Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Fall TBR


So this is my list of books I'm most hoping to read this autumn.  This was last week's topic for The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday meme.   You can find this week's topic here: Top Ten Tuesday Books that are Hard to Read. I did this topic last week because I like to be different.  Or I screwed up.  You can choose. 

I actually made some progress on my Spring and Summer TBRs but there are a couple of titles that are still languishing:

1)  The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

  Goodreads says about these books:
"...satirize British aristocracy in the twenties and thirties through the amorous adventures of the Radletts, an exuberantly unconventional family..."

 2) Sabriel by Garth Nix

This is a perennial member of my TBR and I have excuses as to why I haven't yet read it but I'm sure no one wants to hear it.

I'm not usually very excited about jumping on new releases but there is one upcoming release I'm looking forward to:


3) Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra Harvey

This is the second book in The Lovegrove Legacy.  Harvey is a serious guilty pleasure for me.  I read the first in this series this spring and loved it.  This is scheduled to be released October 7th.

Then there are a few from my 100 Books List, I'd like to tackle. 

4) The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is a nice little creepy book perfect for Halloween I think! 

5) Howard's End by E.M. Forster

I've already started this classic English novel and think it will be a good one to curl up with and soak in.

6) Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon

This is the third in Robert McCammon's Matthew Corbett mystery series, set in colonial America.  I have really enjoyed this series thus far and it is very halloween appropriate because McCammon has a sensibility that leans towards horror. 

7) The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I'm kind of on a Bryson kick at the moment and this is one of his that I own.  My father gave it to me for christmas some year's ago because I now live in Iowa and this is Bryson's memoir of growing up in Des Moines.

I think I am also going to join my first read-alongs  (thanks to Booked on a Feeling for making me aware of these)...

8) Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

This one is hosted by You've Gotta Read This and Book Chatter.  This looks like the perfect October read and I really enjoy Ray Bradbury and haven't read hi nearly enough!!

9) Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Hosted by Literate Housewife.

I think 9 is all I want to commit to especially since this will likely not at all be what my reading looks like this fall:0).  It's a good plan though. What have you got on the fall reading pile?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

REVIEW: Three Cozy Mysteries

I’m going to attempt to do some very succinct reviews of three cozy mysteries I read recently.  What I look for in a cozy mystery is: 1) A lighter tone and setting, 2) A sufficiently engaging puzzle to keep me turning pages, 3) like-able main characters, accompanied by a cast of charmingly quirky extras and 4) a little bit of romance to liven up the background.  Then there are the things that I don’t necessarily expect but that I love when they show up: 1) characters/relationships with a little depth to them and 2) a charming village with infinitely quirky citizens. 

With those expectations in mind, let’s consider these three reads, listed in the order in which I preferred them.  Grab some tea or cocoa and get cozy!

574629Aunt Dimity’s Good Deeds by Nancy Atherton
Original Publication Year: 1998
Genre(s): Cozy Mystery
Series: Aunt Dimity Series # 3
Awards: None
Format: Paperback from Library
Narrated By: NA

Marriage is hard.  That is what Lori Shepherd has learned in the year since she and Bill (who met and fell in love in book one of the series) have been married.  Things in fact are at an all-time low when Lori must embark to her cottage in Finch, England, on what was meant to be her second honeymoon, with her father in law because her husband is too busy working.  Almost immediately, her father-in-law disappears and in her pursuit to find him, Lori meets and gets to know the British branch of her husband’s family who are steeped in mystery and dysfunction.  So how did the book work?  Pretty well.  My delight with the unexpected deviation from happily ever after may have helped me be more tolerant of some of the weaknesses (like the fact that the marital strife is solved too quickly and easily).  The big mystery here is what Bill, Sr. is up to but the search for him turns up many other questions some of them going back a couple of centuries.  It definitely kept me turning the pages.  It manages to stay very light even with the touch of complexity as Lori struggles with her unhappiness in her marriage and her contemplations about whether she really deserves any more happiness or wishes after getting heaped with so much good fortune in book one.  All the characters remain very likeable and are reasonably quirky.  Basically this filled all my cozy mystery wants and needs quite well.  This third book in the series may be my favorite yet – so far each successive book has gotten better!  3.5 out of 5 stars

