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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.

Dead Interviews: Living Writers Meet Dead Icons

Dead Interviews: Living Writers Meet Dead Icons - Dan Crowe

Several modern day writers answer the question, if you could go back in time and talk to any famous writer, who would it be? by imagining how such interviews would go.


Some are straight-forward, some are really very clever, like the Samuel Johnson/Boswell interview imagined by David Mitchell, or Rebecca Miller's take on how an interview would go with the Marquis de Sade.  Some of them aren't even authors; Douglas Coupland interviews Andy Warhol, who he imagines finds heaven very dull.


I bought this because I saw Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the list and he's just about the only author I'd travel back in time to talk to, if I could.  Ian Rankin did the honours, but I was rather disappointed with his efforts, to be frank.  Very little came out of the exercise except perhaps a wicked hangover for Rankin if he was lucky, a court-ordered psych eval if he wasn't (fictitiously speaking, of course).


The weirdest by far was Joyce Carol Oates' disturbing and intensive extended grilling of Robert Frost.  I think it's fair to say, fictional imaginings or not, she does not like Robert Frost!  At the end of it, she is careful to remind readers it's a work of fiction, "though based opon (limited, selected) historical research", and then points the reader in the direction of Meyer's biography of Frost.  I'm betting there's a story to tell there somewhere.


It's an amusing collection of what-ifs, some of which, like with all such things, are better than others.  

The Art of Vanishing (Lila Maclean Academic Mystery, #2)

The Art of Vanishing - Cynthia Kuhn

Good, but not great; I thought the first book showed a lot of potential because I liked the setting, I liked the characters and I liked that the author wasn't trying to make everything cute.  It exceeded my expectations, which have, admittedly, been lowered dramatically by the dreck published en masse the last few years.


What I liked about this, the second one:

*  It's a mystery, but not a murder mystery.  This isn't uncommon in the mystery genre, but it's not mainstream either so it feels fresh.


*  The continuation of a narrative that doesn't feel overly melodramatic: Lila is just trying to get through her days.


*  No TSTL stuff.  Lila isn't running around trying to act like Nancy Drew and interrogate everyone; she just pays attention and thinks.


* I liked the plot twist; when I read it I started to think "same old, same old" but she did something a tiny bit different that really didn't matter much in the scheme of things, but again, gave it that tiny bit of freshness.



What wasn't so great about The Art of Vanishing

*  What's up with this trend of needing to have an over-the-top nasty nemesis?  How is it that in the current age of anti-bullying authors seem so hot to include cartoonish bullies in every book?  And Lila gets two of them - two nemesis (nemesii?) is surely two too many.


*  Love triangle setup.  'nuff said.


These are short and I think, better written than most of what's out there currently.  I hate the cliche of the love triangle but I'll give it one more book to see if - hopefully - the author is just dangling it there as a red herring.



Page count: 216
Dollars banked: $3.00

BookLikes-opoly: Bank, Board and Running History

I'll use this post to update my bank and keep track of how I roll.  



Current roll:

April 28th

Starting Bank Balance: $44.00


Roll: 5

Space #17: Mystery Square

Category: Read a book that is tagged cozy mystery.

Page count: 

$$:  $


Current Bank: $44.00


New Bank Balance: $44.00





Previous rolls:


April 25th

Bank Balance: $34.00


Roll: 5

Space #: BookLikes Square

Category: Roll the dice and do the task:

#7:  Double your dollars on your next read!

Page count: 514

$$:  $5.00  $10.00

Current Bank: $44.00



April 23st

Bank Balance: $29.00

Roll: 12 (double sixes)

Space #: 34

Category: TomorrowLand:  Read a book tagged Middle Grade or YA, or has a child or children's toy on the cover.

Page count: 160

$$:  $2.00


Doubles roll again:

Space #:  8

Category:  "?":  Read a mystery or a book with a title starting with any of the letters in CLUE

Page count: 220

$$:  $3.00

Current Bank: $34.00



April 21st

Bank Balance: $26.00

Roll: 11

Space #: FREE PARKING  (roll again: even #: electric co. / odd #: water works)

Free Parking Roll:  7  (Odd Number)

Space #: 23

Category:  WaterWorks:  Read a book with water on the cover, or where someone turns on the waterworks (i.e., cries) because of an emotional event.

