A-Z, my likes and dislikes: letter “D”

Themis-Athena has started this project, and I’m joining her – an alphabetical list of what I like and don’t like.  Some fun, some not.

Like:  Democracy

I was struggling with a “D” like, until events of last week.  I’m not going to use this post – or any other – to advocate political agendas.  My politics are my business.  But last week was appalling; seditious acts and an insurrection in the nation’s Capital building.  Nobody’s grievances are so just that they justify the actions of last week.

But one truly wonderful thing did happen in the midst of that lowest point in US history:  Congress stood up and got on with the business of putting the nation first and upheld the constitution.  And not just the Democrats who will be dining out on this for ages, but the die-hard Republicans too.  Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence, both of whom I often find problematic, made me proud last week.  They had nothing to gain and a lot to lose, and still they did their job with dignity; they upheld the Constitution.


Dislike: Disco.

As a child of the 70’s I should look back with nostalgia on those halcyon days when disco was king, right?  Er, no.

The thing is, I have never liked disco.  All the lights swimming around, and too many men singing in falsetto registers, about absolutely nothing to music that me feel like a needle was skipping inside my brain.  The women musicians that fall into the disco category at least had song lyrics I could get behind, but again, the music grated on my young brain.   I have no memory of ever wanting to see Saturday Night Fever as a kid, cementing my belief that disco was never meant to be for me.


The Windermere Witness (Lake District Mystery, #1)

The Windermere WitnessThe Windermere Witness
by Rebecca Trope
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780749012694
Series: Lake District Mystery #1
Publication Date: August 26, 2013
Pages: 414
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Allison & Busby

Following a personal tragedy, florist Persimmon 'Simmy' Brown has moved to the beautiful region of the Lake District to be nearer her charismatic parents. Things are going well, with her latest flower arrangements praised and Simmy content to lose herself in her work. But the peace she has found is shattered when, at the wedding of a millionaire's daughter, the bride's brother is found brutally murdered in the lake.

As the wedding florist, and one of the last people to talk to Mark Baxter alive, Simmy gradually becomes involved with the grief-ridden and angry relatives. All seem to have their fair share of secrets and scandals - an uncaring mother, a cheating father, and a husband twenty-five years older than his bride. When events take another sinister turn, Simmy becomes a prime witness and finds herself at the heart of a murder investigation. The chief suspects are the groom and his closely knit band of bachelor friends. They are all intimidating, volatile and secretive - but which one is a killer?

I picked this up at a used book shop during our aborted Christmas travels; having spent time in the Lake District, specifically, the towns of Windermere, Bowness, and Ableside that this story is set in, it appealed to me instantly.

Alas, it was no more than a drab average.  The characters didn’t know what they wanted to be: the MC tells an inspector at the beginning she’s moved to Windermere after her divorce, that she was childless and insisted that there were “compensations”.  By the end of the book she’s barely coping with the stillborn birth she had 2 years before.  Coping and repression are likely, of course, but they aren’t part of of the narrative, so the reader is left with no grasp of this MC.  The Inspector is either attractive and friendly or greasy-haired and antagonistic.  The MC’s mother is supposed to be a hippy, but acts more like a criminal attorney; I never once got the impression she liked her daughter.  The bride of the story is either flaky, naive and needs to be protected, or a headstrong woman who is the only one that can steer her much older husband’s life.  Flip-flop.

The elements of the plot were interesting, but the plot itself wasn’t anything special.  The motivation was pathetic and unbelievable, given the characters, and the murderer pretty obvious after about half-way.

The setting was what I’d hoped for, at least.  My memories of the Lake District are still vivid, and I loved the area, so ‘re-visiting’ it through the book kept me picking it back up.  This is the first in a series all set here, and while weak, not so bad that should I come across another one at a used book shop, I’d probably pick it up.

A-Z, my likes and dislikes: letter “C”

Themis-Athena has started this project, and I’m joining her – an alphabetical list of what I like and don’t like.  Some fun, some not.

Like:  Cascades

Waterfalls are a definite ‘like’ too, but for my money, cascades are a lot more fun.  Their rambling style lends itself to a multitude of picturesque nooks and crannies, pools, and small spots of white water.  Best of all, as far as I’m concerned, you can clamber about on them, letting the inner-kid out to roam and climb, discovering all those nooks and crannies close up.

