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Tomes and Tea Leaves

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Jaimie Admans
On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History
Nicholas A. Basbanes
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing
Anya Von Bremzen
The Mirror Lied: One Woman's 25-Year Struggle with Bulimia, Anorexia, Diet Pill Addiction, Laxative Abuse and Cutting.
Marc A. Zimmer, N.R. Mitgang, Ira M. Sacker
Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear: Inside the Land of Ballet
Stephen Manes
Curtis Sittenfeld
Gail Godwin
The Old Curiosity Shop
Charles Dickens, Norman Page
The English Eccentrics
Edith Sitwell, Richard Ingrams (Introduction)

Review: Kiki Lowenstein and Too Much Squash

Kiki Lowenstein and Too Much Squash --A Kiki Lowenstein Short Story - Joanna Campbell Slan

This is a story that basically revolves around a pun.  Is that enough to sustain an entire story?  I can't say that I think so.  Slan has been writing short stories involving the characters in what was originally a series of mystery novels.  Then we got some longish stories- in the sixty to eighty page range.  This particular story is approximately twenty pages in length, and the only reason it works is because it involves characters that are well-developed elsewhere.  The premise of the story is quite thin, and it's not a mystery, unlike the original novels.  I wish the author would turn her attentions back to the full-length works that made people fans of the series.  

Review: A Suspicion of Strawberries

A Suspicion of Strawberries (Scents of Murder Mysteries) - Lynette Sowell

Soapmaker Andi Clark finds herself caught in the middle of a mystery when a customer dies from an allergic reaction to one of Andi's scrubs.  The deceased was allergic to strawberries, and somehow strawberry seeds wound up in the scrub.  Like many of the main characters in cozy mysteries, Andi is supposed to be something of a lovable disaster, and she sets about trying to solve the mystery.  All in all the mystery was not in and of itself terrible.  Certain elements of the story were unbelievable or unwelcome.  The complete lack of suspicion about the scrub, and the complete unwillingness of the police to believe that finding strawberry seeds in there was anything more than an accident seemed odd.  Throughout the story Andi is suffering from a reluctance to commit to her long-term boyfriend.  Again, this is a fairly common trope in cozy mysteries, and one that I find to be completely over-used.  Sometime, somewhere, someone thought it would be fresh and innovative to have the woman have commitment issues.  It's not fresh and innovative anymore.  Not at all.  It's just annoying.  Finally, this book was laced with religious elements that added nothing to the story or the characters.  Final analysis?  Okay, could be better.  


I read this as part of the Clean out Your E-Reader Challenge.  

Clean Out Your E-Reader Challenge - It Begins

The Clean Out Your E-reader Challenge starts tomorrow, and I have plenty of fodder to keep me busy for the month.  I have, literally, over 2000 free books I've downloaded.  Oops.  How did that happen?  In any case, I'm supposed to be making a list of books to get through, but I have so many I'm not really sure where to begin.  I'm going to go for a free-wheeling plan where I read whatever freebies on the Kindle and Nook (yes, I've got both!) I fancy.  Expect a goodly amount of mystery with some memoirs, travel, and general fiction mixed in.  

30 Day Book Challenge (Day 28) - Favorite Book Title

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger

I like it when authors utilize bits of poetry as titles, provided that they are meaningful to the substance of the book.  Taken from William Blake's "Tyger, Tyger," the symmetry in Niffenegger's title refers to identical twins, and the fearful secrets that are hidden in their relationships.  I like it when a book's title makes me think about what it actually means.  I loved that this book was set in Highgate Cemetery, that it has a ghost, and that it's brimming with Gothic atmosphere.  I know some people were disappointed because it was not The Time Traveller's Wife, but I've not read it, and I had no reason to be disappointed.  I loved it.

Death of Yesterday

Death of Yesterday - M.C. Beaton

Although I seem to be in a minority in this opinion, I like the direction that Beaton is taking this series. It's moving towards longer mysteries, that is, those that take more than a week to solve. These aren't necessarily "closed" mysteries, the way the earlier ones in the series were- they don't involve a specific group of suspects in a particular location, such as guests at a hotel. I appreciate that some signs of modern technology have entered Lochdubh. At least now characters have laptops and mobile phones. The total isolation was skirting the boundaries of the absurd. 

In this case Hamish investigates a woman's claim of rape, only to find her body turn up weeks later. Investigating the case takes him to the continent and back. I'm not entirely sure why this book is called Death of Yesterday. I can come up with a few very tangential metaphorical possibilities, but usually the titles in this series are obvious. I'm getting sick of Hamish's women problems. Really, Beaton needs to to do something about this. I'm sick of watching Hamish treat women badly and then whine about being single. There needs to be movement on this front! The mysteries in this series have developed, but Hamish's personal life has not. 

