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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.

LitHub launches a site for Crime and Mystery Fans

Just read about CrimeReads in Otto Penzler's Mysterious Books newsletter.  I enjoy LitHub's site, so this seems like a promising off shoot.  





Spells and Scones (Magical Bakery, #6)

Spells and Scones - Bailey Cates

Eh.  I generally enjoy Bailey Cates' writing, but a few of my least favorite tropes were trotted out for this one:  the relationship crossroads; the ex's last ditch effort (which was SO transparently meant to give Steve an HEA) at reconciliation; the jealousy bit with Mungo the dog... eh.


The mystery plotting  didn't light up my disco ball either. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great; too few clues and a reliance on the 'lightbulb' moment at the very end.  Reading Golden Age mysteries is ruining my mediocre tastes.


Still, a relaxing enough read when one's brain has been overtaxed in real life.



This book qualifies for the Murder Your Darlings Scene of the Crime card:  Gryffindor Common Room.  This was one of the crime scenes identified by Nighttime Reading Center in the Green Game Round, so worth 10 points for my team (Themis-Athena, Lillelara and myself).


My misunderstanding of the rules left me with this book unused, so I'm using it for the Suspect: Jane Austen cards.  (Alliterative Title)

Reading progress update: I've read 102 out of 354 pages.

I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

Talk about packing it in - the last 50 pages have been dense with fascinating information.  I loved reading about the squid, the hyenas sort of squicked me out a bit (beware strange pastes on savannah grass), and Wolbachia... what can be said about Wolbachia other than they are the feminists of the bacterial world.  


I've known for some time about the duality of bacteria, the thin line between beneficial and lethal, but I was pretty surprised to read that viruses offer humans (and other animals) that same dual nature.  I knew scientists were using modified viruses as delivery mechanisms, but the idea that they naturally exist within our physiology and that we're reliant on them to control rogue bacteria was new to me.  It really does seem that the more I learn, the harder it becomes to categorise anything in the world as purely good or purely evil.


Except cockroaches.  Nobody will ever convince me they're anything other than satan's little minions.

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher

If I try to remove my bias, this is probably more a 4.5 star read, but my unapologetic adoration of Sherlock Holmes makes it impossible; this story was just too much fun for a fan like me.


In brief (ok, not really):  a movie is being made of The Adventure of the Speckled Band and a Holmesian society called The Baker Street Irregulars is vociferously opposed to the studio's choice of writer.  The society roster has enough Big Names that the studio must take them seriously, but the writer - an unapologetic and acidic critic of everything Holmes - has an iron-clad contract making it impossible to fire him.  In an effort to appease the Baker Street Irregulars, 5 of them are invited to Hollywood to act as script advisors, but during their welcome party, the scriptwriter crashes the party, makes a drunken spectacle of himself, is rendered unconscious, and taken upstairs to sleep it off. He is subsequently murdered during the night, long after the party is over, leaving the Baker Street Irregulars both prime suspects and eager amateur investigators determined to do The Master proud.


The best part of the story is the way Boucher works both actual Holmes titles/plot points into the story and the ones that Watson only teased readers with; those stories mentioned in passing during the published narratives.  Boucher was, without a doubt, a true Holmes aficionado.  


The story takes place in 1939, right on the eve of WWII and there's a strong political atmosphere woven throughout.  Hollywood in 1939 had a lot of Nazi spy and anti-Nazi activity, and this story takes place on the fringes of that atmosphere.  As a result, there are a few anti-Semitic comments throughout the text, but at no point did I ever feel this was editorial opinion on behalf of the author.  Any confronting comments are a natural result of the story and the overwhelming attitude of the book is not anti-Semitic.  


Most of all, the story is just fun; it's got that great Golden Age vibe to the writing that a reader either likes or not; done well, I love it, and here it's done well.  The story doesn't take itself seriously at all, but the plotting does: this is a fair play mystery; the clues are all there for everyone to use and in the end neither I, nor the Baker Street Irregulars, nor the LAPD could see what was right in front of us (although I did guess a plot twist, fat lot of good it did me).  But the person who solved it all ... that was almost the very, very best part of the book.  Boucher could not have ended it any better in my opinion and once all is revealed, it was clever. as. hell.


In short:  I loved it!



I read this as part of the Kill Your Darlings game, in fulfilment of the cause of death: dark alley beat down card.  It actually fulfils all three tasks on the card:

Read a book that was written or set between 1925-1975;

Read a book written by an American author;

Read a book that is set in a large city (LA).

It's official: I'm hooked.

So this happened today:



A local dealer had this copy for a relatively reasonable price.  It's cover has seen much better days and needs some desperate TLC, but the inside is all intact and in good condition.  Dennis Wheatley is the first author to put these 'solve yourself' mysteries together, and Murder Off Miami is the first one, and reportedly the best by far, that he did.