Australia’s terrain lends itself to cascades, and MT and I have let the inner-kids out on a few of them over the years:

We’ve discovered all sorts of interesting bits at each of the cascades we’ve been to so far, from weird crayfish and dragonflies and tadpoles to wallabies, water dragons and whirligig beetles.


Dislike: Cockroaches.

Some people have a real, pathological problem with spiders, or snakes or rats.  Me, it’s cockroaches, to the extent that I struggle to even type the word.

In Florida, they’re called Palmetto Bugs.  They’re large, growing to just over 1.5 inches or 40mm, they have wings and they know how to use them.  I can’t prove it, but I’m certain they chase you.  When I was a kid, I had a particularly large specimen fly across the room to land on my face.  A katsaridaphobic was born in that moment.  Even here in southern AU where the specimens are a great deal smaller and wingless, I can’t handle them.  MT says he always knows when I’ve stumbled across one by the sound I make, a sort of inhaled scream; the sound of my psyche imploding.

I’d post a picture but you can believe if I can’t type the word there’s no way in hell I can deal with posting a picture.  Google “Palmetto Bug” if you’ve never run across these minions of satan and you’re curious.  Given the choice, I’ll take spiders any day.


A-Z, my likes and dislikes: letter “B”

Themis-Athena has started this project, and I’m joining her – an alphabetical list of what I like and don’t like.  Some fun, some not.

Like:  Bloom County Comic Strips

There were some contenders for B; boating was almost a shoe-in, until I looked up and saw my favorite Bloom County strip hanging on the wall.

Bloom County is an American comic strip that started in 1980 and featured a cast of characters with Opus the penguin the star (though I’d argue secondary characters Hodge-Podge and Portney got some of the best lines).  The author, Berkeley Breathed, burned out on deadlines and censors in 1989 and quit, but not before winning a Pulitzer for his work.  In the one good thing Facebook was ever good for, Breathed brought back Bloom County on the site in 2015, bringing much joy to unsuspecting fans.

Bloom County is one of the few – the rare few, unfortunately – forms of entertainment that make me laugh until tears fall.   Here’s a random sample of one of his strips; I tried to choose one that might resonate with any international readers (Breathed is known for his political strips, which can sometimes rely on cultural ‘in-jokes’).


Dislike: Bitter … anything.

There are five universally accepted basic tastes perceived by our taste buds: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.  I can’t tolerate bitter.

Coffee, really dark chocolate, beer, marmalade, many of the leafy greens (ie chicory/witlof).  None of these are anything but the equivalent of chewing aspirin for me.  With the exception of cocoa, I can’t even tolerate them as flavourings – coffee flavoured anything is just … aspirin.  (I know how awful aspirin are because as a kid I thought they all tasted like Bayer’s children’s aspirin, only to eat one and find out differently.) Whether this can be attributed to lack of exposure, or training, or special snowflake taste buds, I don’t know but the result is the same.  I avoid bitter foods the way I avoid bitter people.


A Pretty Deceit (Verity Kent, #4)

A Pretty DeceitA Pretty Deceit
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781496728470
Series: Verity Kent #4
Publication Date: October 14, 2020
Pages: 362
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

In the aftermath of the Great War, the line between friend and foe may be hard to discern, even for indomitable former Secret Service agent Verity Kent, in award-winning author Anna Lee Huber’s thrilling mystery series.

Peacetime has brought little respite for Verity Kent. Intrigue still abounds, even within her own family. As a favor to her father, Verity agrees to visit his sister in Wiltshire. Her once prosperous aunt has fallen on difficult times and is considering selling their estate. But there are strange goings-on at the manor, including missing servants, possible heirloom forgeries, and suspicious rumors—all leading to the discovery of a dead body on the grounds.

While Verity and her husband, Sidney, investigate this new mystery, they are also on the trail of an old adversary—the shadowy and lethal Lord Ardmore. At every turn, the suspected traitor seems to be one step ahead of them. And even when their dear friend Max, the Earl of Ryde, stumbles upon a code hidden among his late father’s effects that may reveal the truth about Ardmore, Verity wonders if they are really the hunters—or the hunted . . .

Aside from my subjective issues with the path Huber chose for these characters, I like this series; you could say I enjoy them in spite of myself.  But while this book was a 4 star read on the strength of its plot, it might have been a 4.5/5 star read if not for the weakness of the editing.

