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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 rest of the menagerie...

BrokenTune asked me recently when I was going to give some face time to the other three members of our family here at casa de los criaturas locos, and I've finally found some relatively decent pictures of the girls - they are surprisingly hard to photograph.


But without further blithering, here are the chooks:


Meet Eggberta (Eggy), there in the front, and Henrietta (Henri) in the back.  They are Aracauna chickens, noted for the blue coloured shells on their eggs. Of our three, they are the comediennes.  


Eggy should have been named Hendini, because there isn't a coop yet she hasn't escaped from and she finds it hilarious to get us chasing after her, as she goes in every direction except the one we want her to.  She's also the friendliest, always allowing us and visiting kids to reach down and give her a pet.  


Henri is bold and sassy.  She's not quite as friendly in terms of affection, but she's not afraid either.  MT opened the nesting box once when she was in there doing her egg laying and she reached over and pecked him on the forehead as if to say "EXCUSE ME!  PRIVACY PLEASE!".   She's also the skinniest of the three and so, conversely, lays the biggest eggs.



Our third chook is Princess Parmagiana, or Princess Parma, for short.  I DID NOT NAME HER!!!  She is MT's chook, and she's a Golden Barred Wyandotte.  She's a beauty and while she looks fierce and is easily twice the size of Eggy and Henri, she is also the biggest um... chicken.  She is truly afraid of her own shadow; when the other two are running up to see what treats we've brought them, she always hangs back.  MT and I have tried to coax her, but she's an introvert and we respect that.  Last year though, she got a respiratory infection and we had to catch her and feed her with a syringe (warm veggie soup I made with a bit of beef whizzed up into it for protein).  I felt awful every time we had to do it, but to her credit once we caught her she'd sit quietly in my lap and accept the soup willingly.  She bounced back 100% and she's as gorgeous as ever.  She lays medium sized eggs that are so pale brown they look pink.


They are, thank god, the hit of the neighbourhood; they make so much racket sometimes I cringe to think what the neighbours might do (we live in an inner-city suburb of Melbourne) but they all say they love it.  It helps that we share the eggs too, I think.  I'm not an expert on chickens, but I think they're happy; they come running when they hear us and we chat with them while passing out treats (veggies, yogurt; mealworms send them into freakouts of delight).  We've been asked what we'll do when they stop laying eggs - so let me just say; they're part of our crazy family, whether they lay eggs or not.  :)

Librarian Updates

Just cleared out a largish queue of book additions, edits and reports.  A higher than average rate of rejected requests, so a few reminders:


1.  Covers WILL NOT be changed without a source link.  Please include a valid source showing that specific edition with the cover you're trying to add.  Any changes without source code (exception: placeholders) will be rejected.  Also, please don't just put "Amazon.com" as a source link.  If you can't be bothered to hunt down the correct full link to the book, why should a librarian?


2.  DO NOT REMOVE ISBNs.  These are automatically rejected.  If the ISBN is an invalid one, please use the flag to file a book report, so a librarian can confirm and merge the record with the correct one.


3.  Please do NOT mark books with ISBNs as Kindles.  Ebooks with ISBNs are ebooks.  Kindle and Audible formats are the ONLY books that should have anything in the ASIN field.


I think that hits the main points.  


A note about the damn Kindle/ASIN bug:

Look I don't speak for BookLikes - I'm just a librarian volunteer, so I have no idea when this damn bug is going to be fixed and I'm starting to not care.  My personal, unofficial advice is to stop adding Kindle editions.  


Those who know me might assume (fairly) that that is bias speaking, but not this time; this bug is a massive pain in the ass.  Librarians can't edit any Kindle record from 2017 or 2018 without an 8 out of 10 chance of the edits being blocked b/c of the damn ASIN number.  The best we can do is a combination of accept-and-reject of edits regular users make (we accept all changes except the removal of the ASIN, which the user has to do to get the edits to go through to the queue).  


This leaves us all in the very messy position of having to keep empty kindle records in the database, and at this point there are thousands of them, which means we're never going to be able to get them all corrected should this bug ever be fixed and at some point they're likely to get merged with ISBN ebook editions because the librarian can't see the ASIN in the source field unless the record is open (and we don't open records when we combine/merge).


