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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.

Sticks and Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #17)

Sticks and Bones - Carolyn Haines

For whatever reason, as much as I love this series in general, this one failed to pull me in completely at the beginning.   Maybe it was the movie backdrop, or the over-the-top nastiness of one of the characters, or the batshit insanity of one of the others, but it just didn't grip me.  Jitty the ghost was also back to her nagging, irritating ways.


The mystery plot though was a big old snarl of a puzzle.  So many suspects, so many red herrings, but a plot twist that was supposed to shock but was telegraphed early on.  But still, a very good mystery.


I am though, for the record, thoroughly jacked with the way Haines is yanking her readers and Sarah Booth around over Coleman.  This is the book where it stopped being moving and starting just being ridiculous.  Either put them together or kill one of them off already.  The suspense has officially been over-played.

Impromptu Buddy Read of Grey Mask

Grey Mask - Patricia Wentworth

Themis-Athena and I have decided, very spur-of-the-moment, to buddy read Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth  starting this Monday, 14 August.


If anyone would like to join in and it's not too last minute, please do - everyone is welcome!

Flat Book Society - 3 day reminder (and the last one)

Just a quick reminder that there are 3 days of voting left to choose our first and second books. This is the last reminder too - the winners will be announced on Tuesday.


Voting for these first two books will close on August 15th.  Voting remains open for reads beginning January 1st.


The first read will begin September 1.


We've had great turnout and so far two books are tied for first place with 7 votes each.  You'll have to go to the group to find out which ones.  ;)


Click the octopus (he/she needs a name!) Huggins to go to the bookclub.

The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science

The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science - Sandra Hempel

Overall, this was good.  Hempel frames the rudimentary beginnings of forensic science - specifically toxicology - within the narrative of a famous poisoning case of the time, that of the Bodle family, which resulted in the death of George Bodle, the rather wealthy patriarch.  


She sets up a rather thrilling beginning; I was at once riveted to the story as we're walked through the morning of the poisoning.  I very much wanted to know what was going to happen next. 


And this is where Hempel falters.  Because just when you're on the edge of your seat, she launches into the science, the scientists and the research of the time, which leads her into side avenues of other contemporary cases. These are also interesting, but she throws so many names and events at the reader in these side alleys to her narrative, that by the time she wends her way back to the Bodles, I've lost track of who everybody was.  


This becomes slightly less of a problem in the second half of the book, as things become too exciting for Hempel to get sidetracked, but it's still a regular occurrence.  And the thing is, these deviations are the part where all the interesting science-y bits are; about all the attempts at trying to detect arsenic definitively; how Marsh was inspired to create his game-changing test, and how it wasn't *quite* the game-changer so many pinned their hopes on.  And it's all good stuff.  But Hempel is a victim of her own success at spinning a gripping narrative; I started out wanting the science-y bits but ended up just wanting to know who killed George Bodle.


Worth reading, definitely.  But it's not necessarily an easy read for unexpected reasons.

Death in the Vines (Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery, #3)

Death in the Vines: A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery - M.L. Longworth

Better than the last book; the multiple POVs here work better and Death in the Vines didn't feel as slow to start as book 2.


Three brutal murders just 1 week apart, all women.  Two of them identical attacks of young women, but the third is an old woman showing signs of dementia.  Proximity and timing make all three related but no one can find the connection.  This series is, at its heart, a police procedural so the story moves along in stops and starts as new evidence is collected and more information is run-down.  The unmasking was a little bit abrupt, but perhaps that's how some cases end up, who knows?


In the midst of this we have little vignettes of the supporting characters that are mostly charming; an odd twist with Marine Bonnet didn't quite work for me, but I suppose it worked to move their relationship a bit.  But the biggest non-plot news is Verleque's mysterious secret in his past is revealed - and it's a doozy; in a completely unexpected way.  Very interesting ground the author is treading here; the big reveal doesn't really happen until almost the end, and it's not followed up on, so I don't know where she's going to go from here, if anywhere.


But I have book 4 ready to go, so I won't have to wait long to find out.

The Flat Book Society - Reminder to vote

Just a reminder for those that belong to The Flat Book Society to vote for the books you'd like to read In September and November.


Voting will 'close' for these first two reads on August 15th, although the voting will remain open indefinitely for future reads in 2018.