1214569A Taste for Murder by Caitlyn Bishop
Original Publication Year: 1994
Genre(s): Cozy Mystery
Series: Hemlock Falls Series - #1
Awards: None
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Justine Eyre

This is the first in a series featuring the young-ish proprietress of a grand old inn in the New England town of Hemlock Falls.  Her name is Sarah “Quill” Quilleran and she is joined by her sister Meg, a renowned gourmet chef who runs the kitchen of the Inn, John, the American Indian hotel manager and accountant and her boyfriend the sheriff.  The book takes place during the town’s festival celebrating its witch-persecuting past and when people start dying, Quill starts interfering.  Rather incompetently actually.  This book was okay.  You had the quirky village and supporting characters, an engaging enough mystery involving town members and guests at the hotel and the tone was light.  I liked the Inn setting. However, I was pretty bored by Quill as a character and kept wishing the book focused more on her sister, the chef, who had more spunk.  It also felt like, even though this was book one in the series that there were all these casual references to past events and Quill is already in a relationship with the town’s sheriff.  Basically it felt like I was coming into the middle of a series rather than the beginning and there was really no romance to speak of.  3 out of 5 stars

1332647Kilt Dead by Kaitlyn Dunnett
Original Publication Year: 2007
Genre(s): Cozy Mystery
Series: Liss MacCrimmon Series #1
Awards: None
Format: Hardcover from Library
Narrated By: NA

This should have had all the necessary trappings of a great cozy – a quirky premise and a small town with a kooky name (Moosetookalook, ME).  Unfortunately it was just rather boring.  Liss MacCrimmon has had to leave her career as a Scottish dancer because of injury and while she figures out what to do with her future she returns to her home town to run her Aunt’s Scottish emporium shop which sells Scottish gewgaws and kilts and such.  When the town busybody ends up dead in the back room of the shop, Liss must investigate in order to clear her name.  Unfortunately, everything about the book just felt blah to me.  The characters were cardboard cut-outs - the only potentially interesting one being the one who is killed.  The Scottish stuff was just window dressing and might as well have not been there.  The town, despite its kooky name, just seemed a little depressing with everyone in town living above their shops and just trying to make ends meet.  The investigating just seemed to be Liss and her romantic interest (there is never ANY doubt that they like each other or will get together) going door to door and getting very few answers.  Basically it was short on charm and the mystery was just so-so.  2 out of 5 stars

So that sums up my recent foray into cozy mystery land.  Does anybody else have some good cozy series to recommend?  What do you look for in a cozy mystery?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturdays in the Garden - Curry and Inspirational Ladies of Fiction


I'm back home from the hinterwilds for good now with mixed feelings ( I've spent the last five weeks, more or less, out in the middle of nowhere for work).  I'm too much of a homebody to not be ecstatic to be in my space again but it was a nice little adventure at times and it was good living a little closer to nature.  My last morning, the start of fall, had the most astonishing sunrise - hot pink and lavendar warming up into tangerine with a rainbow to boot.  I wish I'd had a camera but alas.

And speaking of fall, it is awesome even if it does mean that Winter is Coming.  One thing I love about Iowa is how close it lives to the seasons probably because of the dominance of agriculture.  I may just be more aware of it since I've been dabbling in gardening the last few years.

Speaking of which... In the Garden?  I should get a few more peppers and the Chard has perked up again and is going gang busters as you might expect with the cooler temps.  It loves this cold late summer we've been having.  The last tomatoes are also ready to be picked and I think I will roast and freeze them.  I tried this a few weeks ago but ended up roasting them a tad too long - apparently smaller tomatoes need less time in the oven then regular sized tomatoes.  I can be a little dense sometimes.

It's almost time to get the garlic planted and for the first time this year I think I will have to plant what I harvested rather than ordering garlic.  Garlic ordering is a weird little business that requires you to be on the ball and ordering in August if you want particular varieties.  I have been decidedly off the ball for the last couple months so ordering did not happen which ain't a bad thing.  This is actually how it should work - you keep a chunk of the harvest and re-plant the rest and I do like the variety of garlic I have on hand (Music).  However, this is hard to do for a small space gardener who is not in the best of times swimming in garlic (lovely image, no?) and I had a particularly small harvest this year because of the brutally cold but snow light winter last year. All my best heads will have to be planted. Woe. Is. Me.
My (pitifully small) garlic harvest


A couple things life wise making me happy are this short list of Inspirational Female Characters from the Offbeat Home blog.  It has in fact inspired me to make my own list sometime in the near future which would include some of the folks on the Offbeat Home list as well.