Page count: 319

$$:  $3.00

Current Bank: $29.00



April 17th

Starting Bank: $23.00

Roll: 11

Space #: 18

Category: Carsland - Read a book published in any year a Cars movie was made: 2006, 2011, 2013 or 2014 or read a book with a car on the cover.

Page count: 262

$$:  $3.00

Current Bank: $26.00



April 15th

Starting Bank: $20.00                   

Roll: 8

Space #: 8

Category: Mystery 
Page Count:  216

$$: $3.00

Current Bank: $23.00


BookLikes-opoly: Turn 1 (April 15)

It's April 15th here already *waves from other side of the Date Line*, but I won't be starting my book until tonight at any rate - busy day in RL.


My first roll:



Which puts me on the ? square (#8):



Oddly enough, this is not going to be a challenge for me, lol.  I'm going with: The Art of Vanishing by Cynthia Kuhn:


The Art of Vanishing - Cynthia KuhnWhen Professor Lila Maclean is sent to interview celebrated author and notorious cad Damon Von Tussel, he disappears before her very eyes. The English department is thrown into chaos by the news, as Damon is supposed to headline Stonedale University's upcoming Arts Week.


The chancellor makes it clear that he expects Lila to locate the writer and set events back on track immediately. But someone appears to have a different plan: strange warnings are received, valuable items go missing, and a series of dangerous incidents threaten the lives of Stonedale's guests. After her beloved mother, who happens to be Damon's ex, rushes onto campus and into harm's way, Lila has even more reason to bring the culprit to light before anything--or anyone--else vanishes.


Page count:  228


The Delight of Being Ordinary

The Delight of Being Ordinary: A Road Trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama - Roland Merullo

The subtitle of this novel says everything about why it appealed to me from the start:


A Road Trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama


Then there was the author's note:


I am inclined to put my trust in spiritual figures who show a sense of humor, rather than those who take everything—including themselves—with a miserable seriousness. Life can be harsh, yes. The struggle to live a meaningful life, however we define that, can be rich with problems and challenges. But humor exists to soften the sharp edges of things. And so Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, both of whom laugh a lot, seem to me like wise teachers, extraordinary men in the difficult position of guiding billions of followers, of steering vessels with a heavy cargo of good and bad history, in the same general direction, across the rough seas of modem life. 


That right there is guaranteed to get my attention.  At school, part of the curriculum was world religions, because, as the nuns said, you can't respect what you don't understand.  


So, a story about the Pope and the Dalai Lama dodging their security teams and going on a 4 day road trip?  Yes please!  When it arrived I couldn't wait to get stuck into it, and what better day to read it than Good Friday?


It was so much more than I expected; true, I didn't quite know what to expect - I bought it on blind faith and the subtitle, but there was the humorous road trip I'd expected, plus theology, and mystical adventure and ultimately, the story of a marriage in crises and a startling narrative on the emotional baggage a relationship accumulates over time.


I didn't go the whole-hog 5 stars because even though I loved it, it did drag in a few places.  I think this is my fault; I couldn't put the book down and there's a lot of (really interesting) theology here; real, everyday, relatable theology, and I think the pacing would have worked better had I read this over several sessions, savouring instead of devouring it.  Also, the MC and narrator, Paolo, and his wife Rosa are a little too real.  The reader is truly inside Paolo's head and that insight to his thoughts is not always comfortable; he's a good man, but he's deeply flawed.


As much as I love this book, I can't honestly say it's for everyone.  Those who have confidently turned away from faith in anything greater than man need not bother, although the book does offer an accurate view of what faith should be about.  Those who do categories themselves as spiritual or religious or faithful might find this interesting, but it's going to depend on the rigidity of those beliefs. There are as many flavours of Christianity as there are stars in the sky (almost/not really) and RC offends quite a few of them.  And even RCs might have a tough time swallowing the ending; I admit I balked myself, at first.  What Merullo offers as a plot twist is confronting and I can't say reacted any better than Paolo did (at first).