If you have a book (or books) on your TBR that you think would fit the group, please feel free to add it to the voting list, using the field at the bottom of the voting page.  Books can be added at any time and will only come off the list if they don't fit the reading mandate, or if they're chosen for a group read (or have been there forever and gotten no love at all from anybody). 


If you think you'd like to join a group reading some laid-back science, please feel free to join us.

If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't)

If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't) - Betty White

I couldn't get this in audio here in Australia - which was my first choice - but I did run across a used copy of the hardcover at a sale, so I was finally able to read this.


It's a very fast read, made up of individual essays covering what is, I'm guessing, the most popular topics she's asked about.  Her stories regarding her career and her celebrity were interesting and sometimes laugh out loud funny, but I was really in it for the stories about her involvement with animals.  I was not disappointed.


I admit Betty White didn't interest me one way or the other until she became the fully employed actress in her 80s that she is (was - she's in her 90s now); she has become the poster woman, along with my mom, Betty White's contemporary, for how to age with grace and independence.  I hope I'm lucky enough to have my mom's health and Ms. White's humour and enthusiasm for life when (if) I hit my 80th decade and beyond.

Black Amber

Black Amber - Phyllis A. Whitney

Oh, Ms. Whitney, you had me.  You had me for the first 265 pages and then it all fell apart in what should have been the best scene, amidst a ruined palace in the middle of a thunderstorm.  To add insult to injury, the romantic entanglement's conclusion was really... unsatisfactory.


I don't care if the book was written in 1965 - Tracy spent the entire book being independent, wilful and unwilling to put up with being treated disrespectfully, only to completely turn into a mindless noodle in the last two pages.  He doesn't even ask her to marry him, he just tells her and she just simpers.

(show spoiler)


But for those first 265 pages the story is great - a slow building of suspense, a sort of creepy house, lots of creepy residents.  Tracy isn't the only person who has no clue what is going on around her; she has the reader for company.  The story builds for both reader and Tracy at the same time and it goes in completely unexpected directions.  


There are many readers out there that won't find page 266 so ruinous (trigger warning: animal cruelty) and they'll likely find the story to be a delightful surprise considering its romantic suspense category.  It's a good story overall, but Whitney wrote an even better one with Window on the Square, and she didn't have to resort to such a cheap device to elicit the same thrill of horror.


Black Amber is definitely one of her better crafted novels, with evidence throughout of the even better stories she was capable of writing.  It's definitely worth a read for anyone who can handle depictions of animal violence.  Me - I ultimately didn't like it.  I'll keep reading Whitney, but I'll definitely research her other books a hell of a lot more closely first from here on out.

Of Books and Bagpipes (Scottish Bookshop, #2)

Of Books and Bagpipes - Paige Shelton

Definitely not as good as the first one, but if you're looking for a mystery steeped in a Scottish setting, you might be able to overlook a few weaknesses.


As much as I love the setting - Edinburgh, in a bookshop - and I generally like all the characters a lot, the tone of the MC's 'investigating' didn't work for me at all.  Her need to know came across feeling super entitled; even when a thread to the mystery was tenuous at best, she'd just bluntly expect people to divulge their deepest secrets.


And the secrets behind this mystery plot are pretty deep and definitely dark, in spite of the bright cozy feel of the story overall.  The plotting of the mystery was excellent as the author wove a very intricate and detailed plot that went back 50 years.


There's a lot to like here, but I do wish the author could find a better balance for her main character, or at least create a backstory that justifies her invasiveness.  Doing so would elevate these mysteries a clear step above the average.

Lowcountry Bonfire (Liz Talbot, #6)

Lowcountry Bonfire - Susan M. Boyer

I really do love this series; reading it is like visiting a home town.  The settings and characters feel familiar (especially Liz's daddy).


I also really love Boyer's choices when she writes; she'll start with a predictable, out-there cozy cliche, but take it in a different direction.  She'll have fun with it, but not take it seriously.  Unlike another cozy author I read recently who took her story in a similar direction but tried to make it work, only to make a hash out of the entire thing.


Lowcountry Bonfire starts off with a woman setting her husband's car and his clothes on fire; retaliation for the affair he's been having.  When the firefighters pop open the trunk to control the fire they discover more than his clothes.  But Zeke was killed with strychnine and his wife didn't have access to any and she's devastated that he's actually dead.


