It’s done! It’s done! My library project is finally (almost) done!

For those that follow(ed) me on BookLikes, you know that about 6 months ago, MT and I embarked on a home improvement project, turning my ‘library’, ie the room with a few book cases in it and not much else, into a full fledged floor-to-ceiling shelves LIBRARY.  We had acres of solid wood we salvaged from MT’s new office space, a former sushi bar, and between us we have acres and acres of books.

The room originally looked like this:

You can see the books stacked on top of the cases, and I’d bi-leveled the shelves themselves by building mini shelf inserts.  We’d also purchased a few vertical book spines over time, as well as building shelves on top of our wardrobes (we have tall ceilings).

The (90%) finished, new and improved, library:

Excuse the bad lighting; I say it’s 90% finished because I still need better lighting, and there *is* a fourth wall, with a desk on it, and we still have some wood left, but at the moment, with me working from home, I have two large monitors hogging up most of the space.  Once I can start working from my offices again, and I’m down to one computer, I’ll have a better idea where those shelves should be placed – and likely those shelves will serve several masters, not just books (business binders, etc).  So, for all intents and purposes, it’s done.  Though now I need to find a ladder to reach those high shelves!

Notice the nice generous gaps I left for future growth?  All my fiction is on these shelves; we really wanted to keep some of the old bookcases, so we made some compromises in other parts of the house to fit them in – not ideal, but pretty ok – and they are housing my non-fiction and some of MT’s fiction (he wanted to maintain our above-wardrobe shelving for his less-active authors), as well as my TBR books.

I don’t have to tell anyone reading this how big a difference it makes to have room for the books you own.  We can see our floors again, and without stacks of books everywhere, I feel like I can breath again; clutter makes me anxious, and with everything else going on, it was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back.  With everything tidy again, I find myself enjoying my books and reading much more than I did 3, 4 or 6 months ago.  I’m even eyeing new book purchases, though I’ll likely wait a bit longer for things to stabilise pandemic wise, when the Aussie dollar will hopefully find its way out of the sewer.

State of Being and Bookishness

So, with the way things are going over at BookLikes, I’ve dragged myself kicking and spitting back over to my blog, and have spent at least the last two weeks swearing at WordPress and the dearth of plug-ins that do what I want done.  WordPress has been such a pain in my ass that I’ve been *this* close to building my own damn database a couple of times, but finally, a few days ago, I stumbled across a Pay plug in called Book Library, created by someone called Nose Graze.  It does both more and less than what I want it to do, but mostly more.  It allows me to build my own book database, though I can’t bulk upload; it tracks my reading, though I haven’t figured out how to do pages over percentages, and the widget lacks a progress bar; and it allows me to track multiple editions, multiple reads, and purchase dates and locations.  Oh! and series.  So it’s more win than loss, but I still find WP clunky as hell.

I’m still using BookLikes when it will allow me, and I hold out some hope that someone will, someday, see the value in what’s there.  If I could buy it, I would, but I can’t even justify buying books (though I was pissed off enough to buy the plug-in) so unless they give it away, I’m stuck here.  It could be worse; I could be stuck with nothing but GoodReads.

Anywho, my tiny corner of the world is back in lockdown until at least mid August, because people don’t listen to what they don’t want to hear, and mistook flattening of the curve to elimination of the virus, and now it’s raging through Victoria.

After three months of not taking advantage of the first lockdown, MT and I finally got it together the second time around and have been kicking numerous home projects to the curb.  Our library is finally done – pictures to follow in the next post – and today we’re getting a new toilet installed – pictures not to follow; this was NOT one of our projects, but the toilet decided it just couldn’t go on any longer – or, more specifically, the seal between it and the floor gave way and the thing was so old it wobbled.  Also, my kettle is acting ominously, because nothing says Pandemic induced financial crisis like all the most crucial appliances dying at once.  But the house is clean and organised, pictures are almost all hung where they should be, and my library is done – and I have empty shelves!!