So if you can, add the ebook edition with the ISBN; I know this is not always possible for Kindle users because Amazon isn't going to show you the ISBN - they don't want their customers thinking the book exists anywhere else - but the ISBN of any book that has one can usually be found on the copyright page.  It's not as easy as cut/paste, but it will ensure that your edition record won't get merged accidentally somewhere down the line, not to mention allow librarians to edit the record should we need to.

The Diary of a Bookseller

The Diary of a Bookseller - Shaun Bythell

I saw this in my local just before Christmas and snatched it up, as my not-so-secret fantasy is to own a bookshop (me, not the bank, which is why it remains a fantasy), and I never get tired of reading first hand accounts from the front. But this one was even better than I was hoping for; it was informative, succinct (it's truly a diary, so entries are rarely more than a page) and best of all, it's hilarious.


Each day begins with a tally of books sold online, and how many of those books he is able to actually locate in his stock (100,000 books; I can't even find a book I'm looking for in my paltry 1200 or so).  From there it's a short narrative about what happened that day.  Usually something his employee Nicky does, doesn't do, or says, or an anecdote about one or more customers doing something inane, rude, or more often, both.  (This is not the book to read if you're looking for affirmation on humanity.)  


Less often, but my favorites, were his field trips abroad to buy books.  And strewn throughout is the very real, and very serious, consequences Amazon has on booksellers.  It's one thing to know that Amazon is taking away independent booksellers' business by out pricing them on everything, but it's another thing altogether to understand how much control they have over small booksellers across the globe.  Even if you don't buy your book from Amazon, Amazon likely controls or influences how you purchase it.  


Each entry ends with the daily earnings; a number so fluid as to range anywhere from 5 Pounds to 1,000, and - spoiler alert - the days where he took in more than 700 Pounds was less than 3.


If bookshops and the eccentric people who visit them aren't your cup of tea, this book probably isn't going to delight you the way it did me, but if you secretly wish you could own, work, or live in a bookshop and have an appreciation for the irreverent humor of a man worn down by humanity at its most dubious, then definitely check out this book.  As I said at the start, it's informative (in spite of the hard facts, I still want to own a bookshop), it's easy to read (although once I started I was disinclined to stop) and it's laugh out loud hilarious.  I almost snorted.  And I'm following the author on Facebook; I never follow authors (well, ok, Amy Stewart, but honestly, as much as I love her books, I follow her for her art - she's disgustingly talented).


In fact, check him out on facebook first; if you like his posts, you'll love this book!

When the Earth was Flat: All the bits of science we got wrong

When the Earth Was Flat: All the Bits of Science We Got Wrong - Graeme Donald

In my review of The Accidental Scientist, I raved about how much I enjoyed the book, but that I had reservations about the way the author's style, no matter how entertaining it was.  Turns out those reservations are well founded.  In When the Earth was Flat, his penchant for pedantry and generalisations are so broad as to be misleading.  


The book is broken up into chapters that each cover a "scientific" theory believed to be fact at some point in history.  Flat Earth, Hollow Earth, Phrenology, Hysteria, etc.  Each includes a basic description of the belief and the effect it had on humanity both at the time, and sometimes, up to the present day.


Most of these are, I believe, pretty well researched, and they are well written; I learned a lot, and while I won't take any of it as gospel truth without some additional fact-checking, I have a level of confidence that the book is generally sound.  I'm agog at the implications of certain medical "advancements" of the 1920's and their possible links to HIV.  


But where he loses ground is in his breakout boxes that list "Popular Scientific Ideas Debunked".  These are just bullet point statements refuting what are widely believed to be scientific facts.  Most of them are gimmes; anyone who has read any similar book would recognise them as myths rather than facts.  But a number of them are - while factually correct if your pedantic - irresponsibly phrased.  For example:


Heat does not rise but disperses itself equally and evenly throughout its environment. 


Yes, but no.  Or not immediately.  A gas that is heated up will have less mass and more volume, and therefore will rise up through a colder gas until the heat is dispersed equally and evenly throughout.   That's how weather works.  Anyone who has ever seen a thunderstorm form, especially a microcell, has seen the hotter air rising up through the atmosphere (really, the colder air is sinking, but anyway...).  This is nature's way of re-establishing equilibrium, or as close as it can get before the sun comes back out.