Liz and Nate start investigating and Liz finds a 20 year off-the-grid gap in Zeke's history that opens up a viable channel for investigation.  What she discovers is fun for the reader in a Jason Bourne-ish kind of way, but ultimately it's the investigation closer to home that yields more results - realistic ones that are far more horrifying and heartbreaking.


Colleen's ghost doesn't get a lot of airtime here, although there was at least one scene where I thought she was just cruel; I like that she later had to face the consequences of taking a thing too far.  


I like where the author has Nate and Liz too; they're an old married couple now ::grin:: but they have a nice affectionate balance in their relationship that is believable and I've always liked that Nate respects her independence and ability to take care of herself.


This book might not have had all the gasps that previous books have had, but it was a very solid mystery with a red herring that was sort of fun to explore.  And if I ever have any renovations done on my house I am SO getting a secret compartment put in!  

The History of Birdwatching in 100 Objects - sort of a DNF

A History of Birdwatching in 100 Objects - Dominic Mitchell, David Callahan

I'm stopping midway through; it's not bad, but it's definitely a case of a trendy bandwagon that's suffering from over-crowding.  Nobody is ever going to convince me that Microsoft's PowerPoint changed the world of Birdwatching forever.


I'll likely pick it up again at some point in the future, but right now I'm just too impatient with their stretching of the envelope.  Non-fiction should not require me to suspend disbelief (unless it's string theory).  If you ask me, they might have been better off sticking with 50 objects.

July: Colophon

Please Mr. Einstein - Jean-Claude Carrière The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time - Keith Houston Dangerous To Know - Renee Patrick Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies - Harold Holzer The Secrets of Wishtide - Kate Saunders The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World - Kelsey Garrity-Riley, Yee-Lum Mak The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories - Michael Sims Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness - Nathanael Johnson

colophon: a statement at the end of a book, typically with a printer's emblem, giving information about its authorship and printing.


I don't have a printer's emblem, unless you count my gecko, but otherwise colophon seems to fit our monthly wrap ups pretty well.


I read 24 books this month, mostly in a the-game-is-almost-over rush to squeeze as much in as possible.  It's no longer practicable, sadly, to easily keep up with the number of pages read, because of at least two anthologies I only dipped into, rather than reading completely.


I had a great quality reading month with 2 Five-star reads and 7 four-and-a-half star reads. Far and away my favourite was Please Mr. Einstein by Jean-Claude Carrière.  


I had just one 1-star read, Assault and Beret by Jenn McKinlay  and it's already in the black box and a distant memory.


How was everyone else's reading month?

The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time

The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time - Keith Houston

I have to start by saying this poor book was an innocent bystander to the just-completed 2017 BookLikes-opoly game.  That is the only reason it took me 2.5 months to read it; it certainly wasn't due to any shortcomings on the part of the subject or writing itself.


The Book is exactly what it says it is on the cover: a history of every physical aspect of the book as we know it today; from the creation of the writing surface (clay, wax, papyrus, parchment, paper) to the development of writing itself, the process of putting one on the other, and the evolution of the useable and practical units (scrolls, codices, etc.) of collection.  Each part of what makes up the book is labeled, as can be seen on the cover itself.  No part is ever labeled more than once so it doesn't become tedious.


Far from being the dry, academic dissertation my description makes it sound like, The Book is really well written and very easy reading.  The author is knowledgeable and just relaxed enough and funny enough to remind you of a really good, relatable professor whose lectures you never mind attending.  Enjoyable enough, even, that a few dropped articles from the text weren't quite enough for me to ding my rating.  For those academically minded, there are very comprehensive notes and bibliography sections at the back.


I have the hardcover edition of this and it is beautiful. As close as you can come, I imagine, to a handmade book on a mass market scale.  My only quibble is that in the spirit of showing the reader what a book is made of, the covers are left as the raw fibreboard; it looks nice but it's not going to be durable unless care is taken with the corners.  I intend to take care, but still, I half wish they'd at least varnished the boards as a way of reinforcing those delicate corners.


If you not only love books for the stories they contain, but for the physical objects that they are, and you enjoy a bit of history, this book might be one for your permanent collection and it's very much worth having the physical hardcover edition - just make sure to watch those corners.