It'll be interesting to see if I can solve 2 for 2.  :)

Reading progress update: I've read 59 out of 336 pages.

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher

Disclaimer and dedication before the beginning of the book:


All characters portrayed or referred to in this novel are fictitious, with the exception of Sherlock Holmes, to whom this book is dedicated.


I'm predisposed to 5 star this book and I haven't even started it yet.


I laughed myself silly through the prologue, which included The Baker Street Irregular's Constitution and manifesto:


From the constitution:

Article IV:

The officers [of the Baker Street Irregulars] shall be: a Gasogene, a Tantalus, and a Commissionaire.


But then there's this, on page 59:


But ignorant though I am, I cannot help thinking and feeling and worrying.  And it seems to me, Miss O'Breen, that to forswear mercy is to forswear humanity.  If to destroy evil we take up its very weapons, we shall learn in time that all we have destroyed is the best in ourselves."


Early pages yet, but it's clear it won't be all silliness and parody.

Kill Your Darlings Green Round 2 Read

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher


I misunderstood the deadlines for the game, and raced through my first read thinking my guess was due today rather than Saturday.  This wasn't a hardship as I really enjoyed the book but I've also ended up with a little breathing space.  Still jumping into this one though, simply because after having 're-discovered' it in my TBR, I'm itching to read it.  It ticks all three boxes too:  Written in 1940, by an American author and set in Hollywood.  Trifecta!  :)

Reading progress update: I've read 47 out of 354 pages.

I Contain Multitudes - Ed Yong

Jus about every book of non-fiction covering a specific subject starts off in much the same way:  easing the reader into the meat of the book by subjecting them to a broad-view history / overview / introduction.  These introductory chapters are the bane of my existence as I generally find them tedious; the tax I have to pay to get to the good stuff.


Strictly speaking, the first two chapters of this book adhere to this pattern, but they didn't feel at all tedious to me, which is a surprising and delightful change of pace.  Were I constitutionally able to mark a book, there would have been many, many underlines sections.  Right off the bat in the prologue, I finally find out what a pangolin is (and there's a picture in the middle section of my edition!). I found his condensation of the planet's history to a 1-year span brilliant; nothing puts the insignificance of the human race in perspective like saying we've only existed for 30 minutes. The last 30 minutes of the year.  Bacteria, on the other hand, have existed since the previous March.


I have mixed feelings about the microbe museum in Amsterdam; one of those times I'm both fascinated and repulsed.  I can't say for sure I'd visit on my next trip to Amsterdam - I'd like to think I would, but truthfully, eyelash mites creep me right the hell out. 

Kill Your Darlings Green Round 1 Suspect Guess: Team MbD / Lillelara / TA

Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor


Guess:  Madeleine L'Engle


Book read: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor  

The Flat Book Society: MAY read has been selected.

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

Well, the voting has closed for the May read for The Flat Book Society and the winner by popular vote is A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup.  This is pure chemistry but the author hooks it into the poisons used by Agatha Christie and the question: did she get it right?  The purists in the group need not be worried about this one; I think it will more than satisfy the parameters of our interests without overstepping the bounds too far into popular literature.


Anyone is welcome to join us - either as part of the group, or as an interested buddy reader. 


Maintenance note:  I have not yet cleared the voting list for the July voting as I want to give Portable Magic a chance to see this and transfer any books over to our master list that aren't already there.  I will let the group know when the list is open to new submissions.


Huggins asks:  Does anybody else smell almonds?

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary's)

Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor

The tl;dr version:  This book was a lot of fun; almost nothing was taken seriously, even during the serious parts.  Not in a disrespectful way, mind you, but not a word was spared for angst or melodrama. BrokenTune called it a romp, and a romp is exactly what it is.


Given my outspoken dislike of science fiction and dystopia, it's probably no surprise that I generally dislike time travel books too, but something about the setting of St. Mary's (which I originally thought was a school and therefore that this book was more YA - could not be more wrong) and the characters pulled me in anyway.  The title probably helped too, giving me the impression that this was not a book that was going to take itself seriously.


And it doesn't.  St. Mary's is a post-grad version of Animal House and the dialog is mostly of the banter type.  Honestly, I loved it; if they never left the grounds I might have adored it, but they do leave and that's when everything goes very pear shaped.  If I were Max, I'd have refused to go so far as the front gates after the first 100 pages or so.  But every trip through time ends disastrously in furtherance of the plot (a series arc, by the way; this was never meant to be a standalone book).  The pace is fast and constant, the action packed in.  A total romp.


But, romp though it may be, this is not a book for the delicate.  There's a surprising amount of violence, death and sex.  Nothing descriptively graphic in detail; the death isn't gory (much) and the sex isn't explicit to the point of erotica, but they are both blunt enough to feel a tiny bit confronting at times, relative to the snarky, madcap adventure surrounding them.