A Lady’s Guide To Gossip And MurderA Lady’s Guide To Gossip And Murder
by Dianne Freeman
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Countess of Harleigh Mystery #2
Publication Date: July 20, 2020
Pages: 277
Genre: Historical Mystery

How far will some go to safeguard a secret? In the latest novel in Dianne Freeman's witty and delightful historical mystery series, the adventurous Countess Harleigh finds out . . .

Though American by birth, Frances Wynn, the now-widowed Countess of Harleigh, has adapted admirably to the quirks and traditions of the British aristocracy. On August twelfth each year, otherwise known as the Glorious Twelfth, most members of the upper class retire to their country estates for grouse-shooting season. Frances has little interest in hunting-for birds or a second husband-and is expecting to spend a quiet few months in London with her almost-engaged sister, Lily, until the throng returns. Instead, she's immersed in a shocking mystery when a friend, Mary Archer, is found murdered. Frances had hoped Mary might make a suitable bride for her cousin, Charles, but their courtship recently fizzled out. Unfortunately, this puts Charles in the spotlight-along with dozens of others. It seems Mary had countless notes hidden in her home, detailing the private indiscretions of society's elite. Frances can hardly believe that the genteel and genial Mary was a blackmailer, yet why else would she horde such juicy tidbits? Aided by her gallant friend and neighbor, George Hazelton, Frances begins assisting the police in this highly sensitive case, learning more about her peers than she ever wished to know. Too many suspects may be worse than none at all-but even more worrying is that the number of victims is increasing too. And unless Frances takes care, she'll soon find herself among them . . .

I enjoyed this follow up to A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, but found certain plot points in the beginning irritatingly obvious, which, in turn, had me dragging my heels to finish it. Once the characters had the ‘ah-hah’ moment I’d had almost immediately, the story become more interesting.  I liked the little twist at the end; it wasn’t totally surprising, as the story could have worked either way, but it added a bit of zing.

I look forward to the third book.

The Mangle Street Murders

The Mangle Street MurdersThe Mangle Street Murders
by M.R.C. Kasasian
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: July 20, 2020
Pages: 336
Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Head of Zeus

After her father dies, March Middleton has to move to London to live with her guardian, Sidney Grice, the country s most famous private detective. It is 1882 and London is at its murkiest yet most vibrant, wealthiest yet most poverty-stricken. No sooner does March arrive than a case presents itself: a young woman has been brutally murdered, and her husband is the only suspect. The victim s mother is convinced of her son-in-law s innocence, and March is so touched by her pleas she offers to cover Sidney s fee herself. The investigations lead the pair to the darkest alleys of the East End: every twist leads Sidney Grice to think his client is guilty; but March is convinced that he is innocent. Around them London reeks with the stench of poverty and gossip, the case threatens to boil over into civil unrest and Sidney Grice finds his reputation is not the only thing in mortal danger.

I bought this at a library sale because the cover caught my eye; I had no expectations, as I’d never heard of it before but it had a vaguely Holmesian feel to it.

I wasn’t wrong; there are both subtle and blatant nods to Doyle and Holmes throughout the story, but… I don’t know how to say this. The Mangle Street Murders reads like it was written by someone well-versed in the Holmes cannon but who resented the varnish put on the Victorian age and so set out to reimagine a Holmes worthy murder mystery in all its gory, gritty detail.

If that’s indeed what Kasasian set out to do, then boy howdy did he/she succeed. Sydney Grice, the famous personal detective is what Holmes might look like if he were actually a sociopath. Self admittedly greedy, vain, selfish and without a shred of courtesy or decency he’s almost a comic figure, until the reader is forced to witness his delight in public executions and other examples of his inhumanity. The author tries half-heartedly to hint at some underlying decency, but frankly fails; they are too few and too brief to have any impact. Add to that the grisly, graphic details in just about every scene of the book and it’s a wonder I kept reading past the first mortuary scene. There were times I honestly felt like the author was trying to punish the reader, beating them over the head with the reality of the 1880’s.

