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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.

Book Hauls in aggregate

Yesterday MT uttered 6 of my favorite words to me:  I'm out of books to read.  This means it's time for our bi-annual pilgrimage to our local bookstore, where he creates an obscene pile in 0.4 seconds while I'm still struggling to find the new releases table.

 

I've also received quite a few new books this month, including an unexpected score from Otto Penzler's recent auction of his collection, a vintage copy of The Red House Mystery, and a collection of short stories from Milne, A Table Near the Band.  They were auctioned as a lot, and I put in a low ball bid expecting to be outbid in minutes, when instead I won.  Woot.

 

 

A few Halloween possibilities because they're mysteries (and one magical realism), but nothing really in-season.



Halloween Bingo 2019 - Tracking Update #3

Finally, a square has been called that's on my card.  I went through quite a dry spell there with only 1 of mine called in the last 8; to be expected with the new rules, but nevertheless is was nice to see one of mine show up today.

 

I've just finished my book for the Amateur Sleuth square - though it's the 13th book in the series, so I reserve the right to change it up if my planned book for the 13 square doesn't arrive in time.  I also have the Free Space read done and dusted.  I'll be starting on my Country House Mystery next: Envious Casca.

 

For my BookLikes tracking post, I'm going to rely on what I did last year, building an overall image as boxes are called.

 

 

Squares are greyed out until they're called.  

Called squares will be full-strength.

 

Read but not called squares will be greyed out below.

Once a square has been called and read, I'll move that piece from below to cover the square. 

 

My markers this year are pieces of a full image, seen here:

 
   

 

 

My tentative plan for what I'm reading.  I think there's going to be a lot of re-reads in the mix, given my current mood.  After I've read for a square, I'll hyperlink to the review.

 

 

Bingo Square

Date Called

Book Title

Date Read

Row #1

 

 

 

 

Supernatural

 

Sweep of the Blade

Sep. 3 

 

Read by flash/candlelight

 

 

 

 

Dark Academia

 

 

 

 

Black Cat

Sep. 8 

No Escape Claws

 

 

Country House Mystery

Sep. 13 

Envious Casca

 

Row #2

 

 

 

X 

Ghost Stories

 Sep. 1

Lost Among the Living

 Sep. 1

 

Paint it Black

 

Dark Triumph

 Sep. 1

 

In the dark, dark woods

 

Mortal Heart

Sep. 3 

 

13

 

 

 

 

Murder Most Foul

 

St. Peter's Fair

Sep. 9 

Row #3

 

 

 

 

Shifters

 

Clean Sweep

Sep. 7 

 

Doomsday

 

 

 

 

FREE SPACE

 

Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

Sep. 11 

X 

Fear the Drowning Deep

 

Death on the Nile???

 

 

Amateur Sleuth

 Sep. 4

The Book Supremacy

Sep. 14 

Row #4

 

 

 

 

Spellbound

 

Sapphire Flames

 Sep. 5

 

Creepy Crawlies

 Sep. 3

 

 

 

New Release

 

 

 

 

Gothic

 

 

 

 

Genre:Suspense

 

 

 

Row #5

 

 

 

 

Magical Realism

 

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

Sep. 9 

 

Psych

 

Silence for the Dead

 Sep. 11

 

Full Moon

 

Such is Death

 

 

Darkest London

 

An Act of Villainy

 

 

Baker Street Irregulars

 

 

 



The Book Supremacy (Bibliophile Mystery, #13)

The Book Supremacy - Kate Carlisle

This used to be one of my favorite mystery series, and it has all the things I generally enjoy: likeable, fleshed out secondary characters, strong friendships, wacky families, and the bookbinding angle is a serious plus.  But the last couple of books have felt heavier handed than usual in terms of the relationship between the MC Brooklyn, and her now-husband, Derek.  Lovey Dovey is the only term I can think of to adequately describe it.  I prefer affection to be subtle and I don't need to be reminded how much they're in love.  It was all a bit too sweet.