What Kind of Book Hoarder Are You?

My original answer to this was "the kind TLC has to come save from itself," and I still think there's some truth to that.  According to the official categories I'm an anarchist and a conqueror.  


I am probably also a glutton.  (burp)

30 Day Book Challenge (Day 12)- A book you love and hate at the same time

Confessions of a Shopaholic  - Sophie Kinsella

The Shopaholic books were my foray into British chick lit.  Unlike everyone else, I didn't read Bridget Jones's Diary until years after it came out, and I've never seen the movie.  When I picked up these books (and I actually read the third one first), I was entertained and amused by Becky Bloomwood's antics.  After the first three books I think the series got a bit stale, and it definitely jumped the shark when Becky had a baby.  Being air-headed and irresponsible can be sort of funny when you're young and single, less so when you're responsible for a child.  


So, why do I love and hate these books at the same time?  The love comes from being entertained.  The hate comes from the fact that these books are in many ways the antithesis of all of my values.  I don't want to encourage young women to be dumb and irresponsible.  I don't want to encourage them to get by on their looks and charm and think only about landing a man and a designer purse.  Internal conflict!  I have these feelings in a broader sense about chick lit as a genre.  I enjoy reading it sometimes, and then I hate myself for it.  Yes, this is absolutely a first world problem.  

30 Day Book Challenge (Day 13) - Your Favorite Author

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie

  Agatha Christie Portrait


So, like everyone doing this challenge, I'm finding it awfully hard to reduce this to just one author.  I've chosen Agatha Christie.  I'm featuring a book each day, and I don't want to duplicate any this month, so I'm featuring one of my two favorite Christies, And Then There Were None (you'll see the other one later this month).  


Agatha Christie's book are like a soft and comfortable pair of pajamas.  I can slide into one any time and the reading is soothing and delightful.  I get sucked in right away, and I always enjoy the characters and scenery.  I'm so grateful she wrote so many, I don't know what I'll do when I've read her entire oeuvre.  


And Then There Were None is really a delight of rising suspense, spooky atmosphere, and surprise endings.  


Clean Out Your E-Reader Challenge - November 2013

Reblogged from Witty Little Knitter:

Challenge Info Reblogged from Witty Little Knitter


I heard about this challenge from Witty Little Knitter, and I'm definitely in.  I have so many freebies on my kindle that I need to get through.  Hopefully this will help.  I tend to download lots of mysteries and memoirs, so that's where I see this reading challenge going.   I just checked my kindle and I have over 2000 free books I haven't read.  YIKES!



Clean out your E-reader Challenge Sign-up


Clean Out Your E-Reader Challenge – November 2013


The Clean Out Your E-Reader Challenge is hosted by Berls at Fantasy is More Fun and Michelle at Because Reading is better than real life. The challenge takes place from November 1 through November 30, and anyone can sign up and participate. You need to be reading e-books, though, and those e-books should be either eARCs you got for free, Kindlle or Nook freebies or very cheap e-books. 


The Rules are really simple:

read more »
Source: http://unconventionalbookviews.com/clean-out-your-e-reader-challenge

30 Day Book Challenge (Day 8)- Most Overrated Book

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom - Miguel Ruiz

Schmaltz.  Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements spent weeks on the best-seller lists.


I am not generally one for self-help books, but I thought this one was particularly bad, and it's wildly popular.  Using "ancient Toltec wisdom" Ruiz is going to tell us all how to be happy, or at least how to be content.  


The following is from the review I wrote in 2009:


Ruiz has come up with four principles from ancient Toltec wisdom. If one adopts these four agreements, Ruiz argues, they will help bring a sense of peace and happiness to one's life. Generally the agreements sound reasonable enough: don't take things personally, say only good things about others, etc. So far, so good. But there's some serious theoretical problems that underlie Ruiz's plan. Ruiz seems to suggest that the self can determine the majority of one's experience outside of social context. He claims that society is composed of collective dreams. Even recognizing that Ruiz is infusing dreams with more importance than western culture generally does, it still strikes me that the message here is that if one has fortified one's spirit with these four principles, nothing anyone else says or does can strongly affect you. Maybe I'm too close-minded, but I just can't buy it. We all live in social and cultural worlds, and those worlds do shape our experience, whether we like it or not.


Oversimplification.  It speaks to my problems with self-help books generally, but I thought this one was particularly egregious.  


At the end of the day, I kind of like being a miseryguts.  