But I did keep reading; I really liked the MC, March Middleton. From the introduction it’s clear she’s Grice’s historian, in much the same way Watson was for Holmes, only she is (sorry Watson, I love you) much smarter than Watson and a far more invested participant. Of course she has a hidden pain – a tragedy in her past – that is shared piecemeal in the form of old journal entries. These are done perfectly: just often enough that they tug at your soul and keep you on the edge of your seat dreading what must be the inevitable. The inevitable, however, must be part of a multi book story arc because we don’t get to it here.

The plotting was competent. Of course Grice is secretive so neither Marsh nor the reader are every privy to crucial details until very nearly the end when he waves his superiority around in a nauseating way, but Marsh gets hers back, making for a more even read. The ultimate criminal was a person I pegged very early in the book, but there were so many layers and complexities that really all I’d done was identify the tip of the iceberg.

All said, the writing is excellent, the story and characters were compelling and I definitely won’t read the second one. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I don’t want this level of factual realism in my books. I enjoyed the mystery but it was overshadowed by the author’s need for verisimilitude; if you don’t mind that level of grittiness, and you enjoy a good historical mystery, then this one is worth exploring. Otherwise stick with Holmes and Watson.

Travels with Epicurus

A Journey To A Greek Island In Search Of A Fulfilled Life By Daniel Klein

Published: Oct 28, 2014 by Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143126621
Format: Paperback / softback | Trade paperback (US)

I bought this book because recent reading has me suspecting that Epicurus has been rather maligned over the centuries and I wanted to learn more about what his philosophical school was really about.  But I didn’t want to find out via a dry, academic tome and I wanted to avoid anything that would hurt my brain (see: Heidegger’s question, “Why are there things that are rather than nothing?”); I enjoyed Klein’s Plato and Platypus Walk Into a Bar so this seemed a perfect fit.

Except that I didn’t read the summary close enough.  This is a book about Klein’s reflections on old age and how he can live the most meaningful, authentic, old age he can.  If I use my mom as a benchmark (and I will) then I’m still just slightly on the south side of middle-age, so I’m decidedly not this book’s demographic.  Also, there’s very little about Epicurus here; he and his school of thought are mentioned in passing throughout, but Aristotle, Plato, Kierkegaard, Sartre and Heidegger get more specific play than poor Epicurus.

Still, I got a lot out of this book, even when I completely disagreed with him (and most modern philosophers, come to that).  He discusses the paradox inherent in end of life choices, which even at my spring-chicken age I’m deeply interested in.  He doesn’t offer any answers and ultimately questions whether there are any answers to be had, and that really, for me, is the heart of philosophy.

A worthy read, but one that will be far more relevant (God willing) in a few more decades. Until then I’m still on the lookout for an engaging narrative about poor, misunderstood Epicurus.

Find Travels with Epicurus at:
LibraryThing
WorldCat
BookFinder

Death Comes to the Fair

Death Comes to the FairDeath Comes to the Fair
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #4
Publication Date: July 20, 2020
Pages: 336
Publisher: Kensington

It’s harvest time in the village of Kurland St. Mary as Lucy and Robert prepare to take their vows—but a murderer has taken an unseasonable vow of vengeance…

As Miss Lucy Harrington, daughter of the village rector, and Major Sir Robert Kurland plan their nuptials, the major is beginning to wonder if he’ll ever hear wedding bells. He’s seen complex military campaigns that involved less strategy, and he’s finding Lucy’s meddling family maddening.

When the body of Ezekiel Thurrock, the church verger, is discovered crushed by a stone gargoyle that has fallen from the bell tower, the tragic death strikes a somber note and the wedding is delayed. But the evidence suggests this was no accident, and Lucy wonders if bad blood at the village fair had anything to do with the man’s mysterious demise, since there was much bitterness over Ezekiel’s prizewinning vegetables.

As Lucy and Robert uncover long-standing village feuds, the town’s dark secrets begin to take their toll and the couple soon finds they too are in grave danger…

Not quite the slump breaker I was hoping for, but not a bad little mystery either.  The novelty the main characters had in the first novel has worn off (reasonably enough) and the author is left with the tried and true: killing off the villagers.  From the sounds of this village, they may deserve it.

