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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.

NPR Laughter Therapy

NPR Laughter Therapy A Comedy Collection for the Chronically Serious - (U.S.) National Public Radio Inc.

A collection of NPR's funnier interviews, April Fool's day gags, news stories, etc.  Like in any collection, there were some I found funnier than others and 1 just fell sort of flat.

 

It's a short, easy listen and it was fun to hear a few voices that aren't with us any more (Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller).  I miss NPR, so seeing this in my local library was a nice boost to the spirit.  



Double Love (Sweet Valley High, #1)

Double Love - Francine Pascal

Hoo boy! did teenage me have some bad taste in books.

 

I saw this yesterday in a Free Little Library and couldn't resist finding out how it would read now.  

 

It's pretty awful; what was teenage me thinking??  The characters were so cardboard: Jessica is the vain, selfish, shallow, 'evil' twin; Elizabeth is everything good and shiny.  Jessica steals Liz's love interest and Liz is all brave and noble.  Liz's love interest is an absolute jackass of an 80's teen with a 50's mentality.  And I don't even know what the hell was supposed to be going on with their parents...

 

Dumb book.  I'd probably be less harsh with it if I didn't know there were authors out there like Blume who were doing exponentially better books for teens long before this was written, but thankfully there were, and thankfully I read them.



Cats in Books

Cats in Books: A Celebration of Cat Illustration through the Ages - Rodney Dale

Another library sale find; one I'd never seen before, but really it's a book about cats.  In books.  How bad could it possibly be?

 

It's a gem!  The only reason I didn't rate it a bit higher is because it's a rather too concise overview of cats in literary history.  It's a slim volume; easy to read in one sitting.  Rather than looking at cats as subjects in literature, it sticks to an illustrative perspective: cats in illuminated manuscripts, fables, short stories and, of course, children's literature.  It's fully illustrated itself, of course, with examples for each entry.  A nice edition from the British Library.

 

As I said, a gem of a find; one of those karmic gifts that make library sales even better. 

 

 



I Could Pee on This

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats - Francesco Marciuliano

I've wanted to read this for a few years now and I was able to pick it up at the library sale last weekend, which is the perfect place to find such a book.

 

Middling poetry, cute cat pics (is there any other kind?).  Some of the poems were unexpectedly touching, like 'Something's Wrong' but most are just lightly amusing.  Totally fitting for a book called I could pee on this.

 

It's cute and it made me smile.  Worth every cent of the dollar I spent on it.  ;)



Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations

Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations - Olivier Le Carrer

I saw this book in the bookshop and it was the perfect storm of "buy me":  Gorgeous cover, a title with Cursed in it, and content focused on the unusual. 

 

The cover is still gorgeous.  Cursed didn't mean exactly what I thought it meant, though it was still very interesting.  I flashed on the simplest definition: a hex conjured by really pissed off people.  The author used the word in the broader context: places that seem eternally destined for strife, challenges or difficulties; an area prone to high death rates, but because of geography as opposed to the wrath of an individual or group.  Still great stuff, just not quite as edgy.

 

The writing is good, but the editing was disappointing; in a book that was obviously so carefully put together, these word-order errors were jarring.  The author, La Carrer is unapologetically sarcastic at times, and not for humorous effect; I got my edginess, but not in the way I was expecting.  There are small touches of humor here and there, and the entry for Point Cook, Australia is hilarious; he makes it sound like the mecca for animals who are only here to kill you.

 

It's a quick, easy read and I learned a lot; I didn't feel like he chose run of the mill places on the map.  Amityville and Gaza aren't going to be new to anyone but for me at least, most of these were almost or completely new.  Kibera has almost completely squashed my desire to see the Maldives, but I'm now incredibly interested in seeing the Kasanka National Park (spoiler alert: it involves bats).



If you've ever enjoyed goofy animal antics...

 

I mentioned the satin bowerbird in my last review, and I started looking for videos of their wooing dance.  I came across this BBC gem of a New Guinea cousin and it is hysterical!

 

If you want to skip straight to the goofy, go to 1:38.

 

You won't be disappointed - I promise.  :)



The Genius of Birds

The Genius of Birds - Jennifer Ackerman

It seemed natural to move from a book about earthworms to a book about birds, and while the reading demographic for this one will naturally be larger, it's still not a book that will appeal to the masses.  

