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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 Dancing Floor

The Dancing Floor - Barbara Michaels

I'm beginning to realise how far Barbara Michaels' later work departs from her earlier, more simplistic, romantic suspense novels.  Once again, The Dancing Floor is not at all what I expected it to be given my earlier experiences with Ammie, Come Home and Sons of the Wolf.  Though having said that, this isn't much different in some ways, just a more sophisticated version.


The MC, Heather, is following the English garden tour itinerary her late father had meticulously planned with her before his untimely death.  The trip culminates in a visit to a private estate with one of the few original, unaltered gardens in existence.  When she's rebuffed at the gate, she sneaks in the back, scaring herself stupid and getting caught in the process.  The owner is an eccentric old man who decides fate has brought her there and convinces her to stay on to help him restore the gardens.   This is all set in an English village related to the Pendle Witch trials, so there's a lot of superstitions and possible paranormal activity going on, and then a boy goes missing.


It's a good story, and I always enjoy the banter between Michaels' characters, but there are a lot of unanswered questions too.  Heather's obviously got a lot of mother issues, but they're never explained.  Neither are her nightmares.  And the title of the book does not play into the plot at all.  The Dancing Floor is mentioned 3 or 4 times in the book as another mystical location, but that's it.


Michaels decides to put the suspense in the romance in this book; she's got so many men making passes at Heather (a 'husky' MC whose love of eating is a constant source of one-liners - in a good natured way - throughout the story) and it's not until the very end that anyone is declared the love interest.  And I do mean the end, as in the last 3 pages.


Not one of her greatest, but a fun book nonetheless.


I read this as my final wild card selection in Halloween Bingo.  I'm using it for the Fear the Drowning Deep square.



The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Not the book I was expecting based on reviews I'd read.  I was mentally prepped for a darker, somewhat more manipulative, maybe almost a templaric tale.  It wasn't any of those things, but it is an excellent story.


The MC is contacted by an author who is both very reclusive and famous to an almost unholy degree, to write her biography; her true biography, not one of the dozens of made-up tales she's told over the years.  She's finally ready to reveal who she is and what really happened at Angelfield Hall.


I didn't like the MC much (Margaret); her level of personal drama/victimisation irritated me to distraction.  As someone who is neither a romantic nor a twin, I found the level of pain and mourning to be, if I'm being kind, too far removed from my experience to fully empathise.  If I'm not being kind, I found it heavy-handed and unrealistic.  Someone should have shoved both Margaret and her mother into counselling decades ago.


I liked Vida Winter though (the author whose biography she is writing).  This character is where Setterfield's talent as a writer over-shined my irritation with the soppy MC.  Vida Winter kept me reading, even when I'd have rather not.  (There are some twisted family dynamics in this book.)   Her ability to weave a tale borders on magic, and she used language to enthral, manipulate and trick her reader, and did it in a way that made me bump my rating up a 1/2 star.  Her crafting of the plot was outstanding and I did not anticipate that twist; I was so busy anticipating a different twist - one that would have ruined the book in my eyes - that I was rather blindsided by this one. Well played.


My favorite quotes from the book:

"I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy.  And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. [...] I still forget myself when I'm in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that.  When I was a child, books were everything.  And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books.


and this scene (which I've edited for brevity):


"Doctor Clifton came. [...] He took a thermometer and instructed me to place it under my tongue, then rose and strode to the window.  With his back to me, he asked, 'And what do you read?'


With the thermometer in my mouth I could not reply.


'Wuthering Heights - you read that?'




'And Jane Eyre?'




'Sense and Sensibility?'




He turned and looked gravely at me.  'And I suppose you've re-read these books more than once?'


I nodded and he frowned.  'Read and re-read? Many times?'


I was baffled by his questions, but compelled by the gravity of his gaze I nodded once again.


He removed the thermometer from my mouth, folded his arms, and delivered his diagnosis. 'You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination.  Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits.  Whilst on one level the crisis can be ascribed to wandering about in the freezing rain without the benefit of adequate waterproofing, the deeper cause is more likely to be found in some emotional trauma. [...] You'll survive.'


'Treatment is not complicated: eat, rest, and take this ...' he made quick notes on a pad, tore out a page and placed it on my bedside table, 'and the weakness and fatigue will be gone in a few days.'  [...]