The big excitement? Besides, you know, being back home?  I finally found a curry recipe that didn't frighten me and is exactly how I like it!!  Most curry recipes I run across, and I'm willing to admit I may not have been looking hard enough, have a list of ingredients and steps that intimidate the hell out of me.  The few I've tried have been seriously blah.  This recipe is simple and has more of the sweetness of some of the Thai curries.  My only complaint is that it could have also had a little more heat.  The recipe can be found halfway down the page on this post on the Beauty that Moves blog.

Yup, Curry and the Inspirational Ladies of fiction.  That's all you need to set a week up right! :0)

BOOKS and the BLOG

My reading has continued at a swift pace as there was lots of time in the car on top of no internet or TV for weeks. What I've been reading:

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: One of the most unique and mannered 1st person narrations, I've ever read.  No surprise that it's lovely.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell:  One of those books that makes you bore everyone around you by spouting "fascinating" facts.  Interesting but not sure what real impact it had.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed:  Beautifully written and often inspiring while also making me cry. A lot.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote:  Finally finished it and it's definitely a great, if disturbing, read.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson:  More below.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: More below
Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier: Pretty standard folk tale-esque fare from Marillier.
The City of Ember by Jeanne DePrau:  A middle grade book that feels seriously middle grade but an interesting premise.
Aunt Dimity's Good Deed by Nancy Atherton:  This is book three in the series and thus far I've liked each successive book more than the one before it so that's a good trend.
The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer: A really excellent middle grade book about Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes' younger sister.

Phew! I'll be planning on reviewing most if not all but some may be short and smooshed together. I'm currently reading At Home by Bill Bryson, Perilous Seas by Dave Duncan and Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye.

This past week on the blog was actually on a normal schedule which helped my planner soul sing:

SUNDAY: I posted a twofer reviewing both Douglas Adams' A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. The two books and authors went surprisingly well together.
TUESDAY: I completely screwed up and compiled and posted NEXT week's Top Ten Tuesday topic - Books that were Hard to Read.
THURSDAY: A review of the Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch which I like a whole bunch!

This next week I will probably post a cozypalooza post on Sunday, do LAST week's TTT (Fall TBR) on Tuesday (because if I'm going to screw up I should probably go big), and maybe a review, maybe a fictional heroine hall of fame post on Thursday.  Ahhh... It's nice to be back on a schedule and indecisive!

Finally, I recently saw that Dewey's 24 hour Read-a-Thon is October 18th!  Because I am apparently attuned to the universe, I will AGAIN be on vacation during the read-a-thon so taking 24 hours to read sounds like a blast and totally do-able.  Anybody else participating?

So how are things? Got any great curry recipes that you adore and are easy to make that you wouldn't mind sharing?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

REVIEW: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1)Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2011
U.K. Title: Rivers of London
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Series: Peter Grant #1
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Audible)
Narrated By: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

I think with this very awesome novel, I may have to stop whining about being disappointed by Urban Fantasy. It’s the most recent in a string of Urban Fantasies I have really enjoyed (The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, The Kate Daniels Series Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews) and which surprised me with a unique approach and an irresistible (to me) good-naturedly sarcastic humor.

Peter Grant is a young London cop just out of his training and waiting to learn to which department in the London Police he will be assigned. He’s hoping for the murder squad or some other glamorous assignment but then he discovers quite by chance, that he can see and talk to ghosts. He’s taken under the wing of Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale, the police department’s only wizard and begins to investigate one of the strangest cases of his life while also learning the fine art of diplomacy when dealing with river deities.

I really really loved Peter. When we meet him he is accused of being a lousy cop because he’s too easily distracted. Which is somewhat true – he is easily distracted because he’s just incredibly curious about everything. However, he’s not a nerd or super intellectual – he’s just smart, and scientifically minded and in many ways a very typical young man who wants to be a cop. I have a pretty big character crush on him despite his youth! His mentor Nightingale is also intriguing though we don’t get to know him as well. He’s old fashioned and formal, probably because he’s much older than he looks and he’s a nice foil for Peter while also promising to become even more interesting in his own right in future books. The characters have strong voices.