The narrative is much longer than it needed to be because Huber, with admirable motivation, spends a lot of time ruminating on the devastation wrought on both the soldiers who fought in WWI, and those left behind to cope in fear and anxiety.  She does bring light to many aspects of the horror that is war, especially the first world war, but she spends too much time doing it, and this is a murder mystery, after all.  I’m confident a lot of it could have been cut without losing the more important message, and the overall story would have been a lot better for it.

Still, the plot is a strong one, with aspects of scavenger and treasure hunting spicing up what would otherwise be an ordinary nemesis plot running parallel to a murder mystery.  I’m still kid enough to enjoy rhyming clues and secret codes, as well as the touch of cloak and dagger when used judiciously, and it is here.

As I opened the post with, I still don’t like what Huber is doing with the characters; while there are no love triangles or quadrangles, she has two other men in love with Verity who are dedicated to uncovering the series’ plot; there seems to be no plan for this to change and it’s tiresome.  Luckily, the murder mysteries have so far made up for it.  Can’t see that lasting much longer though.

A-Z, my likes and dislikes: letter “A”

Themis-Athena has started this project, and I’m joining her – an alphabetical list of what I like and don’t like.  Some fun, some not.

Like:  Aquamarine

The color, that is.  Based on my skin/hair/eyes, most people assume my favorite color is red, because it compliments me.  But while I do own a lot of red, it’s not my favorite color.  My favorite color has always been aquamarine. That impossible to describe color of some oceans, at just the right depth, in just the right light.  Not always exactly the same, but yet always aquamarine.

A couple of examples:

Dislike: Atheists; sub-type: anti-religion, vocal

Well, I changed gears in a hurry.  Now, notice I didn’t say Atheism.  I strive to avoid being judgemental in my life and in today’s age of information, I believe anyone who chooses to believe in the absence of God has made their choice of their own free will.  I don’t have to agree with that choice (and I don’t), but I should (and do) respect it.

The sticking point is that last sentence works both ways: They don’t have to agree with my choice, but they should respect it.  For those that don’t, I’m free not to put up with their need to tell me I’m crazy, or that “God-lovers” like me are to blame for everything in the world today.  Organised religion certainly has a lot to answer for, and quite a few of those organisations have strayed, or chosen a path that relies on a more esoteric interpretation of their religious texts.  But if this type of atheist is as “smart” as they think they are, they’d recognise the difference between faith and religion.  And either way, they’d be respectful of individuals with beliefs different from their own.

I’ve sat to dinner with people nominally my family (by marriage) and been the only person at the table who believed in God, and the only person at the table not throwing judgements around like they were party favours.  How these people cannot see they are acting out in the exact same manner that they purport to hate in the religious confounds me.

Believe, or not, in what you will, but be a good person, and if you can’t say something nice to someone who has done you no wrong, then just shut up.

No goals for 2021, but two micro-projects I’m stealing from Themis-Athena

Catching up on some of my friends’ blogs, I saw that Themis-Athena mentioned a meme she’s doing – which she got from Annabookbel –  called My Life in Books.  This is a short-ish list of questions you answer using book titles you’ve read in 2020.  This sounds like fun, so I thought I’d hop on board, though my results are going to take some time, so I’ll post it separately.  Also, when I mentioned it to MT, he immediately started looking at his read books and plotting out book-title-answers – slightly prematurely, if you ask me, seeing as how he doesn’t know the questions yet.

The other project she mentioned (that she got from BeetleyPete‘s) that made me sit up and start thinking is called An Alphabet of Likes and Dislikes, which is what it sounds like: an A-Z list of what I like, and an A-Z list of my dislikes.  Like Themis-Athena, I’m going to try to keep these away from the obvious: cats, books, birds, tea, etc.

This one is a longer project, so I have to figure out how I’m going to post it: as a side page, or a series of posts, or whatever.  I’ll have a think about it and figure it out.

One thing is certain though: I hadn’t even read the whole description out to MT before he had pad of paper in hand, listing the letters out for his own compilation.  He’s informed me that since he doesn’t have a blog (and nothing will entice him into building one), I’m expected to post his A-Z, which will be done all in one hit.  Those who have read his stuff before know he has a cheeky sense of humor that often flies right on into irreverent, so that should be entertaining.