 

It should though.  I'm not a dedicated birdwatcher, but I find them fascinating, endearing, entertaining and sometimes comical.  And it turns out some of them are impressively clever.  In fact, accuse me of anthropomorphism if you'd like, but I'll go so far as to say intelligent.  

 

Not all of them of course; 15 seconds with any one of my chickens would put paid to that idea.  But we all know about crows and their ability to make and use tools; they can also play the game known as Concentration - the memory game where you have to match up images.  Going one step further, the crows, when asked to match a card with another that had a corresponding theme (i.e. match a card with 2 yellow squares with a card that has 2 yellow circles), the crows could immediately do it successfully.  That's cognition. 

 

Then there's Alex, the African Grey Parrot who not only knew hundreds of vocabulary words and how to use them in correct context, but could also categorise objects correctly and when asked how many objects were in a category could correctly answer 8 out of 10 times.

 

Clark's nutcrackers and scrub jays collect food for the winter and hide it in hidden caches.  These hidden caches can number up to 5,000 different locations in a single season for nutcrackers, and for scrub jays those caches include fresh fruit, insects and other perishable items.  7 out of 10 times the nutcrackers will go directly to the precise location of their stashes - that's 3500 little caches of food, buried anywhere in an area from a dozen square miles to hundreds of square miles, that they can immediately recall to the millimetre, as necessary.  The scrub jays keep track of what is in each of their caches, which caches have perishable items that need to be eaten first, and where those caches are.

 

I'm lucky if I can keep track of my keys and phone for more than 24 hours.

 

There's so much more, but I'll stick with the highlights.  And my personal favourite (I think - it's hard to choose):  The Satin Bowerbird.  The male satin bowerbird builds bowers as a way to woo a female (or females).  These aren't nests - no mating or rearing takes place in these bowers.  Rather they are monuments to, and for, seduction; the stage and props he'll use as the backdrop for his wooing dance: 

 

picture via viralforest.com

 

If that's not fancy enough to impress, how about the efforts of the Vogelkop Gardener Bowerbird?

picture via thewildernessalternative.com / the constant gardener

 

Each species of bower building bowerbirds is partial to a specific color.  Satin bowerbirds are all about the blues; in fact when scientists placed scarlet items in their bowers, the birds immediately ran in and removed those items and made sure they could not be seen from their bower.  When they couldn't be removed, they buried them.

 

The Genius of Birds is full of information like this, written in an easy conversational style but including the science, the studies, the theories and counter-theories.  Not enough to scare off the non-science bird-lovers, but more than enough to satisfy the armchair naturalist.  What's missing is referenced in a very comprehensive notes section at the back.  There are a few references to types of studies I abhor, no matter what anyone would argue about their scientific merit, but they're passed over quickly.

 

If you're interested in a broad overview of the under appreciated gifts birds have, and their misunderstood intelligence, this is a great book.  



Famous art - the cat versions

 

The Garden at Bellevue (Edouard Manet):

 

 

The Thinker (Auguste Rodin):

 

 

 

The Night Watch (Rembrandt van Rijn):



The White Cottage Mystery

The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham

My first Allingham, and fittingly, her first too.  Definitely not my last.  

 

DCI Challenor's son is on his way home to London one evening when he sees a young woman stepping off the bus with a heavy load and stops to offer her a ride to her home.  Moments after leaving her there, he and the local constable hear the rapport of a shotgun and on returning find a man most definitely dead and a hallway full of suspects.

 

This is a very short read, relative to today's average mystery, coming in at just 157 pages.  But it's a fast-paced 157 pages and Allingham dispenses with anything monotonous or that might smack of filler.  The timeline jumps from one paragraph to another; sometimes by just a few hours, sometimes a few days, towards the end, a few years.  This might really aggravate some readers but if you're familiar with Golden Age mysteries, you won't find it unusual.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed it; so much so that it was 1am when I finally shut the light off, having finished the entire book in one sitting.  She had me guessing the entire way through, and not once did I come close.  I found DCI Challenor's advice at the end appalling; it would never fly in our time, but in the age it was written, it would have been standard.

 

A very good mystery and from my first peek, I'd say Allingham is under valued as a master of mystery, but to be sure, I'll have to read a few more - as soon as possible.



An Academic Question

An Academic Question - Barbara Pym, Kate Saunders

Pym is widely regarded as an Important Author in her time and genre, and as I've never read her I grabbed this at a library sale.  I knew going into it that it wasn't considered 'major Pym' but is was a dollar and I figured it would give me a general idea of what to expect from her other works, one of which is on the TBR cliff.

