemeses.  I also got a little bit tired of the constant references to Verity's spy career during the war.  I suspect this is a Kensington editorial thing as it's the type of over-reference I find a lot in their books, making me wonder if they underestimate their readers' abilities to reading comprehension.

 

Generally an enjoyable read, but once again, I find myself thinking I might not buy the next one, though of course, I probably will anyway.



The wonder of BookLikes delivered home (really!)

I'm sure everyone here has thought about it a time or two: the wonder and wonderfulness of the friendships we have made here.  And almost none of us could identify each other in a line up.  XD

 

I received a surprise package the other day from one of my BookLikes friends, Themis-Athena; no special occasion, just because she's a kind and wonderful person with whom I occasionally trade vague threats of library inheritance.  

 

Obligatory box-with-cat picture.

 

Inside was an amazing number of goodies:

The CD is an audiobook (Hugh Fraser) of The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.  I immediately opened the Paris spice blend and added it to my pasta - it was delicious.  MT has called dibbs on the Garam Masala for an upcoming curry.  Anybody have any suggestions for the Schrebergarten Salz?  It's a sample, so I want to use it right the first time.

 

I can't thank Themis enough - it was a bright spot in my week, and we'll think of her every time we use one of these amazing blends.  Plus, now I have THREE refillable spice mills!  :D   

 

I know BookLikes looks shaky right now, but I hope it's just another blip, because as much as this place is about books, the community it's built is priceless.



The Man that Got Away (Constable Twitten Mystery, #2)

The Man That Got Away - Lynne Truss

I'm not an expert, but to me this book and its predecessor is just quintessentially English.  I've been a fan of Truss' non-fiction for years, and always found her writing and wit excellent, and I genuinely enjoyed her first Constable Twitten book A Shot in the Dark. So I snapped up this sequel as soon as I heard about it.  

 

If you've ever watched Yes, Minster, or Black Adder, or even Benny Hill, and laughed, you may enjoy this mystery series.  But you absolutely have to suspend disbelief because there's a lot of silliness and dry mockery; the reward is not only the chance to be amused in a time of little amusement, but an impressive, intricately plotted mystery.  There were so many balls in the air, and Truss kept them all up there without any apparent effort or stumbling.  It started slow for me, but it gained momentum as this complexity revealed itself.  

 

A lot of fun and I remain a big fan of Truss.  



The Bookshop of Yesterdays

The Bookshop of Yesterdays - Amy Meyerson

I didn't much like this book, although the story itself isn't bad.  I'm assuming the author was going for a massive plot reveal, built up from the scavenger hunt the main character is sent on after the death of her uncle.  But that plot twist was obvious to me from the very first part of the book, which made the rest rather anti-climatic, although I still enjoyed the scavenger hunt aspect.

 

The characters themselves didn't much work for me either; Meyerson's attempt to build complicated, layered characters just resulted in an attitude of indifference; the main character's waffling over the confrontation with her mother; her mother's complete indifference to her daughter's obvious distress; the father's complete check-out of the whole thing; the romantic interest ... totally uninterested in romance.

 

It just didn't work for me.



Isolation walks

We're running out of interesting neighborhood to walk in, so we re-visited the 'posh' side of the street, and I at least got a few pictures in counter of all the lovely spring photos my N. Hemisphere friends are sharing, including one of a mystery tree full of little seed balls that make it look festive:

 

 

I have no idea what kind of tree it is, but now that I've noticed it, I've seen one or two on a few streets around me.  

 

One of the prettier streets at the moment:

 

How the 1% live; I included it only because the blue-jacketed guy shamelessly peering through the gates is MT, counting the number of black cars parked in the driveway (6, and they were really all black). 

 

On our way back from our last walk, we cut through the park, checking on a few trees we discovered several weeks ago.  They're peppercorn trees, and they grow everywhere here, something else I only recently discovered on these walks.  After doing a LOT of research to make sure they were the edible peppercorns, not the toxic ones, we picked our first batch:

 

They don't look like much, but they smell divine.  Once they're finished drying out, I'll de-husk them and we'll have a go at grinding them up; there's debate on whether or not they grind in a mill well - we may have to pull out the mortar and pestle.  Either way - I love the idea of a fresh supply of peppercorns; it's an unexpected bonus to these local walks.