And Peter is hilariously funny. To wit (ha ha):
“I gave the prescribed Metropolitan Police "first greeting". "Oi!" I said "What do you think you're doing?”

“Carved above the lintel were the words SCIENTIA POTESTAS EST. Science points east, I wondered? Science is portentous, yes? Science protests too much. Scientific potatoes rule. Had I stumbled on the lair of dangerous plant geneticists?”

“Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the "London once-over" - a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport - like BASE jumping or crocodile wrestling.”
“If you ask any police officer what the worst part of the job is, they will always say breaking bad news to relatives, but this is not the truth. The worst part is staying in the room after you've broken the news, so that you're forced to be there when someone's life disintegrates around them. Some people say it doesn't bother them - such people are not to be trusted.”
I do have some minor gripes. The story is a really fun paranormal mystery/ thriller but things did, at times, seem a little all over the place. There’s this business with the river deities which has little to do with the core mystery so it was at times distracting but it helped establish the world Peter has entered into with Nightingale. It also helps evoke a very believable and loveable alternative London. And, i the end, everything ties up very neatly so it's not really much of a gripe. I also think there was a major continuity/editing error regarding Peter’s cell phone but I am willing to chalk that up to me losing focus for a moment with the audio or something since I’ve not seen it mentioned elsewhere.

I also really enjoyed the narrator for the book. He brought Peter’s first person narration of the book to life and did a nice job with the humor.

Final Verdict: SO much fun that I now must face the fact that I actually do like Urban Fantasy. Loved it and will definitely be continuing on in the series.

And if you’d like to learn more about the book in rap format you can also do that: http://youtu.be/Tldu63RKu40

Any Urban Fantasy fans out there?  What are your favorites? What's the most unique UF you've read?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Books That Were Hard to Read

NOTE: So I just realized that this is NEXT week's topic.  Oops!  Umm.. Well I guess I'll do the two topics the wrong way round.  Sorry!

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, deals with those books that are hard to get through for whatever reason.  So without further struggle let's get through it - i.e. here's my list!
 * Links to Goodreads

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov:  The writing is stunning but I became increasingly more disturbed as it went on and had to eventually put it down without finishing.

2. Russian Literature in general:  My impression and limited experience is that a lot of it is bleak and hopeless and I have no desire. If some one has a different take, I'd love to hear it. One of the few books I have read, Crime and Punishment, made me feel sad and sick for days after a scene of horrific animal cruelty.  Just not interested in tackling any more of the Russian canon.

3. The Stand by Stephen King:  I am still suck on page 800 and something with this book, and determined to finish it at some time.  There are a few reasons.  It's huge (1300 pages) and while I liked the first half to 2/3rds of the book, I'm bored and made a little squirmy by the second "half".  I find the character of Harold, as he develops, really disturbing to the point that I don't want to spend any time with him.

4. The Son by Philipp Meyer:  It's a great book but some scenes and things that happen are really tough to get through, particularly in Eli's story.(My Review)

5. In the Woods by Tana French: The main character in this book, Rob Ryan, undergoes a transformation from decent guy to huge, ginormous, chauvinist asshole  - it is difficult to watch and he is hard to take after this transformation.  I came close to putting the book down but am glad I stuck with it as I think in the end it's pretty fantastic and the character in question is quite fun to pick apart psychologically.

6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: This is a very recent read that I had to briefly put on hold because I happened to be listening to it during a time I was living way out in the middle of nowhere by myself.  The book is the true story of a family in the middle of nowhere Kansas being murdered rather senselessly by two disturbing young men.  It wasn't really setting the correct tone for me to enjoy my time in the country:).

7. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson:  Marilynne Robinson is a truly astonishing writer but I found this book so incredibly lonely and melancholy that it was hard to get through.  I obviously have trouble with books that are too steeped in true bleakness. I've been wanting to pick up one of her more recent books Gilead which sounds like it is not quite so dark in tone and atmosphere but I'm nervous. 

8. Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey:  This non-fiction book about Great White Sharks in the waters around the Farallon Islands was fascinating and interesting for about the first two-thirds.  Then the author become childish, irresponsible and horrible and it was very hard to read on.  If you've read it you will likely know what I mean.