 

The plot of this one, too, felt overdone.  The guilty person was a caricature villain, and I think it coloured the overall premise of the murder plot: the killer felt cartoonish and silly, so  the plot did too, just a little bit.  It's not a fair bleed over; objectively, the plot it good and not at all a stretch given character back stories.  But the murderer's characterisation just sort of ruined it.

 

In spite of all of this, I still enjoyed the story well enough; I love the characters and having just recently been to San Francisco, the setting was fun to re-visit. 

 

I read this book for Halloween Bingo's Amateur Sleuth square.



Slot car kitty leans into the curve ...

Apropos of nothing, I tried a tamarind curry tonight.   Not. a. fan.

 



A re-read for the Psych square

Silence for the Dead - Simone St. James

Normally the Psyche square would be an automatic transfiguration spell usage, because I categorically do not like psychological thrillers/horror, but I had this Simone St. James book on my shelves because I love her ghost stories, and it so happens it takes place in a remote, isolated mental hospital for WWI veterans suffering shell-shock.  I read it back in 2016 and it was overdue for a re-read.

 

I stand by my original review (4 stars) - this one is almost less a ghost story than a horror story.  High creep factor, and an ending that isn't entirely wrapped up in a bow.

 



Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

Murder by the Book - Claire Harman

I picked this up while cruising through my new subscriptions with the Free Library of Philadelphia, and Orange County Library Systems, wallowing in their audiobook choices, and trying to find something to listen to while waiting for Kill The Farm Boy to come my way. 

 

I knew nothing about the book, save what I read in the summary.  In a nutshell, it's something like a forensic examination of the Courvoisier trial in 1840, for the murder of Lord William Russel.  Courvoisier was Russel's valet, and was accused of cutting his Lord's throat while he slept, a crime that was disturbingly close to the one committed in the newest prose sensation tearing through London, William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard.  A book the accused cited as a contributing factor when he confessed.

 

First of all, the narrator, Andy Secombe, was excellent; his accent was so very British, and though I have a Yank's tin ear for regional dialects, his variations of the many, many voices quoted in the book, accurate or not, made it easy to follow along and not get too bogged down or confused.  There were a few times I wondered if he was having just a bit of fun with some of the 'characters'; it was subtle and arguable, and it might just be I've watched too many old BBC comedies, but it did not in any way hurt the tone of the narrative.

 

To call the book fascinating would be stretching the point, I think, but it was an interesting read, and a very topical reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Our culture's current debate over 'do violent video games/music lyrics/movies corrupt our youth?' is merely the modern spin of the 1870's version of the same debate: 'do violent, sensationalist crime novels/theatre corrupt society?'  I also couldn't help but think of the parallels between the phenomenon that was Jack Sheppard and the mad rush to get it on stage, and the 50 Shades insanity just a few years back.  Neither book was lauded for its literary merit, merely it's scandalous and shocking content; both translated equally disastrously, though with the same raging popularity, to the stage/screen.

 

The author ends the book by pointing out the myriad of questions surrounding Courvoisier's guilt, in spite of the multitude of official confessions the man made.  Those multiple confessions are part of the reason questions remain - no two confessions tell the same tale - and the forensic information gleaned from the reports and accounts do not fit with any of Courvoisier's versions of the events.  In an age when the UK had public hangings and no appeal process, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say no man would have confessed had he not been guilty; there were easier ways to commit suicide.  Sometimes even shoddy investigations end up finding the culprit.

 

The single disappointment I had with the book also came at the end, when Harman is outlining possible motives; she hints at the possibility of a homosexual relationship between the Lord and his valet.  I found this in and of itself to be sensationalist for a couple of reasons: Harman readily admits that Lord William Russel was by all accounts a happily married man before his wife died and that he continued to remember her fondly; Courvoisier was known in the past to have had one or two female relationships, though he was unattached at the time of the murder; and Courvoisier had only been under Lord William Russel's employ a very short period before the murder - 6 weeks if I'm remembering correctly.  Given the prejudice and the laws of the time, a secret relationship was not impossible, but it was certainly improbable given the known facts.  Maybe the author felt like any objective consideration of the case would be incomplete without raising the possibility, but to me it just came across as hearing hoofbeats and screaming Zebras.