The same applies to water (until water hits the freezing point); cold water is denser than warm water, so the colder water sinks to the bottom and the warmer water rises to the top, until the temperature is equal throughout.  We're lucky that that equilibrium is never achieved in our oceans, else life on Earth would become rather untenable. 


So while his statement is factualit's oversimplified to the point of being wrong, and since he does not trouble himself, or the reader, to explain beyond these casual, throw-way refutations, I find them incredibly irresponsible.   This is why there are so many ignorant people who cannot see that they are ignorant: they read things like this and think themselves informed... and then run for political office.  Simplification, like everything else in life, should only be practiced in moderation.


To sum up, it's not a bad read; I believe 90% of the information can be relied upon and for the reader who is new to science or just enjoys fun facts, this is entertainingly written. But, as in any non-fiction book, the reader should be cautious of single sentence statements of facts.  It's rarely that simple.

The One-Cent Magenta

The One-Cent Magenta - James Barron

I have always thought postage stamps were neat.  I admit I'm the ass in the post office line asking if I can see all the current stamps when I get to the counter, so I can pick out the coolest ones.  (This, by the way, is unheard of in Australia; I've only found one post office where the lady is nice enough to let me pick my own stamps.)


But I have never collected stamps.  The hobby holds no appeal for me and never has. What I am hooked on, is rarity.  The idea that there are only x number of something in the world sucks me in, no matter what x is.  I understand the collectors that want to own what no one else owns; I don't have the ego for it, but the idea of owning something that is completely unique is a seductive one.


That's why I bought this book on a whim.  That and the cover.  James Barron is a New York Times journalist, who stumbled on the story of the one-cent magenta stamp at a cocktail party; the article he wrote about it led to this book, where he chronicles the path this odd-looking stamp took on it's way to becoming the world's most valuable stamp, selling at auction in 2014 for 9.5 million USD, to Stuart Weitzman, he of the red-soled shoe empire.


This is where journalists who write books shine, especially for someone like me, who knows almost nothing about stamps or philately.  Let's face it, stamps do not lend themselves to page-turning drama, and philately needs all the help it can get if it's to appeal to those outside the bubble.  Barron succeeded beyond my expectations.  I completely enjoyed this book and spent all day reading it.  His journalistic style brought the stamp's history to life, and even though he has a bit of fun with the eccentricities of "Stamp World" as he calls it, I thought he did a brilliant job describing the passion and dedication of the hobby in a sympathetic way.


I'm thoroughly surprised and delighted at how much I enjoyed this book.  

Speedy Death

Speedy Death - Gladys Mitchell

I'm not sure what I think of this.  It dragged a bit in the middle, mostly as the plot was so odd.  So much was crammed in that by the time I got to the end, I barely remembered the beginning.  It seems like another book entirely that started with a dead man – who was really a woman –  in the guest room bathtub.


But Mitchell's writing is strong and very readable.  She painted a very compelling country house setting with characters that really worked well in the plot, even if they're rather 2 dimensional in that way I find all third person, golden age crime characters to be.  My biggest gripe is that there is an awful lot of unspoken truths throughout the dialog.  Two people talking about the murder, sharing information and one starts to reveal Something Important when the other gasps "You don't mean..." and the other cuts him off and exclaims "Exactly!".  And the reader is left saying "what?  what do you mean?  what the hell did I miss?!"


Of them all, I liked Carstairs best; I am conflicted about Mrs. Lestrange Bradley though.  I like her intelligence and her strength and I'm offended on her behalf of the way she keeps getting referred to as an ugly old lady.  Mitchell gives us her age via formula, by stating that her son is 39 and she was 18 when he was born.  With a bias that grows stronger every day, I hardly think 57 is an age that warrants 'ugly old lady' status.  But Mitchell sacrifices a great deal of Bradley's humanity for the sake of her intelligence and strength.


This led me to an interesting personal quandary because the character she most reminded me of is my personal ideal of literary perfection: Shelock Holmes.  He too is cold, calculating, analytical to the extreme, and designed to be unpleasing to the eye, so why do I find him to be the acme of literary perfection, but am left unsure, at best, about Lestrange Bradley?  I was set to face some hard truths about my own gender bias, but thankfully that can be saved for another day, as the answer really is much simpler: Holmes' analytical genius is grounded in facts and hard science; Lestrange Bradley's on psycho-analysis.  That is my bias; I don't condemn psychoanalysis, but neither do I trust it, and I do not find it all that interesting. 