From the door, he saluted me and was gone.


I reached for the prescription.  In a vigorous scrawl, he had inked:   Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes.  Take ten pages, twice a day, until end of course."


Sherlock Holmes: the cure for what ails you.



I read this book for the 13 Square in Halloween Bingo.

Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels, #10)

Magic Triumphs -  Ilona Andrews

Kate's last hurrah.  There's really not much I can say about it that wouldn't spoil some aspect of the story.  It was an outstanding story, and I'm sitting here trying to come up with something, anything to pick apart, and all I've got is a microscopic disappointment


about Erra.  I liked her better dead, although I can see she's going to be a catalyst in Julie's story.

(show spoiler)


I found the Kate's ultimate solution clever; perhaps I should have seen it coming, but I'm glad I didn't.  Clever not only in the fictional sense; Kate and Curren's story has been neatly and happily ended, but the Andrews' left themselves a back door.  Just in case.  I sort of hope they never use it.  As much as I adore this series - and I will miss it - the story arc was perfectly crafted and perfectly ended.  Resurrecting it would risk feeling exploitative.  


Not much of a review, really, but while I could talk for some time about this book, the events, the characters, it could only ruin a great story for those that haven't yet read it.  For Kate fans, all I can say is: it's excellent.


I read this for the Spellbound square in Halloween Bingo.

The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure

The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure - Robert Arthur, Alfred Hitchcock, Harry Kane

I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to find this as amusing as I did, but I'm several decades past its target demographic.  I'd never read a Three Investigators book before and know a few people with fond memories of them, so I wanted to give one a try. 


I'm not going to touch on the sheer fantasy of what is the foundational premise of the books; they were written to be adventures and mysteries for kids (I use 'kids' as a broad spectrum noun here) and why not make these kids important?  Why not give them more parental freedom and the only junk yard in the world that would be fun and safe to play in. 


But it was still hilarious.  The gnomes, which are probably not PC by today's standards.  The Japanese representation, which is definitely not, yet feels innocently done here - yes, the authors' should have been more sensitive, but the kids reading it at the time would likely have read it in total naiveté.  I didn't find the Japanese speaking stereotypically funny at all, but I did have a good head shake over it.


Mostly what I found funny were the three boys, and that's just because despite my best efforts, I grew up and can't avoid seeing the playacting taking place.  Still, their hideout sounds cool as hell and I loved the Alfred Hitchcock appearances.  That man just couldn't stay on the sidelines of anything, could he?


I read this for the Baker Street Irregulars Square in Halloween Bingo.

The Unboxing, or the final reckoning (Photo heavy post)

So, the final box arrived today.  YAY!  But now it's time for the final reckoning, and I give you:


How I Spent My Summer Vacation


First the raw damage (most of it anyway, there are a couple of stacks outside of the frame):


Messy.  I sorted through them and created stacks by category.  Hopefully the titles come through legibly.


Historical Mysteries, and Golden Age Crime stories.  Highlights include Patricia Wentworth, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Ellis Peters.  Quite a few new to me authors in these stacks too, which I'm looking forward to.  The acme of this category though - and all the others for that matter - is the 2 volume Annotated and Illustrated Sherlock Holmes containing all 4 novels and 54 short stories.  I nearly swooned when my sister (who spotted it first) passed on purchasing it herself.  Though I had to agree to leave it to her in my will.


Traditional and Cozy Mysteries.  A LOT of new to me authors here, mostly discovered at Bouchercon, either at the panels, on the giveaway tables, or in the book room.  


General fictionUrban Fantasy/Fantasy and Romantic Suspense.  I think one or two of the Pratchett books might have been orders that got commingled in, but I honestly don't remember.  The highlight of this one is the Compleat Ankh Morepork, which I'm looking forward to really looking at.  I also bought most, if not all, the books I was missing in Hearn's Iron Druid series, a few Phyllis A. Whitney titles and one old vintage title I have never heard of; could be good, could be awful.  It was a buck and I was feeling brave.


Easter-cat says "Hi - just passing through".


Non-fiction, Children's and Hardcover Upgrades.  The stack in front are hardcovers of books I enjoyed enough to upgrade.  There's also a copy of Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them, as well as my three autographed titles by Judy Blume (squee!).  The Snark Bible snuck in there; that's actually a surprise gift from my Sister in Law in Sydney who saw it and knew I had to have it, proving she's the bestests of SILs...