 

To be fair, Harman probably devoted fewer words to the possibility than I just did, or at least not many more, so it's a tiny blip in an otherwise interesting peek into the past.

 

I started reading this before I really knew what squares I had on my card, and I don't have the Truly Terrifying square for which this would be a perfect fit, but I'll use it for my Free Space square.



Halloween Bingo 2019 - Tracking Update #2

Not many squares on my card have been called as of yet, but I've been reading like a fiend and ticking off squares as I go.  I have had to plan or purpose and in fact have been doing a lot of spontaneous re-reading of old favourites, so strategically ... well, let's just say I have no strategy.

 

I still don't have anything to read for Creepy Crawlies so I'll likely use a transfiguration spell for that square; I just have to make sure I don't have more squares than spell cards.  I have a couple of possibles for the Black Cat square, but find myself lukewarm about them both.

 

In the meantime, I've finished my Murder Most Foul and Magical Realism reads, and since I re-read Clean Sweep over the weekend, I'll put that to work on my Shifters square.  I feel like when I get home tonight, I'll probably start on my Psych square book (also a re-read).

 

For my BookLikes tracking post, I'm going to rely on what I did last year, building an overall image as boxes are called.

 

 

Squares are greyed out until they're called.  

Called squares will be full-strength.

 

Read but not called squares will be greyed out below.

Once a square has been called and read, I'll move that piece from below to cover the square. 

 

My markers this year are pieces of a full image, seen here:

 
 

 

 

My tentative plan for what I'm reading.  I think there's going to be a lot of re-reads in the mix, given my current mood.  After I've read for a square, I'll hyperlink to the review.

 

 

Bingo Square

Date Called

Book Title

Date Read

Row #1

 

 

 

 

Supernatural

 

Sweep of the Blade

Sep. 3 

 

Read by flash/candlelight

 

 

 

 

Dark Academia

 

 

 

 

Black Cat

Sep. 8 

No Escape Claws

 

 

Country House Mystery

 

Envious Casca

 

Row #2

 

 

 

X 

Ghost Stories

 Sep. 1

Lost Among the Living

 Sep. 1

 

Paint it Black

 

Dark Triumph

 Sep. 1

 

In the dark, dark woods

 

Mortal Heart

Sep. 3 

 

13

 

 

 

 

Murder Most Foul

 

St. Peter's Fair

Sep. 9 

Row #3

 

 

 

 

Shifters

 

Clean Sweep

Sep. 7 

 

Doomsday

 

 

 

 

FREE SPACE

 

 Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London

Sep. 11 

 

Fear the Drowning Deep

 

Death on the Nile???

 

 

Amateur Sleuth

 Sep. 4

The Book Supremacy

 

Row #4

 

 

 

 

Spellbound

 

Sapphire Flames

 Sep. 5

 

Creepy Crawlies

 Sep. 3

 

 

 

New Release

 

 

 

 

Gothic

 

 

 

 

Genre:Suspense

 

 

 

Row #5

 

 

 

 

Magical Realism

 

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

Sep. 9 

 

Psych

 

Silence for the Dead

 Sep. 11

 

Full Moon

 

Such is Death

 

 

Darkest London

 

An Act of Villainy

 

 

Baker Street Irregulars

 

 

 



Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe - Heather Webber

I've always enjoyed Heather Webber's cozy mysteries; they're fun, well-written and usually have better-than-average plots.  So when this was announced I was eager to see what she'd come up with when there was no murder.

 

She didn't disappoint, though the overall tone of the book was a tiny bit too heavy handed for my tastes.  The power of love is a wonderful thing indeed, but my nature is not one that is comfortable with being immersed in heart tugging storylines. 