So, long story short, this is a book with merit and definitely worth reading, especially for anyone who enjoys classic crime, and Mitchell's writing is worth seeking out.  I just don't know if I enjoyed it enough to pursue other books in this series.

Pomfret Towers

Pomfret Towers - Angela Thirkell

This is the 3rd Angela Thirkell I've read so far (and finished - I DNF'd one last year), and it is, by far, the most biting, painfully hilarious of the lot yet.  I say painfully because all those moments you wish would happen in books, when the evil/nasty/rude character is at work, happen in this book.  But I almost dnf'd this one too, because it doesn't start off well at all.


At the opening, it appears that the narrative (3rd person omniscient, btw) is going to focus primarily on Alice Barton, a character so Mary Sue that the Mary Sue trope should have been named Alice Barton.  She is ridiculous; frankly, she's barely functioning.  As I write this, it occurs to me that in current times, she might have been thought to be agoraphobic; she isn't, she's just terrified of everything beyond belief.  


Fortunately the biting humor was making me laugh or giggle too often, so I kept on and discovered the story rapidly becomes an ensemble, and even though Alice continues to get more page time than the rest, her growing confidence makes her a tiny bit more bearable.  Tiny bit.  Fair warning, by the end of the book she's still pretty ridiculous. 


But along the way, Thirkell does something interesting with Alice; something very unexpected from what I know of her Barsetshire books.  She uses Alice's character to sniff around the edges of masochism and emotional abuse.  Just the edges, mind you; events that would seem inconsequential or pathetic on their own start to add up to a disturbing pattern, and Thirkell writes a scene or two where her friends discuss her pattern of behaviour quite frankly.  This doesn't go anywhere, of course; this book's destiny was to be a frivolous, entertainment, so of course everything works out in the end.  But given the time it takes place (~1930), I found it to be an unexpected and interesting thread and raised the story's merit in my estimation.


The end was a tad trite, and could only be expected, but my rating stands because, man, this book was funny.

The Plant Hunters: The Adventures of the World's Greatest Botanical Explorers

The Plant Hunters: The Adventures of the World's Greatest Botanical Explorers - Carolyn Fry

First - this is a gorgeous book.  Generously and fabulously illustrated, at least half the pages are eye candy.


Second - it's really well researched, although it does lack a citation / notes section at the end, an unfortunate oversight.


Also unfortunate is the writing.  It's dry.  So, so dry.  Think academic history text dry.  If I had to guess, I'd say it's a case of severe editing; trying to pack huge chunks of history into small 1-2 page sections.  The result is a litany of names and dates guaranteed to make the most interested eyes droop.   


Luckily, the illustrations go a long way towards perking up a reader's attention.

L'appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home

L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home - David Lebovitz

If you are secretly (or not so secretly) fascinated by the sight of car wrecks (where no one is injured, of course), you might really like this book.


That's not why I bought it, or course; I thought I'd be reading a breezy memoir about moving to Paris and buying a fabulous, though a tad run down, old apartment and the joys of renovating it.  I imagined living vicariously through the author as he haunted the flea markets and found fabulous old doors, lamps, hardware, crockery, etc.  Sure, the title says "disasters", too, but they're probably the run of the mill disasters everyone faces when building/renovating, right?  Someone painted the kitchen the color meant for the baths, or switched the hot and cold taps. 


Not even close.  In fact, looking at the title, I'm not at all sure where the "delights" come into play.  Maybe book 2?  Because I gotta tell you, after reading this, I have a lot more sympathy for people who burn the house down for the insurance money.  I also have a new appreciation for just how much worse Australian real estate could be.  I've always tried to be positive or, at least tactful, about my current home country, but I've never held back on how bent I believe their real estate industry is, particularly Melbourne's (I'm not wrong either: Victoria has been cited numerous times for fraudulent real estate practices; not that it slows anybody down).  But boy howdy, Paris makes it clear Aussies are in the minor leagues.