Still, I loved this book; there are so many parts that resonated, from the faith through to the marriage.  I adored Pope Francis before this book, and still do, but now, I might have a bit of a crush on the Dalai Lama.  :)



The 20 Most Popular Books Throughout History

Saw this at:




It was going so well, until the very end...  


Source: http://electricliterature.com/infographic-the-20-most-popular-books-throughout-history-35769365df03

Letters From Paris

Letters from Paris - Juliet Blackwell

A Cajun woman who escaped her rough childhood to live the corporate life in Chicago, returns home to take care of her dying grandmother.  While she's there she rediscovers an old death mask in the attic (death masks were made from plaster moulds taken after someone died - it was a thing about a century ago), that leads her to Paris, searching for answers about the elusive face of L'Inconnue.


I really enjoy Juliet Blackwell's writing and this book did not disappoint.  It's not a perfect read; there are moments that aren't followed through at all or very well in the first half of the book, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story.


I bought this for the mystery and the setting; I've read her other book The Paris Key and remembered how vividly she brought Paris to life in my mind.  Paris came to life again here, although the mystery sort of fizzled. (I don't know how to explain it without spoiling so I'll leave it at that.)


The big surprise (for me) was the romance.  It was excellent!  I expected it to be more a suggestion of romance (as she did in her last Paris book), but here it was much more a part of the plot, and it made the book so much better.


What can I say?  I liked it - I'd recommend it.



Fatal Fortune (Psychic Eye Mystery, #12)

Fatal Fortune: - Victoria Laurie

Not as good as the last one, but a very decent read.


Six months have passed since Abby woke up with the bomb strapped on her chest, and she's enjoying her life being as dull and routine as possible, until she gets a voice mail from her best friend at 3am telling her "It's not what it seems" and asking her to immediately go to their shared office to get and hid a file.  Afterwards, she finds out Candace is wanted for murder - and the entire crime is caught on video.


The rest of the book is Abby's attempts to first find her friend for an explanation and ultimately to hopefully prove her innocence.


There's less sentimentality in this book, but the plotting feels a little nutty.  It's no more nutty than a bomb strapped to your chest, but that had the benefit of suspense... it was written to be a high tension story, while this one is a more traditional mystery.  It was still good though; I was able to read the whole thing in one setting today (an admittedly lazy day) because it was written more than well enough to keep my attention.


I've got one more in my pile, and I might be getting to it sooner rather than later.  It's been fun to be in Abby's world, and I'm not quite tired of it yet.

Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers

Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers - Paul Dickson

Another glossary type reference, but without the narrative hook that made  Roger, Sausage & Whippet so very engrossing.


This one is all about words coined, or first used by, authors.  Shakespeare of course, although he doesn't have the showing you'd expect.  A lot of words we take for granted today as being newish, but were actually coined over 100 years ago.  (Jane Austen was the first to use base ball in a literary work.  Google, while not more than 100 years old, has actually been found in a collection of stories published in 1942 - used as a verb, btw - and long before Sergey Brin and Larry Page were born.)


The author is a neologist himself, something that is made quite clear by his unapologetic promotion of words he's claimed credit for.  By the end remarks, it seemed to me that it was very important to him that his name live on in connection with language.  It's good to have goals, I guess. 


Some of my favourite words from the collection:


Alogotransiphobia: fear of being caught on public transportation with nothing to read. (Created by George V. Higgins in 1992)


Bibliobibuli: drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion. (Created by H.L. Menken)


Page 99 Test: Ford Maddox Ford recommended that readers not judge a book by its first few pages, instead recommending that readers "open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."  Carried forth on the website page99test.com.



Roger, Sausage & Whippet: A miscellany of Trench Lingo from the Great War

Roger, Sausage and Whippet - Christopher   Moore

When I first picked up this book, I figured I'd flip through it, stopping at words that caught my eye along the way and be finished up with it in a few hours; it's a glossary, after all.