Now, a more organised view of the wreckage:

Not passing through this time - get OUT OF MY BEANBAG! 


Lest you think I did ALL the damage on this trip, here I am throwing MT under the bus:

Admittedly, smaller stacks - and some of them came from my participation at Bouchercon, but what damage he did do, he did at one small FOTL sale in about 15 minutes.  Now consider that when looking at these and imagine the damage he could have done at the other 6 bookshops and Bouchercon...


I was quite restrained, by comparison...   ;-)


The Haunting of Fox Mill

The Haunting of Fox Mill - Phyl Cooke

I bought this at a book sale because I thought a good old vintage ghost story would be fun.


It's a pretty terrible book.  The writing is clumsy, the female MC stupid, childish and immature, and the plotting resembled a car crash.  The romance was unbelievable even by mid-century standards.  The ghost story part was not even a little bit scary; frankly the possibility that rabies might be to blame for the strange occurrences was the scarier part.


Oh well, no chance I'll have to sleep with the light on, at least.


I read this for the Ghost Stories square in Halloween Bingo.

Guess what today is...

Unboxing and haul pictures coming soon!


The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crimes, #2)

The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde

What can ever be said about a Jasper Fforde book that would make sense to anyone that hasn't read one?  This is the second in what is, so far, a two book series about what crime would look like if Nursery Characters lived in the real world.  Jack Spratt, the head of the Nursery Crimes Division, investigates several seemingly unrelated crimes:  Porridge smuggling, a missing Goldilocks, the escape of the Gingerbread man, and his new car that never ages, with a painting in the boot that does.  All while fighting suspension based on a pending psych evaluation after being swallowed by the Big Bad Wolf.


It's not all Mother Goose either, side characters include Spratt's daughter Pandora and her soon to be husband, Prometheus and at least one character from Shakespeare.  Oh, and an alien.  Because, why not?


In spite of sounding (and mostly being) silly, it's not an easy/breezy book to read.  There are layers in the writing and the jokes and the references that are easy to miss.  There's a subtle - very subtle - disregard for the fourth wall, where the characters not only recognise they're in a book (a la Thursday Next), but will make subtle reference to the author and the reader.  So not only is it a book where the overload of satire is best enjoyed in small doses, but one that if carefully read will give more humorous dividends than a quick read would.


Generally it's just a hell of a lot of fun to read.  The puns get punnier towards the end and there was at least one *snort*chuckle in the last 30%.  It might have been it was late and I was tired, but 


cuculear power 

(show spoiler)


made me laugh.


I read this for the Modern Noir square in Halloween Bingo.  It's a gimme for the Grimm Tale square, but I've already read that terrible retelling of Snow White and it's not going to have been for nothing, and Spratt's attitude and methods are definitely noir-ish.

Bingo Update #5 - Mid-game update

I'm officially caught up with all the calls at this point.  My reading can be a little more intuitive from here - at least until the next square is called and I probably hare off to get it read.


Southern Gothic Drowning Deep modern noir relics and curiosities Country House Mystery
Free Square Grimm Tale
darkest london baker street irregular romantic suspense


Squares are greyed out until they're called.  

Called squares will be full-strength.

Read but not called squares will be greyed out below.

Called and read will have a marker on it and the marker will 'disappear' from the picture below.  


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



As squares are called, pieces of the picture will disappear, as they reappear on the card; as one picture disintegrates, another will emerge.  :)


My loose plan for the squares is as follows.  I'm tracking my actual reads on a spreadsheet, so this list may or may not get updated. 