 

All I can say is I think I missed something.  Possibly, I missed everything.  The cover's pull quotes all talk about the comedy and the introduction, written by Kate Saunders, refers to it as a 'comic novel'.  I didn't see it.  It's not a cultural thing either, I don't think; I generally find the British sense of humour incredibly funny.  

 

Caro is the wife of an academic, in what I think must be somewhere around mid-century?  70's maybe?, who is bored, dissatisfied with her life and disinclined to do anything about it (or maybe feels helpless to do anything about it - it's unclear).  She starts reading to a blind academic at the local old folks home, who happens to have a trunk full of papers that will advance her husband's career, so he visits with her one day and steals it.  And lets her bear the burden of the guilt. Apparently a comedy of errors ensues; apparently so subtly that it flew right past me without notice.

 

I thought about going 2.5 stars, because honestly nothing ever happens, but in spite of its unfinished feel, I didn't mind the writing.  I wasn't bored when I was reading it, and that has to be worth something, I guess.



Just a gentle reminder...

If you submit a request for a cover change, please include a valid source link so the librarians can validate it.  

 

Cover change requests without source links are rejected.  Cover wars suck.

 

What's a valid source link? Glad you asked! 

The very best ones are:
Having the book in hand
Publisher web sites
Libraries
WorldCat
Publisher cataloging sites such as http://bnccatalist.ca or http://edelweiss.plus
NetGalley (they use publisher submitted data)
Author sites

 


The good ones are:
Amazon
BookDepository
KoboBooks
Audible

All others are suspect and/or inappropriate to use due either to permissions or reliability.  Please do not source book covers from any other sites (although please do contribute your own scans if you have them).

 

Thanks!



The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms - Amy Stewart

Yep.  Earthworms.  Unsung heroes.

 

Amy Stewart has become one of the few authors I'd wait in line for a signature for - have I mentioned that before?  She makes a great spokesperson for these unfairly maligned little earth movers.  In a chatty but informative style she covers the earthworms' role in history, agriculture, backyard gardening, forestry and even sewage treatment and soil reclamation.

 

Did you know that Australia has an earthworm that grows over 3 feet long, and when it moves around under the earth, farmers can hear a gurgling sound?  They're native to a farming area called Gippsland, here in Victoria, so of course I want to go and stand in the middle of a pasture like an idiot in hopes of hearing them gurgle along beneath me, while trying not to think of the movie Tremors.

 

There's no denying this is not a book for everyone.  But gardeners, environmentalists, and armchair scientists will all find something interesting and fascinating here.



Better Late Than Never (Library Lovers' Mystery, #7)

Better Late Than Never - Jenn McKinlay

McKinlay has to be the most inconsistent writer to have ever graced my shelves.  She creates fantastic, likeable characters, and then proceeds to play with them like a disturbed child pulling wings off of flies.

 

If someone purporting to love you, or at least be infatuated enough to want to pursue you, isn't listening while you repeatedly say "no, I'm not going to date you", it's not charming, even if he's British.  Making your normally intelligent, independent MC constantly roll over and accept not being listened to and laughing each time her feelings are dismissed isn't anything to be proud of either.  Mixed messages much?

 

"She was just lying there, with her arms crossed over her chest and her feet crossed at the ankles, looking perfectly peaceful - almost as if she was taking a nap."

 

Not if she was strangled, she wasn't.  Suffocation and strangulation are entirely different deaths and strangulation is never pretty.  This isn't an obscure fact; McKinlay was either wilfully ignorant or lazy.

 

Her plot twists weren't subtle, neither was her plotting.  In quite a few areas, the narration was unnatural and stilted; people don't talk like this is real life.

 

She did two things right, for which I'm happy to give each a star:  the love triangle is resolved, and boy howdy, McKinlay should stick to romance.  The moments between Lindsay and *ahem* almost made reading the book worthwhile all on their own.  The chemistry was palpable.  

 

She also ends this book with Lindsay swearing off sleuthing for good.  I don't know if this is the end of the series or just a weird cliffhanger-ish thing, but either way, it gives me the perfect opportunity to stop reading this series, always hoping in vain for improvement - for which I am heartily thankful.



The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crimes, #1)

The Big Over Easy  - Jasper Fforde

This book...  I have so many random thoughts about this book.  In no particular order:

 

1.  Easily the most highly quotable book I've ever read.  Including books of quotes.  
One of my favourites:

 

Mr. Pewter led them through to a library filled with thousands of antiquarian books.