But then I discovered that each lettered section begins with the reproduction of a letter from the front; a man named Charles, writing to his parents, his brother and his nephew.  These were good - they were better than good, they turned a freaking glossary into a narrative, and in addition to learning new words (and meanings for old words), I had to keep flipping so I could find out what happened to Charles next, always sure that I was going to get to 'Z' to find a bad news telegram or something.  I didn't.


I knocked off 1/2 a star because, while Charles makes it to 'Z', you never find out what happens to him in the rest of the war.  A letter at the very start makes it clear he survived, but with 2 years of the war left, 'Z' leaves the reader with something of a small cliffhanger.


Still, way better than your average glossary for readability!


Deadly Forecast (Psychic Eye, #11)

Deadly Forecast - Victoria Laurie

I used to really enjoy this series and always read them as soon as they came out, but the ninth book in the series, Vision Impossible was so... ridiculous, it really put me off the newer books, even after reading and enjoying #10.  Which means this one languished on my TBR for over 3 years before I finally forced myself to pick it up yesterday.  


Boy I'm glad I did; it was really good.  I didn't realise it was a cross-over book that included the MC from her other series (which has since ended), and it worked really well.  The book begins with Abbey coming to consciousness on her wedding day to discover a bomb strapped to her chest, the latest victim of a serial killer.  From here the book switches between dual timelines and POV's:  Abbey's and M.J.'s.


Normally I'd hate this, but it really worked here. Abbey's POV is the flashback to what led to her being strapped to a bomb, and M.J.'s POV is present tense, trying to find Abbey and the killer before time is up.  It's tense and it's gripping.  


Victoria Laurie herself is a professional psychic, so the paranormal aspect of the storytelling is handled realistically; it never gets so far out there that it becomes difficult to suspend disbelief.  There was at least one small error of logic, and I often twitched about Abbey's high level of internal emotional drama, but overall I couldn't wait to pick it back up again.


This is good news, because I still have two other books in the series to read sitting on my pile.  And now I'm much more optimistic about tackling them.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - J.K. Rowling, John Kerr Tiffany, Jack Thorne

I knew the general consensus about this book was that it was a disappointment, which put me off reading it for awhile.  So I was a little surprised as I began it, because I was really enjoying it and didn't understand why there was a fuss.


Then Act 1, Scene 10 happened.  Now I get it, because from scene 10 the whole thing just got a little silly and twee.  Attempts at anything deeper and more authentic were mostly a failure and as much as I did like the characters (especially Scorpius), even to the end, the situational part of the plotting just did not work.  It felt like Harry Potter after Disney got ahold of it.


Ah well, I'll still go see it performed if it ever makes the rounds. 

Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure (Aunt Dimity, #21)

Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure - Nancy Atherton

This is one of those books I read because I've been reading the series from the start and a certain amount of loyalty is involved.   As with a lot of series, it started off strong, but has levelled off over the years to become gentle stories that resemble morality tales.


Lori stumbles across an old piece of jewellery in her attic one day, resulting in a search for the man who gave it to Dimity, back after WWII, while in the village, the good people discover the joys and pitfalls of metal detecting.


Recent books in the series were getting on my nerves because Lori was gullible and tended to jump to the most ridiculous conclusions imaginable, but this time around she was far more competent and rational; there was still a level of anxiety, but it was much more believable.


Atherton has an incredible way of bringing wartime London to life and I think it is this more than anything that keeps me coming back every year for the next book. 

The Animal Review: The Genius, Mediocrity and Breathtaking Stupidity That Is Nature

The Animal Review: An Objective Critique Of The Genius, Mediocrity, And Breathtaking Stupidity That Is Nature - Steve Nash, Jacob Lentz

This book is hilarious.  The authors choose 28 animals, classify them under Land, Sea, Air and Other (for those that occupy more than one) and grade them on arbitrary criteria.  Some factual information is thrown in, but mostly it's just one joke after another.  As I read it, a pattern began to emerge: the deadlier an animal is, or the more capable it is of ruining a person's day, the higher the grade it received.