This is not high falutin literature, but it's highly entertaining escapism.  The only thing I purely hated was the scene in the Cretaceous age.  The human race just sucks.  But I raced through the rest and I'll happily devour the next one.



I read this as part of the Kill Your Darlings game, in fulfilment of the Suspect: Madeleine L'Engle card (Read a book that involves time travel or has the main character involved in STEM)

Excited to play much?


Most of you know my husband owns a printing company, and for all the time I spend on a computer, I actually have a really hard time reading off a screen, sooo....



Let the games begin!  :D

The Flat Book Society: March Read begins today! I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong

Who's excited to real all about the bazillions of microbes that live in, on and around us?  Who amongst us hasn't at some point wished they owned their own zoo?  The good news is: we do!  It's just really, really tiny.


Put away the hand sanitiser and read about how these gazillions of little critters are not only almost entirely harmless, not only beneficial, but, indeed, how we are the ones dependent on them for life.


I've only read the first chapter so far, but it's good.  Really good.  And I only felt the compulsive need to disinfect once, when he mentioned keyboards.  Because contrary to what Yong says, they are a hot mess of infective nastiness.  There might be less than 100 species that are pathogenetic, but I'll bet at least 90 of them are on your average keyboard.


Huggins asks:  have you cleaned your keyboard?

February Reading Wrap-Up

File on Fenton & Farr - Q. Patrick Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language - Emma Byrne This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection - Carol Burnett

Clearing my slate before the new Kill Your Darlings game and the Flat Book Society's March read begins.


I've read 19 books this month.  Real life in February was a cranky bastard and I just didn't have the luxury of time I usually do.  Still, 19 is a much higher number than I expected and I'm very satisfied, all things considered.


A few stats:

3 Five star reads

4 Four star reads

1 1.5 star read; my lowest rating of the month.


13 books by women

6 books by men

4 audiobooks

7 non-fiction

12 fiction


In an effort to curb my TBR piles this year, I'm only allowing myself to buy half as many books as I read in the previous month.  If I buy less than the month's budget, I can carry over the balance.

February cumulative balance:  19

Books bought in February: 13

Carry over:  6

March budget: 9

Total book budget for March:  15


In truth, I thought I'd have blown this by now; it helps that I accidentally missed the library sale last month.  Something tells me I won't do so well when the next one comes around.




Horrible Histories: The Groovy Greeks and the Rotten Romans

The Groovy Greeks And The Rotten Romans (Two Horrible Books In One) - Terry Deary

Eh.  Gross overuse of the word "Groovy" in the Greek part, and generally not as well laid out as the HH on World War I.  For me, that is.  For the teens it was written for, and as a teaching aid, it's great.  A lot of quizzes that were far more interesting than any I had to take in school during world history class.  I especially liked the sections where they described how to play the games of ancient Greece and/or Rome, and the sample Roman menu is a great idea of you're reading this with teens.  I personally plan on making a camera obscura with my niece one of these days.


As always for me, the cartoons in these books are the best bits.

Murder in the Museum

Murder in the Museum - John Rowland, Peter Wickham Murder in the Museum - John Rowland

Wow, this was really not good.  I started listening to it on audiobook, and meant to DNF it, but my phone doesn't unlock while I'm in the car and I kept forgetting to pick a new book before driving off again.  By the time I got home last night I was 90% finished and thought 'to hell with it', grabbed my print copy, and just finished it off.


What I didn't like:

Henry Fairhurst:  He's sort of the co-MC of the book, along with Inspector Shelly.  He's a damp, hen-pecked, Walter Middy sort of fellow; whingey too.


Henry's sister:  every horrible stereotype about single women, crammed into one book.  Truly a horrible character I would not be able to resist smacking in real life.


Inspector Shelly: the other MC of the book, the Scotland Yard Inspector that goes around not only theorising before the facts, but telling all involved in the case that they are the facts, never mind silly things like official coroner reports, or post-mortems, or blood analysis.  Shelly says the man died of cyanide poisoning, then by golly, that's what he died of.  And speaking of cause of death:


The cause of death:  A man does not fall asleep in the British Museum Reading Room and peacefully die from cyanide poisoning mid-snore.  The author was a contemporary of Agatha Christie; I hope she smacked him upside the head with his own book before setting him straight.  Cyanide is a nasty way to die and I'm certain his snoring would have been the least offensive thing everyone in the Reading Room that day would have had to witness.


The writing:  Rowland writes as though he imagines his reader to be an idiot, the result being his characters all sound like idiots.  There are some very Dick and Jane moments in this book.


The plot:  Let me put it this way:  I read cozies, and I thought it was preposterous.  


What I liked:

The cover.  The title.  The British Museum setting, which ended after page 24.  I gave each 1/2 star, but it was all downhill from there.