 

The book centers on two main characters: one coming to the small town of Wicklow for the first time, to see to the affairs of her grandmother's estate, and at the same time is confronted with her heritage and connection to a town she's never been to.  The second MC is the emotionally neglected daughter of the town's social maven, who has come back to town a widow with toddler in tow.  But the true main character of the book is the town itself and its curious connection to loved ones who have crossed over.

 

It was a good read, though I sensed the author was struggling to bring balance to the heavier emotions; hints of humour came from most of the characters, but never quite took hold.  If it had, I'd have probably enjoyed the book even more.  Still, I'll happily keep an eye out for more of Webber's work.

 

I read this book for Halloween Bingo's Magical Realism square.



St. Peter's Fair (Brother Cadfael book 4)

Saint Peter's Fair - Ellis Peters

I had a bit of genre whiplash with this one, as I'd picked it up after a month of binge re-reading urban fantasy.  To say that the change in pace required an adjustment is an understatement.  So it's possible that this book deserves a higher rating even than the 4 stars I gave it, but the fact remains that as much as I loved the writing, it felt like it was taking forever.

 

I can think of a few authors who try to use the structure of the book to build up suspense, but I'm not sure I've seen it so effectively done as Ellis has here.  Breaking each day into it's own section doesn't sound like much, but - in my edition at least - each day is announced on it's own page, free of any other text; the result was a quiet tension.

 

Unfortunately, as effective as it was, I still found that the bad guy was telegraphed by virtue of the cast of characters; the person served no apparent use to the plot.  The character wasn't the only one I suspected, nor the only one that was seemingly useless, but he was the one that felt the most obvious.

 

Nevertheless, it was an excellent mystery and brilliant writing.  I'm giddy, having so many more adventures with Brother Cadfael to look forward to.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo, Murder Most Foul square



Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy #4)

Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy #4) -  Ilona Andrews

Straight up, I thoroughly enjoyed this book; for fans of the series it's absolutely worth every minute and every page.

 

BUT, it doesn't quite meet the high bar the Andrews team has set for itself.  Couple that with my own inability to shift my perceptions, and the book, for me, doesn't match the quality of the first three, or anything in the Kate Daniels or Innkeeper series.

 

The first stumbling block is all mine:  I had a hard time seeing Catalina, the MC of this book, as an adult.  Even though Andrews has this story taking place 3 years after the events of book #3, she remained a teenager in my head, no matter how hard I tried to let her grow up.  That failure on my part made any romantic tension between Catalina and Alessandro fizzle; it lacked the edginess I expect from Andrews and I found Alessandro's god-like perfection unbelievable.  I like him, and I like Catalina, and I like the idea of them together, but it's all too fairy-tale princess for me in this story.

 

The second stumbling block was the predictability of more than a couple parts of the story.  Typically Andrews is anything but predictable, so it's disappointing to see an old, worn out trope or two being bandied about here.  Catalina's self-sacrifice is hard to admire as it and its future consequences are just too obvious.

 

Less of an issue, as it's a not infrequent theme in all her books, was the over-blown fight scene on the freeway.  The Andrews team really does like unleashing ridiculous over-the-top monsters into the middle of Houston interstate traffic.  I always feel like these scenes go too far and tip into silliness, but eh - they're a few pages and who hasn't fantasied about picking up an 18 wheeler and swinging through 5 lanes of traffic?

 

As I said at the start, it's a good story and well worth the read; it's just not a great story, and I actually enjoyed Sweep of the Blade more - and it takes place in space.  Even so, I'm really pissed I have to wait for who knows how long until the next book comes out.  I want to find out what happens next.

 

I read this because I've been waiting for it for months, but I'm also using it for Halloween Bingo, for my Spellbound square.



Halloween Bingo 2019 - Tracking Update #1

 

I've been a reading machine since September 1st - both because of the start of BL Bingo and the cessation (mostly) of all the weekend work I've been doing.

 

Creepy Crawlies is the latest call, and it's on my card but I have no idea what I'll read for it - if I have anything in my stacks that qualify or if I'll use a transfiguration spell.  In the meantime, I've finished my Supernatural read and I have Murder Most Foul underway.  I've also started Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews because it arrived yesterday. 