This book stumbled for me because a great draw is the chemistry and banter between the two MCs and they were kept apart quite a bit and their adventures when they were together lacked that certain something I enjoyed before.  A well known, loathsome villager gets what’s coming by the end – which is great! – but there’s this giant hole at the end where we miss out on the reaction of at least one significant character whose life is directly affected by the outcome of events.  That felt weird to me; the author couldn’t spare a few more pages to flesh that out?

But there was still a lot I liked about this cozy; I enjoyed it more than most of what I’ve been reading lately.  It held my attention and the setting felt like an old friend.  Given my general grumpiness lately, I’ll take that and be thankful for it.

An Unhappy Medium

An Unhappy MediumAn Unhappy Medium
by Dawn Eastman
Rating: ★★★★
isbn 10: 9780425282809
Series: A Family Fortune Mystery #4
Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Pages: 336
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

Psychic Clyde Fortune and her zany family are back in the fourth in the national bestselling series from the author of A Fright to the Death.

Former cop and novice psychic Clyde Fortune finds herself in a race for justice when a Zombie Fun Run turns deadly…

All of Crystal Haven, Michigan, is psyching up to participate in a Zombie Fun Run organized by Clyde’s nephew Seth, but Clyde is fretful about the undead festivities. For one thing, her sister, Grace, has unexpectedly returned to town after fifteen years. For another, Clyde has the nagging feeling that something is about to go wrong…

When one of the zombie runners is found murdered and then Grace disappears, Clyde realizes her grim premonition is dead-on. Now, she and her police detective boyfriend Mac must find a ghoulish murderer before someone points the finger at Grace. And when a tangled web of family secrets and old grudges combines with a mysterious case of stolen diamonds, even someone as quick-witted as Clyde might not be able to outrun a killer…

If a book can hold your attention when you’re in a slump, it can’t be half bad right?

I enjoy this series as it’s one of the few rational cozy series out there; most of the characters are likeable, the small town setting is vivid and the plotting is usually pretty good.  Clyde is a strong, normally intelligent main character trying to come to grips with a psychic gift she’s ignored most of her life and her family is just crazy enough to be realistic.  Mac is a great romantic lead who doesn’t define himself by his ability to alpha male everyone around him.

This book’s plotting, though, wasn’t quite as strong as the others.  I’m left with the impression that the mystery itself was just an excuse to further Clyde’s family’s story arc along.  To string the mystery out, the author made Clyde dim: her visions were fairly easy for the reader to interpret as events unfolded, but Clyde remained clueless and the final denouement revealed a culprit that was never a suspect either for anyone in the book or the reader as there simply wasn’t any forward progression after the initial murder scene.

I was going to ding the rating for this, but my rating reflects my enjoyment and I did enjoy this book; the character sub-story was interesting enough that I didn’t miss what was missing from the mystery itself.

The World Between Two Covers

Reading The Globe
by Ann Morgan

Published: May 05, 2015 by Liveright
ISBN: 9781631490675
Format: Hardback

 

[star]

 

Well, that’s over.  From the front flap of the book:

Prompted to read a book translated into English from each of the world’s 195 UN-recognized countries (plus Taiwan and one extra), Ann sought out classics, folktales, current favorites and commercial triumphs, novels, short stories, memoirs, and countless mixtures of all these things. 

The world between two covers, the world to which Ann introduces us with affection and no small measure of wit, is a world rich in the kind of narratives that engage us passionately: we meet an irreverent junk food–obsessed heroine in Kuwait, an explorer from Togo who spent years among the Inuit in Greenland, and a former child circus performer of Roma background seeking sanctuary in Switzerland. 

I was excited to read this book because I was looking forward to hearing about Morgan’s experiences sourcing native literature from each country and her thoughts about what she read.  After all, isn’t that what the title and flap seem to be offering?

Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.  What I got was a dissertation on reading globally, writing for a global audience and a whole lot of theorising about imperialism, racism, war and how they relate to writing and publishing.  The only time Morgan mentions her experiences with sourcing and reading literature from every UN recognized country at all in this book is when she’s using them as citations to support the idea she’s espousing at that moment.  As to her thoughts about what she read – they’re almost non-existent until nearly the end when she discusses her feelings about the perceptions of non-Europeans/North Americans of the British and the Yanks.

I’d have given this book 1 star, but the book does have merit; it’s thoughtful, insightful, and well-written.  If this is what you’re looking for, definitely check out this book.  But this wasn’t what I was looking for; I was looking for what was advertised on the packet and since I didn’t get that my rating is lower than the book objectively deserves.

Find The World Between Two Covers at:
LibraryThing
WorldCat
BookFinder

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book
by Wendy Welch

Published: Oct 15, 2013
by St. Martin’s Griffin
ISBN: 9781250031617
Format: Paperback / softback | Trade paperback (US)

[star]

So here’s a deep, dark secret: I would love to own a bookstore someday.

I have this bookstore planned out in my mind almost to the last detail, although I sometimes fluctuate between whether to go all-inclusive or specialise in mystery fiction and also between all new books or a combination new/used.

All of this to say that when Nothing Better than a Good Book mentioned this memoir of a couple starting a used bookstore in a small Virginia town, I had to go out and immediately order it. This was a great opportunity to read about someone else’s experience trying to do the same thing I daydream about doing myself someday .

I found a lot of good stuff in here. A lot of things I knew, being the child of a shop (flower) owner and the wife of a business owner, but a lot of stuff too that I never took into account, like the amount of emotional baggage that can often accompany a crateful of used books or just how much a bookshop can become a community center.

There’s also a fair amount of philosophising most of which was interesting and some of it a little bit defensive but all of it mostly spot-on. Most of her defensiveness comes up when talking about ebooks and really, any bookseller would get defensive on this topic because people insist on viewing ‘ebooks vs. paper’ as a competition instead of what it is: a choice, an option. I understand where she’s coming from, but she protested just a bit too much.

This is solidly a memoir about starting a bookshop and it’s on the meatier side of the spectrum; it wasn’t a slog at all but it wasn’t a quick read either. I had sort of expected her to veer off topic once in awhile but the focus remained tightly on starting the bookshop and the first five years of keeping it running. I found it highly informative and interesting. Now if I can just get my husband to read it….

Find The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap at:
LibraryThing
WorldCat
BookFinder

Something rotten

by Jasper Fforde

ISBN: 9781932416244

[star]

Thursday has left the Bookworld after 2 years and is transitioning back to the real world and not without a fair few hurdles. Goliath is aiming for classification as a religion, Kaine is one step away from ruling all of the UK as a dictator, Danish books are being rounded up and burned by order of the government and in her absence, Thursday was convicted of cheese smuggling. Her husband is still eradicated and she’s 20k pounds in the hole on her overdraft. Oh, and she has to keep an eye on Hamlet, who came out of Bookworld with her so he could find himself.

Oh, so many things to love about this book. In no particular order and without spoilers:

– Pickwick. Pickwick is always worth loving but Fforde makes her so expressive with so very few words. She made me laugh out loud at least once.

– This is not the book to be in if you’re Danish. Lots of satirical comedy surrounding the sudden discrimination against Danes (especially in the chapter headings). Because some of my best friends in the world are Danish, I think I find it a lot funnier than some might; Fforde just nails it.

– Neanderthals get a lot more page time.

– The fight in the hanger. No spoilers, but I’ll just say it was masterful literary chess.

– The fate of the world might truly rest on the outcome of a game.

This is the book that wraps up more than a couple of story arcs. Lots of answers and very few questions remaining. I’ll admit I missed the footnoterphone more than I would have thought, and I truly prefer the shenanigans of Bookworld over the shenanigans of Real Life. Not really a surprise. There was a bit that I think went too far and felt too convenient, but I can’t even hint at it without spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.

The ending of Something Rotten is what got that last 1/2 star out of me. It was… well, just read it for yourself. If you’re a Thursday Next fan, I expect it will get you in the same place.