Booklikes-opoly: Post Game Review.

I've just submitted the review for my last BookLikes-opoly read, and before I do anything else, I want to thank Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for all their work, creativity, patience and generosity.  This game has been a whole lot of fun and I've enjoyed reading everybody's game updates (go magnetic monkey!) and seeing everyone's game-space selections.



Some personal game stats:


I read 58 books for BookLikes-opoly, 16,881 pages.


My goal for this game was to clear off some of the older books languishing on my TBR piles.  This was mostly a success, as 21 of the books were physically on my piles for 1 year or longer.


2 books tied for 'on the pile the longest' at 2 years and 11 months:  One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde  and Evanly Bodies by Rhys Bowen  


4 other books had been on the pile over 2 years and

15 books were hanging around between 1 and 2 years.


I only DNF'd 1 book (August Folly by Angela Thirkell) and I failed to read books for 3 spaces, a result of being overly optimistic about how much reading I'd do on holiday).  I had a chance to make up for this though, because as luck would have it, we had a 2-week school holiday in June that gave me much more time to read).


After the new rules were introduced in mid-June, I landed on 3 spaces twice;

2 spaces three times, and

3 spaces that were completely new to me.


The space I landed on the most was #8, which I landed on 4 times during the game.  I landed on #25 3 times and #17 twice and #35 once, making the mystery squares overall my most landed on spaces by a huge margin.  Next most frequent was small town USA (#10), which I hit three times.


My complete list of books is here.


How about everyone else?  Have you met your personal game goals?

The Unseen City

Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness - Nathanael Johnson

When I received this in the post, I was initially excited, but when I flipped it over to get the ISBN number, I saw the classification:  "Nature/Parenting".  I don't parent, unless you count herding cats, so I was afraid I'd stuck myself with a book that wasn't going to work for me.


I need't have worried - this is a great book!  The author uses his desire to interest his toddler daughter in science as the framework for this book, and at least once waxes a bit to philosophically, but overall, he sticks to (sorry parents) the good stuff.


Johnson breaks the book up into chapters involving animals that almost everyone in the world can find in their back yard (sadly, Aussies don't have squirrels, a state of affairs which I maintain makes their lives just a little less joyous):  pigeons, weeds, snails, crows, the ginkgo tree, etc.  Each topic is touched on enough to introduce and often fascinate the reader with just how diverse and unique the life under your urban feet can be.  I found myself reading much of this out loud to my husband, and Johnson has me mulling over the idea of starting a long term journal of my garden's wildlife.


The writing is easy and entertaining and I found myself reluctant to put it down, making it one of the faster-paced non-fiction/science books on my shelf.  The bibliography at the back has at least 2 titles I'll be hunting down soon (on edible weeds and which ones taste good).  It's a thoroughly enjoyable read and honestly, worth it alone for the stories about the crows.





My last BookLikes-opoly book:   209

$$: $12.00  (3x location multiplier)


Take the Cannoli

Take the Cannoli: Stories From the New World - Sarah Vowell

A collection of Vowell's essays culled from several magazine/newspaper columns and This American Life, this is one of those books that is difficult for me to rate.


On the one hand, I found her dry humour entertaining, but on the other, I'm not a fan of cynicism in general, and Vowell's weaponised form often taxed my patience.  


She and I are the same age, but our childhoods did not share much in the way of common experiences, and we definitely don't share a common political view.  I was, in fact, incredulous that she referred to perjury on the part of a president as a "fib".  But we do share a deep, abiding love for our country even when it disappoints and horrifies us.


The essays I connected with, or enjoyed most were the ones where she was able to put her disaffected persona to the side (or at least mute it) and talk about those experiences common to most everybody: battles with insomnia, her experiences at the rock and roll camp, learning to drive.  There's an essay about Chicago that is brilliant and even though I think she let herself get in her own way, her piece on the Trail of Tears was devastating and moving.


So even though I can't say I loved this work, it's only because I was unable to find enough common ground to do so.  But I do think Vowell is an excellent writer and I'd happily read more of her work; she has a book on famous assassinations I've had my eye on for some time now that I'm definitely going to hunt down.


I read this book for my final Free Friday read; it was 209 pages.