First Row:

Southern Gothic:Woman Without a Past - Phyllis A. Whitney  READ ON 19 SEPTEMBER see review

Fear the Drowning Deep: The Dancing Floor - Barbara Michaels (Used Wild Card) READ ON 7 OCTOBER see review

Modern Noir: The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde  READ ON 2 OCTOBER see review

Relics & Curiosities: Vermilion - Phyllis A. Whitney  READ 23 SEPTEMBER see review

Country House Mysteries: Pigeon Pie Mystery - Julia Stuart READ ON 10 OCTOBER see review


Second Row:

Amateur Sleuth: A Room with a Brew - Joyce Tremel READ ON 1 OCTOBER see review

Doomsday: Get Well Soon - Jennifer Wright READ ON 24 SEPTEMBER see review

Spellbound: Magic Triumphs - Ilona Andrews READ ON 4 OCTOBER see review  

Cozy Mystery: The Grub-and-Stakers Quilt a Bee READ ON 1 OCTOBER see review

Terror in a Small Town: Murder at an Irish Wedding - Carlene O'Conner READ ON 8 OCTOBER see review


Third Row:

Murder Most Foul:  Marigolds for Malice - Bailey Cattrell READ ON SEPTEMBER 25

New Release: The World of All Souls READ ON 21 SEPTEMBER see review

Free Square: The Colour of Magic READ ON 24 SEPTEMBER see review

Classic Horror: The Prince of Darkness (Used Wild Card) READ ON SEPTEMBER 27 see review

A Grimm Tale: Poison - Sarah Pinborough  READ ON 22 SEPTEMBER read review


Fourth Row:

Darkest London: The Sherlockian - Graham Moore  or A Beautiful Blue Death - Charles Finch  

Shifters: Wild Hunger - Chloe Neill  READ ON 27 AUGUST Review here  

Baker Street Irregulars: The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure - Robert Arthur READ ON 2 OCTOBER see review

Romantic Suspense: Be Buried in the Rain - Barbara Michaels READ ON SEPTEMBER 14 see review 

13: The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield READ ON 6 OCTOBER  see review


Fifth Row:

Cryptozoologist: Hunted - Kevin Hearne  READ ON 3 SEPTEMBER Review here

Genre: Suspense: Locked Doors-Mary Roberts Rinehart READ ON 30 SEPTEMBER see review

Diverse Voices: Hollywood Homicide - Kellye Garrett READ ON SEPTEMBER 23 see review

Gothic: Houses of Stone - Barbara Michaels  READ ON 29 SEPTEMBER see review

Ghost Stories: The Haunting of Fox Mill - Phyl Cooke READ ON 2 OCTOBER see review

A Room with a Brew (Brewing Trouble Mystery, #3)

A Room with a Brew - Joyce Tremel

This series started out promising, but this third one fell flat for me.  Way too much exposition, a lot of irrelevant, and a general feeling of friendships that are forced onto each other.  The latter is probably more my introverted reaction to people getting into each other's business.


In the course of plans for a weekend Oktoberfest celebration at her brew put, Max and her friends go out to listen to the band she's hired.  In the course of the evening one of the band members pulls the "haven't we met before?" on Max's friend Candy.  The next day, another band member calls Max claiming he has to talk to her in person to share important information, but he's killed before they meet.   


The bones of the mystery are good; really good, as a matter of fact.  But the ... flesh of the story was too outlandish.  Candy's backstory could have been believable, but it was too heavy handed and it tarnished an interesting and believable plot.  Even the purpose of that fateful phone call was plausible, but it got lost in all the cloak and dagger.


I read this for the Amateur Sleuth square in Halloween Bingo.

Thank you Linda H!!!

Might be the fastest arrival time for any package sent to me here.  Arrived in perfect condition!


Thank you again for your generous gift.  I've picked out several recipes to try out as a start.  :)



The Grub-and-Stakers Quilt a Bee

The Grub-and-Stakers Quilt a Bee - Alisa Craig

Years and years ago, I picked up one of the Grub and Stakers books, House a Haunt because of the quirky name and the allusion to a ghost story.  I remember having to make myself finish it (I did that back then), but I couldn't remember why; it must have held some attractions because when I saw several for sale in the book room at Bouchercon, I bought them.


Now I remember why I had to make myself finish. But I don't know that it's because the books are bad, or if, as I suspect, it's because they're meant to be a type of satire/humor that I'm not primed for.  Alisa Craig is, after all, Charlotte Macleod, an author with more than a few awards and lifetime achievement honors under her belt. 


I've never read (that I can remember) anything else by Macleod, but these are written with tongue so firmly in cheek, it's silly.  The characters are over-the-top in a grandiose fashion.  A random opening of the book brings this example of the narrative style:


"I should hope so, egad," Arethusa replied. "I shall sit mumchance at the sideboard, like the twenty-ninth of February."