 

For my BookLikes tracking post, I'm going to rely on what I did last year, building an overall image as boxes are called.

 

 

Squares are greyed out until they're called.  

Called squares will be full-strength.

 

Read but not called squares will be greyed out below.

Once a square has been called and read, I'll move that piece from below to cover the square. 

 

My markers this year are pieces of a full image, seen here:

 

 

 

My tentative plan for what I'm reading.  I think there's going to be a lot of re-reads in the mix, given my current mood.  After I've read for a square, I'll hyperlink to the review.

 

 

Bingo Square

Date Called

Book Title

Date Read

Row #1

 

 

 

 

Supernatural

 

Sweep of the Blade

Sep. 3 

 

Read by flash/candlelight

 

 

 

 

Dark Academia

 

 

 

 

Black Cat

Sep. 8 

No Escape Claws

 

 

Country House Mystery

 

Envious Casca

 

Row #2

 

 

 

X 

Ghost Stories

 Sep. 1

Lost Among the Living

 Sep. 1

 

Paint it Black

 

Dark Triumph

 Sep. 1

 

In the dark, dark woods

 

Mortal Heart

Sep. 3 

 

13

 

 

 

 

Murder Most Foul

 

St. Peter's Fair

Sep. 9 

Row #3

 

 

 

 

Shifters

 

 

 

 

Doomsday

 

 

 

 

FREE SPACE

 

 

 

 

Fear the Drowning Deep

 

Death on the Nile???

 

 

Amateur Sleuth

 Sep. 4

The Book Supremacy

 

Row #4

 

 

 

 

Spellbound

 

Sapphire Flames

 Sep. 5

 

Creepy Crawlies

 Sep. 3

 

 

 

New Release

 

 

 

 

Gothic

 

 

 

 

Genre:Suspense

 

 

 

Row #5

 

 

 

 

Magical Realism

 

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

Sep. 9 

 

Psych

 

Silence for the Dead 

 

 

Full Moon

 

Such is Death

 

 

Darkest London

 

An Act of Villainy

 

 

Baker Street Irregulars

 

 

 



Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles, #4)

Sweep of the Blade -  Ilona Andrews

Only Ilona Andrews could make me like a book in spite of the science fiction setting.  Of course, she lured me in with a story that started as a traditional-ish paranormal tale involving magic and werewolves, and it all took place on good old Earth; it wasn't until this book that the series becomes firmly entrenched out in the universe with spaceships and aliens and nary a werewolf in site.  Sure, there are vampires but they really aren't very vampiric - token fangs and an obsession with rules and protocols, but all the other tropes are tossed out.

 

Yet in spite of all the deadly-dull-to-me intergalactic elements (and yes, my eyes glazed and glossed over all the space stuff), the tale has stuck with me in that way that Daesyn (I think that was the name of the planet) feels like a very specific place in my imagination, with it's own feel; extremely detailed as to layout and atmosphere.  It's a place I very much enjoyed obviously, since I catch myself looking forward to going back, only to remember I finished the book and now have to wait who-knows- how-long until the Andrews team published the next one.

 

I've always like Arland and was disappointed he didn't end up with the Innkeeper (whose name I can't remember - she doesn't play a role in this book), so I thoroughly enjoyed having this story centre on him and Maud.  The secondary characters, mostly Arland's family, contributed to the world building, and weren't merely paper constructs, though the antagonists of the story lost something with their lack of subtlety.  

 

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this story in spite of all the things I dislike on the surface and I actually find myself hoping the next one comes out sooner rather than later.

 

 

I read this one for a Halloween Bingo square - tentatively the Supernatural one.  I may swap things around in the future, but for now it's the best fit, as there are no shifters in this story. 



Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin, #3)

Mortal Heart  - Robin LaFevers

I was so interested in this book, I actually started it before I'd finished the second book.