But the buying dramas (did you know you need a medical examination to get a home loan?) were just the amuse bouche; the real nightmare, the one you can't stop reading because it's like a train that just keeps on wrecking itself, a metal snowball gaining mass and spreading destruction, is the renovations.  There. are. no. words.


This is where I stop to give a heartfelt thanks to my Daddy, an electrical engineer, and for the grace of god that I was born curious.  Foreign country or not (and you can't discount how big a difference that makes - even if the foreign country speaks your language), I'm fortunate that I know enough about electricity, plumbing, and (very) basic building construction to suspect when something isn't right, or safe.  Lebovitz was not so blessed and neither was his partner, although he was at least Parisian, and so was able to bridge the language - and sometimes the cultural - gaps, as well as throw well timed fits of temper.  But even so, what happens, what they end up with... nope.  Still no words.  I cannot imagine what I'd have done in his shoes, but it probably would have been neither legal or sane.  


It ends well enough, but, though he doesn't give any real figures, one has to assume he had a shit ton of money somewhere because by my rough reckoning, that renovation cost him more than 3 times the original budget.


Throughout this nightmare, he does paint a vivid and gorgeous picture of Paris markets and food, both of which, from what I read here, are better experienced as a tourist.  And most of the chapters end with a recipe; some easy, and some for the experienced baker.  At some point in the future I'll be giving his Swedish meatball recipe a shot.


And Swedish meatballs leads me to this final thought:  there is nothing on this earth that would ever compel me to stand in line for 4 1/2 freaking hours in Ikea.  Nothing.  Not if the kitchen cabinets were made of solid mahogany and gilded in solid gold.  Omg...4.5 hours in Ikea...

How to Speak Chicken

How to Speak Chicken: Why Your Chickens Do What They Do & Say What They Say - Melissa Caughey

This arrived today and I couldn't wait; I've been curious to read it since I first read about it pre-publication.


Sadly, it was not quite what I expected. 


Almost though.  The author does discuss what chickens are trying to communicate, and she covers a fair amount of anatomical/behavioural information about chooks (Aussie slang), but she's coming from an enthusiast's perspective, not a scientist's.  This is totally ok, but I was hoping for something a tad more in-depth and research based; this is more a 'chickens are wonderful and grossly underestimated' tome.  (She's right - they're hilarious individualists, and anyone who keeps one for more than 10 minutes will never underestimate them again.)


In spite of it not measuring up to my expectations, it's a lovely book overall and I did learn quite a bit more about chickens.  Turns out, I have 3 of the closest living relatives to T. Rex living in my back garden.  How cool is that?

Buried in Books: A Reader's Anthology

Buried in Books: A Reader's Anthology - Julie Rugg

This one's been on the piles for at least a year now, and upon cracking it open today, I discovered it's an entire book full of quotes about books:  reading, collecting, borrowing, defacing and, in the last chapter, the horrifying prospect of running out of them.


I read most of the quotes in the first half, but skimmed the rest, looking for citations that included names or book titles I recognised.  Rugg gets bonus points for a collection that is not a retread of all the popular internet memes; there were very few quotes here that I recognised, and sadly for my TBR, a few titles that the stacks will soon be forced to take in and provide shelter for.

Great Beginnings

Great Beginnings: Opening Lines of Great Novels - Georgianne Ensign

A compendium of opening paragraphs from great literature, I see this as a great reference for future trivia games, and Jeopardy re-runs, but any authors/aspiring writers might view it as an interesting exploration of styles.


Ensign breaks the sections up by categorising the opening paragraphs: "Once Upon a Time" are literary openers that use First Person, or the Witness as a storyteller; "Setting the Setting" includes those opening paragraphs that immediately set the scene, the time, or use the weather to get the reader immediately involved.  My favorite was the chapter called "Brevity Doesn't Count" - listing opening sentences that are 100+ words long and themselves their own paragraphs.    Not because I like long, drawn out sentences that last forever, but because I can't help but laugh - usually about midway through - and think Breathe!.


Each section is very briefly introduced by the author with quick but insightful comments about the effective use of each device.  Moderately interesting in itself, but possibly better thought of as a reference.