I'd have rated it higher, but for one thing.  They note at the beginning that any science included is real, but the writing style blurs the line between what is a scientific fact and what is just their hyperbolic humour.  Some poor undereducated person out there is going to pick this up someday and read the first paragraph about Great White Sharks where the authors claim death by shark is the single largest cause of death in the world, and believe it.  Then they're going to go on Facebook, repeat it, claiming 'it's true! I read it in a book!', other undereducated people are going to believe them and it's going to snowball, ultimately ending badly for Great White Sharks, who are already having a rough go of it as it is.  More importantly, I think this book would appeal to kids a lot and it's appropriate for middle school aged kids, but some of these "facts" are likely to confuse and possibly leave the kids believing things about the animals that were meant only in fun.


Still, it's a hilarious little book (the authors positively do not like Australia) and I'm happy I was able to finally get ahold of it.

That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us

That's Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us - Erin Moore, Lynne Truss

Given the number of times I read parts of this book out loud to MT, and the fact that it didn't drive him nearly as crazy as it usually does when I did so, I should rate this book higher than I did.  It's good: interesting, funny and informative.


The title is 80% accurate but I'd argue that it's aimed far more pointedly at Americans than it is at the British (and why is it 'the British'?  Why can't I just write 'British'... odd).  Most of the terms included are Britishisms and that makes sense; the British get far more American-culture exposure than Americans get of the British, so probably need less help.  Erin Moore is also an American expat living in London, so her view is naturally inclined towards her experiences and viewpoint.


Moore uses each of the terms as a springboard to discuss related cultural disparities between the UK and the US and I found a lot of these fascinating and sometimes hilarious.  I had no idea, for example, what sod was short for, or that stiff upper lip actually started out as an Americanism.  And she has made me hopelessly self-conscious, probably forever, of my use of the word quite.  


Americans use the word quite in the sense of "totally" or "completely".  As Moore uses for an example: to say 'he's quite naked' means, of course, that he's totally without clothing - he can't be partially naked.  That's pretty much the only way we use quite.


The British though, they use it to also denote a degree of negativity.  Moore's explanation puzzled me - I wasn't able to grasp the idea.  But luckily, I had a hair appointment yesterday, and my hairdresser is English!  I immediately quizzed him, asking for clarification (upon reading further in the book, I've also discovered I probably offend him regularly with all my direct questions...oops).


It seems (and may the Brits I know here correct me if I'm wrong) that they use quite the same way we Americans might say "meh" or "it was ok" (say if we were talking about a restaurant).  In other words it was quite good means, actually, no, it wasn't.  Aren't you quite clever? actually means You're a dumb-ass.*  


Well, hell.  Since reading this I have stumbled over every instance of quite in my speech and writing; if nothing else it has made clear to me how often I use the damn word.


The rest of the book was great and didn't cause me any more crises of confidence, thank goodness.  At the end, I can't say why I'm not giving this 4.5 or 5 stars except to say that when I finished it, I could say I enjoyed it thoroughly (notice the absence of the q word) but I didn't love it.  But I still highly recommend it.



*Aussies do this too, but they use average, as in The movie was average meaning that movie sucked which took me ages to figure out and caused me no end of confusion.

Living with Books

Living With Books - Alan Powers

This title has been on my "maybe" shelf for years; the shelf serves for books I need to think about, need more information on, or books I'm only going to buy if I find them used and cheap.  Living with Books met that last condition, as I'd heard it was a bit disappointing overall. 


I'd heard correctly; it's a bit disappointing.  The pictures are great - some really clever solutions and some just gorgeous libraries are included, but the text has less to do with books and libraries than it does about interior design and architectural theory, about which I have mostly derisive opinions.  


I gave it an extra half-star though because it includes a few pages at the back with DIY instructions for making different types of bookcases, and I thought that was a nice touch.  For that reason and the good pics, I'll hang on to my copy, but I"m awfully glad I found it used and cheap.