9. Burnt Offerings by Laurell K. Hamilton:  The Anita Blake series started off so strongly  - I adored the first three books in the series.  Sadly by book 7 the series had taken a turn into unreadable nonsense at least for me.  I only got a third of the way through this one.  Seriously, it felt like someone else had started writing the books. Just too disappointing

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling:  What's this you say??? A HP book you had trouble getting through??  Only because I was so very sad this was to be the last book of the series I didn't want it to end so I kept dragging it out.

So what books do you find it hard to get through?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

DOUBLE REVIEW: Bill Bryson and Douglas Adams Being Delightful Together

Original Publication Year: 1995
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Humor
Series: Hitchhiker’s Guide #1
Awards: None
Format: Audio (cds)
Narrated by Stephen Fry

I’m sort of shocked that I had reached my advanced age having never read this book. I guess I felt like I had.   I know the story by heart, through other mediums and through osmosis just being a nerd I suppose, but I don’t think I had sat down and listened to the book from beginning to end.  I can now die happy as it lived up to and sometimes exceeded all expectations. 

Why does this book get five stars?  Two words. Vroomfondel and Majikthise.  And heck throw Slartibartfast in as a bonus.  Add in Stephen Fry reading these names out loud and I can’t even think about them in my head without chuckling with an embarrassing intensity.  Basically, this book was a delight and brought me joy.  The end. 

Also, I solemnly decree and demand that from this moment forth Stephen Fry must read all of the books to me.  He’s a fantastic narrator – I mean – perhaps the best I’ve ever heard.  I’ve always liked Stephen Fry but I have an even greater appreciation of his talent after listening to this.  Every character has a unique voice but none of them felt “put on” and of course he nails all the humor perfectly.

Interestingly I listened to this back to back with Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything and the two were quite good companions.  Bryson is also delightful and both books tackle the formation and history of the Earth – Bryson through the exploration of Science and Adams through the lens of fiction and a sense of the ridiculous. 

Final Verdict: Five out of Five Stars! Read it! It’s great!

Original Publication Year: 2004
Genre(s): Non-fiction, Science (popular)
Series: NA
Format: Audio  - ABRIDGED?!?!>:(
Narrated By: Bill Bryson

So part of why I didn’t want to do a full review of this book is because I’m not even sure I can claim to have read it.  You will notice that unbeknownst to me at the time, I was listening to an ABRIDGED version of the book!! I do not and never have understood Abridgements and generally avoid them like the plague.  I understand them EVEN less when it is a non-fiction book.  So some of the information Bill Bryson has painstakingly pulled together is interesting but most of it is not??  Because this audio book in original form is 19 hours long!!  This version was like 6 hours.  Arghhhh!

Okay enough whining about abridgements but I feel duped and betrayed and am coming down firmly on the side of abridgements are of the devil.  End rant.

On a positive note, even in this abbreviated format, Bill Bryson has really pulled together a fascinating book.  His aim was, as a non-scientist, to try and understand “life, the universe and everything” (see! – ties to HGttG all over the place) and his approach is to frame things in the history of the various Sciences, highlighting the notable discoveries.  Geology, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology. Paleontology – it’s all in there and he presents it extremely well and with his signature charm.  He tackles very complex topics and breaks them down so that they are not only understandable but it was hard not to join in to the contagious wonder about it all that he exudes.  If you’ve never listened to any of his books, I highly recommend that you do as he is one of the best narrators of his own work that is out there.  Just avoid abridgements.

To end on a positive note, here is some of what you will get in this book:
“It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we've been endowed with. But what's life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don't. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment's additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.”
“Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.”
“You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 X 10^18 joules of potential energy—enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”
“Because we humans are big and clever enough to produce and utilize antibiotics and disinfectants, it is easy to convince ourselves that we have banished bacteria to the fringes of existence. Don't you believe it. Bacteria may not build cities or have interesting social lives, but they will be here when the Sun explodes. This is their planet, and we are on it only because they allow us to be.”
Final Verdict: Four out of Five Stars. Read it! It’s great!

So who are your favorite humorous writers?  Do you have any unexpected book pairings that you think go well together?  How do you feel about abridgements?