 

Unfortunately, though it was a good read overall, it didn't quite meet my expectations.  Though the first two books contained an element of romance, this one was almost exclusively a romance from almost the beginning, and the big plot twist concerning the abbess was telegraphed rather early on, so that didn't work all that well for me.

 

But I did enjoy the interactions between Annith and Balthazar, and oddly, the part of the story that centered on the Hellequins was the part I found the most interesting.  I could have happily spent a few more chapters running around the woods with them on the hunt.

 

I read this as part of Halloween Bingo, and though the story is centered on Anne of Brittany and her struggles against the French, at least half the book takes place in the woods and forests of Brittany, where Annith meets up with Balthazar and the hunt, fights more than a few battles, and seeks refuge amongst the trees several times throughout the book.  So, I'm using this for In the Dark, Dark Woods square.



Lost Among the Living re-read

Lost Among the Living - Simone St. James

When I was putting together my possible Bingo reads, I went to my shelves for Simone St. James' Silence for the Dead as a re-read for the Psych square (a ghost story in an asylum), and I saw this title next to it.  I remembered not one thing about this book, though I vividly remember all her others, so I grabbed it for the Ghost Story square.  As I had my first lazy weekend in recent memory, I cracked it open in the broad light of day yesterday (Sunday).

 

Nice timing on my part!

 

Once I started reading it, it all came back, and I stand by my original review.  Not one of St James' best, but still a good ghost story - especially for those that like their hauntings on the less intense side.

 



Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassins, Book #2)

Dark Triumph - Robin LaFevers

I put off reading this second book for years, because I didn't care for the allusions made in the first book that Sybella, the MC of this story, had a dark past involving parental sexual abuse.  But I really wanted to read the third book, and I can't stand reading out of order, so I sucked it up.

 

The allusions were not misdirection; Sybella's background is full of abuse and cruelty, and the author walks a fine line in terms of incest, stopping short by the strictest definition, if not the spirit of it.  Either way, it's distasteful and unpleasant; I'd have enjoyed the story more had it not spent so much time on the setup and background.

 

Once Sybella commits to her mission to rescue the Beast of Waroch from her family's dungeons, the story improves, as does the pacing.  There's a Deus-ette ex machina in Sybella's unexpected connection to The Beast that I'm not sure was really necessary, though it didn't really affect the plotting one way or the other.

 

Generally, not as good as the first book, but an engrossing read nevertheless.  I appreciated the author's note at the end outlining that while the story itself was whole cloth fiction, the events and many of the characters were historically accurate, though she owns to compressing the timeline for dramatic purposes.  If I can read and be entertained, and learn a bit about the Duchess Anne of Brittany at the same time, all the better.

 

 I read this for a Halloween Square - Paint it Black.

 



What I've been doing when I should have been reading: dull, but mercifully short

As I mentioned in my Halloween Bingo post, MT had to move his office. The TL;DR version is his current office of 25+ years is in a building that changed management, and they're not renewing anyone's leases if they had street frontage. 

 

Luckily, as his business has a LOT to do with his location, he found a new place about 80m/90yards down the street.  Not so luckily, it was a mess and had to be gutted at our heart-stopping expense (long story too, not interesting at all).  To save some money, we took on some of the work ourselves, which led to my 6-week stint as a drywaller, painter, and patcher of all holes (and they were/are legion).  The work is still not done, but today was moving day, so everything from here falls under the category of "touch ups" - including, apparently, the entire front door.

 

Anyway, since I've been whinging sporadically about this, I thought I'd share a couple of before and after pics, specifically of the entry:

 

Before:

 

After:

 

Still a little blah, but they aren't near finished.  Just know that those walls on the left and right are the ones that I spent most of my time repairing.  I'm emotionally invested in those walls.  Those walls and I have bonded.  Also, you can see the lovely avant-garde interpretation of a front door, rendered in early Australian plywood.  No locks needed, just a hammer drill, a ladder and a few large screws.  (Because the builders didn't order the glass for the doors until last week, and it won't arrive until Tuesday.)

 

And just an overall idea of the mess we started with:

'Still life with random Tradie.'