30 Day Book Challenge (Day 7)- A Book That Made Me Laugh

The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade - M.J. Trow

For today's book I'm choosing a little-known book that made me laugh repeatedly.  M.J. Trow's The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade is one of the many Sherlock Holmes derivatives on the market.  Trow focuses on Holmes's Scotland Yard contact and sometimes irritant Lestrade.  In this mash-up Lestrade is actually the sleuthing genius, Holmes is a bumbling fool who is worshiped by Watson, and is only notable because Watson has created a cult of celebrity.  Holmes is really only a minor character in this book, which is the first of a series.  


Trow is funny.  His prose is witty.  The chapter titles in this first volume are all take-offs of the story titles in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (see, for example, "The Blue Carb, Uncle."  I'm sorry more people aren't reading this series.  I find it delightfully entertaining.  


30 Day Book Challenge (Day 6) - A Book That Makes You Sad

Atonement - Ian McEwan

This book devastated me, and the devastation crept up on me and struck me unawares.  I had a sense of the story when I began, but I was unprepared for how hard Cecilia and Robbie's fates hit me.  I was in awe of McEwan's storytelling and his ability to put together a plot, with all its twists and turns.  I thought there was something about the tone that I didn't like, and then I discovered why the book had the tone it did, and again, I was in awe.  I have thought about this book a great deal since I read it.  I still wonder how Briony lived with herself.  Most certainly essential reading.

30 Day Book Challenge (Day 5)

All-of-a-Kind Family - Sydney Taylor, Helen John

So, I'm a bit late to this party, but this 30-day book challenge is looking like fun, and it looks like a way to highlight some books that have been important to me.  


Day 5 is a book that makes me happy, so I'm looking back to a book (a series really) from childhood that made me very happy indeed.  Sydney Taylor's All of a Kind Family told the story of a Jewish family in early-twentieth century New York.  There were five daughters in the family (and later a son), they didn't have much money, but they were a close and loving family.  As a child I learned a great deal about the celebrations in Judaism from reading this book.  I recently reread this book, and it was just as delightful as I remember, and it brought back those happy nostalgic thoughts of my reading past.  

The 30-Day Book Challenge


Day 01 – Best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times
Day 03 – Your favourite series
Day 04 – Favourite book of your favourite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favourite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favourite writer
Day 14 – Favourite book of your favourite writer
Day 15 – Favourite male character
Day 16 – Favourite female character
Day 17 – Favourite quote from your favourite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favourite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favourite romance book
Day 21 – Favourite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favourite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favourite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favourite book of all time 

The Death Cap Dancers (Mrs. Bradley, #60)

The Death Cap Dancers - Gladys Mitchell

Members of a folk-dancing troupe are dying, their corpses found with poisonous mushrooms stuffed in the wounds. Mrs. Bradley is brought in to help solve the crime when it appears her niece is in danger of being a suspect and a victim. This is an entertaining and fast-moving mystery. At its center is an interesting group of young, bohemian-types who comprise the dance troupe. An absurd amount of emphasis is placed on the fact that one of the men is somewhat effeminate, and can dress up to play women's parts in the dances. There's all sorts of effort to say in not so many words that he may be gay, which appears to be automatically conflated with slightly effeminate looks and a willingness to play female roles on stage. That aside, this is an able mystery. The solution does not come until the very last page, and there's minimal wrap-up. A bit to abrupt in the ending, but a good journey nonetheless.

Crime at Black Dudley, Albert Campion #1

The Crime at Black Dudley (Albert Campion Mystery #1) - Margery Allingham

The first Albert Campion mystery features Campion in a rather minor role. He is one of a number of guests at a weekend house party at Black Dudley manor. As mystery aficionados might expect, there is a murder, but the murder pales next to the much larger crime that will endanger all of the house residents. At first it seems like Campion may be the murderer, but the solution is infinitely more complicated. We start to see Campion's ties to government intelligence, though we don't yet find out exactly who he is. There's running around and crazy chases. This is not the best mystery I've read, though there are certainly some entertaining characters. I think it might be better to start later in the series, as I don't think this is the book to draw readers in to Campion's world.

A Man Lay Dead, Inspector Alleyn #1

A Man Lay Dead: Inspector Roderick Alleyn #1 (Inspectr Roderick Alleyn) - Ngaio Marsh

This is a classic, country house murder mystery, and the first of the Alleyn mysteries. I really think Marsh is at her best writing this sort of English countryside whodunit. A weekend house party leads to a body with a ceremonial dagger thrust in its back. In the house there are blossoming relationships, some mysterious Russians, a secret brotherhood, and Alleyn is called in to investigate. The result is a fast-moving and satisfying mystery.