Stay tuned.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder

A Lady's Guide to Mischief and MurderA Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder
by Dianne Freeman
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Countess of Harleigh Mystery #3
Publication Date: July 24, 2020
Pages: 278
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

London is known for its bustle and intrigues, but the sedate English countryside can host—or hide—any number of secrets. Frances, the widowed Countess of Harleigh, needs a venue for her sister Lily’s imminent wedding, away from prying eyes. Risings, George Hazleton’s family estate in Hampshire, is a perfect choice, and soon Frances, her beloved George, and other guests have gathered to enjoy the usual country pursuits—shooting, horse riding, and romantic interludes in secluded gardens.

But the bucolic setting harbors a menace, and it’s not simply the arrival of Frances’s socially ambitious mother. Above and below stairs, mysterious accidents befall guests and staff alike. Before long, Frances suspects these “accidents” are deliberate, and fears that the intended victim is Lily’s fiancé, Leo. Frances’s mother is unimpressed by Lily’s groom-to-be and would much prefer that Lily find an aristocratic husband, just as Frances did. But now that Frances has found happiness with George—a man who loves her for much more than her dowry—she heartily approves of Lily’s choice. If she can just keep the couple safe from villains and meddling mamas.

As Frances and George search for the culprit among the assembled family, friends, and servants, more victims fall prey to the mayhem. Mishaps become full-blooded murder, and it seems that no one is safe. And unless Frances can quickly flush out the culprit, the peal of wedding bells may give way to another funeral toll. . . .

Historical mysteries seem to be all the rage at the moment, and fortunately, publishers have yet to monetise and ruin the trend to such a degree that you can’t find a selection of well written series to enjoy.  While the quality of cozy mysteries has been abysmal the last several years, Historical Mysteries have filled in the gap nicely for me.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder is the 3rd in a series I discovered at my first (and so far only) Bouchercon convention.  It’s a good series, and this book is a strong 3rd book, moving the characters’ arcs along quickly, while presenting an interesting stand-alone plot, with clues easily missed and writing that skilfully misdirected the reader down several false avenues.  As the story moved along, some of the misdirection became obvious, but some of it didn’t, rendering a delightful mystery well done.

My only groan over the book was the introduction of Countess Harleigh’s mother who was caricatured for most of her page time, only to do the whole mama-lion thing and achieving what to me was an insincere redemption in the final pages.  Fortunately she’s not around much in this book and it wasn’t enough to really weight the book down.

The Grandest Bookshop in the World

The Grandest Bookshop in the WorldThe Grandest Bookshop in the World
by Amelia Mellor
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9781925972955
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Pages: 302
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Affirm Press

Pearl and Vally Cole live in a bookshop. And not just any bookshop. In 1893, Cole’s Book Arcade in Melbourne is the grandest bookshop in the world, brimming with every curiosity imaginable. Each day brings fresh delights for the siblings: voice-changing sweets, talking parrots, a new story written just for them by their eccentric father.

When Pearl and Vally learn that Pa has risked the Arcade – and himself – in a shocking deal with the mysterious Obscurosmith, the siblings hatch a plan. Soon they are swept into a dangerous game with impossibly high stakes: defeat seven challenges by the stroke of midnight and both the Arcade and their father will be restored. But if they fail Pearl and Vally won’t just lose Pa – they’ll forget that he and the Arcade ever existed.

A friend told me about this book 6+ months ago, as a gift idea for my 10 year old niece, mentioning it was a story I’d enjoy too.  I forgot about it until she reminded me back in October, so when, just a few weeks later, I saw it at one of my schools’ book fairs, I bought it for a Christmas present, thinking niece and I could read it together, since I’d be spending Christmas with her and her family.

Then, Christmas got cancelled and the book was packed up to ship up to her along with the rest of the presents.  I figured I’d get to it one of these days.

Turns out I would; a package arrived at our house 5 days after Christmas, from an online bookseller, containing this book – I never ordered it and there’s NO information in the package about who sent it.  Mysteries.  The Good Kind.

Anyway, I got to read the book and oh, what an enchanting story it is.  Firmly written for middle grade kids, but magical enough to capture this adult’s imagination.  Two children, who live above the Grandest Bookstore in the World** have 28 hours to solve 7 challenges or else their beloved dad and their bookstore will cease to exist.