16 Festive Tasks - The Prize

As Themis-Athena said in her post:  Thank you to everyone who participated in the 16 Festive Tasks.  We're a tad late getting all the final tallies together, but it's done.  We had such a great time, and y'all were amazing.  Whether you contributed a lot, or a little, as your personal time permitted, everyone posted amazing, thoughtful tasks and tore through a LOT more books than I'd have expected (dumb, I know).


So here's one half of the prize (Themis and I split it between two book charities):




Those who participated in the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season earned enough points to buy almost 30 books for a mobile library in Africa (or the equivalent need - I'm regurgitating website stuff).  So we've not only had fun, we've spread our love for books around the world, hopefully to people who will benefit and in turn, spread book love.  


You guys rock!  ❤️❤️❤️

The Little Book of Lykke

The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World's Happiest People - Meik Wiking

I'd read Wiking's Little Book of Hygge last year, and absolutely loved it; it was one of those right time/right books moments, and I took away a lot of good suggestions.  So when this book's publication was announced, I kept an eye out for it. 


In some ways, The Little Book of Lykke is a more interesting one; it's focused heavily on the research behind happiness both on an individual and cultural level.  There are more studies cited, more graphs, more statistics, and case studies from around the globe about how people and communities have come together to create a better atmosphere for themselves and others.  Wiking includes practical tips for the reader, but I don't think that's the book's strength; I think it serves as food for thought about the larger idea of what makes individuals and communities really happy, and the downstream benefits of being happy.


My only niggle against the book is that the last chapter ends a bit preachy.  This is not entirely the author's fault, as the last chapter, entitled kindness was the chapter with the least amount of available stats and studies, so it was almost entirely anecdotal.  It's really difficult to talk about being kind to others without sounding preachy, I get that.  But it did leave the book ending weaker than it started by just a smidgen.  Overall, a good book for inspiring introspection and an inspiring one in terms of new ideas.

Sons of the Wolf

Sons of the Wolf - Barbara Michaels

Pure gothic suspense.


Two young heiresses sent to live in a mansion out on the moors of Yorkshire, completely removed from any society, with a mysterious guardian they've never met:  check.

Old abandoned half-ruined monastery:  check.

2 misunderstood sons, one dark and brooding, one sensitive and artistic:  check

Rampant superstition about mythical creatures:  check

One supposedly untameable black stallion: check

Big hounds roaming the moors:  check

Gypsies:  check


Sons of the Wolf has it all in spades.  Unfortunately, I didn't really connect with any of the characters enough to make the fantastically insane and relatively dark plot work.  I didn't hate it, but I wasn't at all invested in it, making a lot of small things I probably wouldn't notice if I were neck deep in the story stand out and irk me.


I didn't hate it; if someone were in the mood for a gothic story, it might provide a fun afternoon.  But it wasn't one of Michaels best.


A Short History of Drunkenness

A Short History of Drunkenness - Mark Forsyth

I love Mark Forsyth's writing.  I think I've read (and own) everything he's written and I've yet to be let down.  He's got the dry, British humor in spades and his writing is always excellent.  His original bibliography focused on etymology, but he's lately broken out into short, but focused, histories.  


Forsyth makes it clear from the start that this is not a comprehensive history of drunkenness; that would be a comprehensive history of humanity.  But he does break it down into a very easy to follow, somewhat linear timeline, with each chapter focused on a specific culture, or age.  I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but it turns out ancient Greeks got a bad rap; when it comes to partying they had nothing on ancient Egyptians.  Or late 19th/early 20th century Russians.  Holy crap.


The book ends in more or less modern times, but Forsyth does revisit America in the last chapter; specifically Prohibition and Did it work?.  Half my family was in Chicago during Prohibition and the other half was in Florida, with a constant stream of 'revenuers' and bootleggers coming through the tiny fishing village called home, so I'm not sure I entirely buy his premise that Prohibition was a success.  On the other hand, my family's history would give me exactly the skewed perspective that would make me dubious.  No matter what my opinion is, his take on Prohibition was fascinating and (to me) an entirely new way of viewing the 18th amendment experiment.  


But the best part, the very best part of the book, for me, is something only a few here will immediately appreciate, and it's this, from a quote in the chapter on the American Wild West:


"The saturnalia commenced on Christmas evening, at the Humboldt [saloon]..."