"I have speculated, Dittany. I have also remarked the absence of smudges, stains, or deposits of bird droppings on his garments despite the fact that yon aforementioned ledges have visibly served as roosting places for our feathered friends for, lo, these many decades. I have concluded that it would have taken a degree of ingenuity, agility, and persistence most remarkable in an elderly man of sedentary habit and scholarly inclination for Mr. Fairfield to have accomplished such a feat."

Most of that painful verbosity comes from two characters, a Regency Romance author, played to the hilt of stereotype in that way that usually the Brits do better than anyone, and the Sergeant, a Scotsman.  Another character is a famous author of westerns and he is also played to the hilt of stereotype.  


And it is hilarious - the book - on the whole, and the mystery was really clever.  But it was often a slog getting through all that florid writing.  If this book doesn't hold the record for the most occurrences of "forsooth" it must surely be a contender.  The thing is, there's genius here; if Monty Python wrote a cozy, it surely would look a lot like this.


I read this book for the Cozy Mystery square in Halloween Bingo.

Locked Doors

Locked Doors - Mary Roberts Rinehart

I'm so glad I've 'discovered' Mary Roberts Rinehart.  I've only read a very few of her works so far, but the ones I've read have been well worth it.


Locked Doors is a short story, but published on its own by Dell back in 1941 (though first copyrighted in 1914).  A nurse and undercover agent for the police, Miss Adams takes on a queer assignment watching over two perfectly healthy boys, who are never allowed to leave their nursery.  She and the boys are locked in at all hours, with windows nailed shut, and parents who stay up all night watching the stairs with abject terror.


Short the story may be in pages, but long in suspense, and fast in pace.  If you can find this story anywhere, I highly recommend it; I promise you, you'll never see that ending coming.  


I read this for the Genre: Suspense square of Halloween Bingo.

Houses of Stone

Houses of Stone - Barbara Michaels

I'm not sure what to make of this book.  It's a much longer, slower-paced book than most of Barbara Michaels' body of work.  It's also a lot meatier and it reads very much like Michaels had a couple of agendas when she wrote it, among them feminism, history and archeology, and the origins of the gothic novel.  Anyone familiar with Barbara Michaels knows she was qualified on all fronts.


Unfortunately, though she did redeem herself about 75% of the way through, I never really warmed to the MC, Karen.  In fact it took me that long to remember her name, though I could have rattled off a list of all the secondary players without a problem.  For most of the book she's so ardently 'feminist' that she is paranoid and distrustful of literally every word that comes out of anyone's mouth.  Her best friend Peggy spends much of the first half of the book apologising to her for perceived slights.  I put the word feminism in quotes before because Karen equates being a feminist with having that mistrustful chip on her shoulder, when in reality that chip has more to do with her own perception of herself and how she is always 'handled' by others.  It's no coincidence that the point at which she started letting go of all her resentment was the same one at which I started to like her.


Houses of Stone is a story of a story within a story within a story, and though there are suspicious and mysterious events that happen from start to finish, it never really had that typical build up of tension inherent to mysteries or suspense.  There was a climax of sorts, but honestly it sort of felt tacked on so the paranormal aspect of the book could be wrapped up.  The heart of this book is about the research involved when an important, previously unknown text is discovered.  With a tad of romance, intrigue and deception.


For me, Peggy made this book.  I loved her competent, no-nonsense attitude and Ioved how comfortable in herself she was, and therefore how unstoppable a force.  She kept me reading long after I'd have gotten fed up with Karen; a fortunate thing, since I'd have missed a good story otherwise.


I read this as a buddy read with Linda Hilton and Moonlight Reader and also for the Gothic Square for Halloween Bingo. a square in Halloween Bingo - but which square I'm not sure as yet.  I'm hoping to hear Moonlight Reader's thoughts because I'm not sure I'd call this romantic suspense; I had thought maybe gothic but I'm not really sure of that now either.  Worst case, Barbara Michaels is my wild card author, so the book, besides being enjoyable will serve a purpose for bingo no matter what.

A moment of Awww....

My first bingo in real time ...

Carlito was super-impressed with my efforts until I had to stop him from eating the card (he's tidying up after his aborted snack); once he realised I was not giving him a new chew toy, he became super UN-impressed.