There are shades of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jumanji, and on a deeper level Faust, but nothing ever too heavy for a 10 year old to handle.  Everything is couched in adventure and the heavier theme behind the Faustian roots of the story are confronted honestly without dwelling on them.  It really is a most wonderfully done story.

** Coles Book Arcade was a real place in Melbourne in the late 1800’s and it really was the Grandest Bookshop in the World.  While all the parts the author uses in the book (the tea room, the lolly shop, the fernery, etc.) didn’t all exist at the same time, they did all exist.  For those interested, I highly recommend this article from The Guardian, written by the author of this book, which you can find here.

2020: How I read in a year that shall go down in infamy

2020, the year we all hope the door hits in the ass on the way out.  Hard enough to leave a mark.

I know a lot of people saw the stay-at-home orders and lockdowns dramatically improved their reading, but for me, when I was already in a mother of a reading slump, the beginning of the pandemic tanked what little reading progress I was making.  Add to that the forced move to a new book tracking site, and this was, without doubt, the worst reading year I’ve had in 20 years.

Most everyone following this blog knows I hate WordPress, but the silver lining is a book library plug-in I bought that does some nifty stats.  So without further ado, my reading stats for 2020, such as they are.

Overview Stats

2 years ago (I think?) I read 220 books, so, yeah, a slight downturn.  Average rating seems to be about the same though, so what I am reading I seem to be enjoying as much.

Another tell of a bad year, by average days to finish this year was 5 when it used to hover around 1.

While I was reading much less, I was, at least, still reading (except March, a complete write-off).  In spite of everything going on, you can see the slump’s regression as the year progressed.

Writing reviews, however, took a wee bit longer to recover.

Stats on what I read:

While my most read genres continued to be the same, the proportions were dramatically different for 2020.  Normally, Mystery and UF would be swapped.  (Fiction, btw, refers to anything not a mystery nor urban fantasy: contemporary mostly.)

The size of the books I read changed little as well.  My sweet spot definitely seems to be firmly in the 200-399 page range.  Seems there were a lot of short stories/novellas this year too.

It’s clear I need to re-evaluate my rating process.  I’m heavy handed enough with my 4 star ratings to warrant taking a close look at those books to make sure I’m not unconsciously shifting the curve, making 4 stars ‘average’.   I’d like to think I just read a lot of books that are just that little bit better than average, but you never know unless you look.

This is unchanged – although that 42% Unknown means I missed some data entry somewhere.  It’s safe to say they’ll all be either Hardcover or Paperback; I’ve read almost no audio this year, though it’s possible there might be 3-4 audiobooks in that Unknown.  Something to look at next year.

I was going to add my 5 highest rated and lowest rated, but looking at the titles, they aren’t anything anybody would be interested in.  My reading this year was truly coping related in many ways, including 5 star rating a bird ID book. ::shrug::

Book Acquisition

To me, this is the most interesting part of the site’s analytics.  Because I can track editions I own, I can get stats on what I’ve acquired over time and from where.

If there was any good news to my 2020 slump, it was that my acquisitions also slumped dramatically.  Good news because even with a whole new shelving system in my library, space remains at a premium, and mount TBR doesn’t need to be any higher than it already is.  Still, 73 new books were bought; at least that was fewer than I read though.

Nothing new here, I still like mysteries.  Because I’m trying to make genres adhere somewhat to standards, Fantasy is Urban Fantasy.

Also, nothing new here.  Ebooks and I are not friends.

This one’s fun – at least I think so.  At first I was disappointed at how many books I’d still ended up buying from BookDepository (because: Amazon) but I’m heartened by the fact that the vast majority of my books came from non-Amazon sources, and a fair few from independent booksellers.

So that’s it; the one thing that stats are missing is the ability to breakdown the gender of authors, for obvious reasons (I’m not inputting author data, for one), but I’m wholly confident that more than 50% of the books I’ve read this year are by women, mostly because every year, more than half the books I read are by women.

Book Goals for 2021

If I had any book goals for 2021, I’d do a seperate post for them.  But I don’t.  No goals.  Not even a total books read goal.  I’m just going to read and see where it takes me.

May God (or what/whomever you believe in) give us the strength to make 2021 better than 2020.