'Impressive, eh?'

'Very,' said Jack.  'How did you amass all these?'

'Well,' said Pewter, 'you know the person who always borrows books and never gives them back?'

'Yes–?'

'I'm that person.'

 

Don't know why, but that cracked me up.

 

2.  I'm pretty sure Fforde had no intention of writing a satire (based on what I've found on the interwebs) about the sensationalism of the free press, but this is definitely a case of current events shaping a reader's interpretation of the text.  I had a really hard time reading this and not drawing parallels.

 

3.  I'm equally sure he definitely meant to write a satirised murder mystery and this was easily the closest I've ever read to my blog's namesake movie, Murder By Death, which in my totally biased opinion is the acme of mystery satire.  Which brings me to another quote:

 

Dog Walker's Face Body-Finding Ban

 

Anyone who finds a corpse while walking their dog may be fined if proposed legislation is made law, it was disclosed yesterday.  The new measures, part of the Criminal Narrative Improvement Bill, have been drafted to avoid investigations looking clichéd...

 

Now this is legislation I can get behind.

 

4.  I wish I'd picked this book up directly after reading The Well of Lost Plots.  It makes no difference to someone new to Fforde's books, but I think those that have read TN would feel a stronger connection to the characters here when The Well... was still fresh in the memory.

 

5.  Prometheus has an incredible monologue on pages 271-273.  A popular fiction novel that can weave serious philosophy into its narrative always earns huge bonus points with me.

 

6.  Oh, yeah - good mystery plot too!

 

Off to order the second one...



Food: A Love Story

Food: A Love Story - Jim Gaffigan

This was my first exposure to the comedy of Jim Gaffigan.  I went with audio because I figured it would come the closest to seeing him live; he's the narrator, so you experience this book presumably the way it was intended to be delivered.

 

It was good.  At no point did I ever want to fast forward, or yell at him through my car speakers.  I found almost all of it amusing, and there were some great one liners, but other than one out-loud chuckle, most of the humour remained at the amusing level.

 

If asked about my favourite bit, I'd definitely say it's the part where he talks about McDonalds, and how everybody has their own McDonalds, whether it's Star Magazine, or the hidden stash of chocolate, or the Ben and Jerry's in the freezer, we all have a McDonalds equivalent.  This had me talking back to my dashboard: "Yeah, that's right, I never thought of it like that - we do all have our own McDonalds!".  

 

The narration was... ok.  I don't think anyone could have done it better - but there was, especially at the beginning, a bit of stiffness; a sense that he hadn't seen the material for some time before he started recording the narration.  Sometimes, he really got into it and then the narration was great; the listener got a good idea of how great he'd be in a live show.

 

I'm glad I listened to it; it was entertaining.  If Gaffigan were ever to make it this far on tour, I definitely pony up the money to see him live.



A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

This one is for all the Agatha Christie fans out there who also love science.

 

Harkup devotes a chapter to each of the 14 poisons Christie used to eliminate so many of her victims over the course of 56 years writing mysteries.  In each chapter she discusses the history of each poison's discovery, its use in real crimes throughout history, its antidotes (if any), how its tested for, and how Christie used each poison in her books (as well as how accurate her knowledge was - hint: very).

 

I found the writing compelling and incredibly interesting, but this is not a book for people bored by, or disinterested in, chemistry and anatomy.  Harkup knows her stuff both as a chemist and as a Christie fan.  She gets into the nitty gritty details about how each poison wreaks its havoc in the human body; this might cause some eyes to glaze over.  In almost every chapter, she manages to discuss Christie's books and plots without revealing the killer, and when she can't avoid it, she clearly warns the reader upfront that there are spoilers ahead, offering "go to page xx" to readers wanting to avoid knowing whodunnit.  Some might still find her discussions too revealing, so be warned; if you want to know as little as possible about the books, save this one for later.

 

At the end, she offers a fascinating appendix of every book and short story Christie wrote, with each US/UK title and a list of all the ways people die, a more esoteric appendix illustrating most of the chemical structures discussed in the text (the rest are on her website), a select bibliography and a comprehensive index.

 

I came away from this book having learned a lot, but possibly the two most important things:  strychnine is just about the last way I'd want to go, and that Christie would have been the last person I'd ever want to piss off.