The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the WorldThe Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World
by Michael Pollan
Publication Date: January 1, 2001
Pages: 273
Genre: Natural Science, Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Random House

In 1637, one Dutchman paid as much for a single tulip bulb as the going price of a town house in Amsterdam. Three and a half centuries later, Amsterdam is once again the mecca for people who care passionately about one particular plant -- though this time the obsessions revolves around the intoxicating effects of marijuana rather than the visual beauty of the tulip. How could flowers, of all things, become such objects of desire that they can drive men to financial ruin?
In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan argues that the answer lies at the heart of the intimately reciprocal relationship between people and plants. In telling the stories of four familiar plant species that are deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, Pollan illustrates how they evolved to satisfy humankinds's most basic yearnings -- and by doing so made themselves indispensable. For, just as we've benefited from these plants, the plants, in the grand co-evolutionary scheme that Pollan evokes so brilliantly, have done well by us. The sweetness of apples, for example, induced the early Americans to spread the species, giving the tree a whole new continent in which to blossom. So who is really domesticating whom?

Weaving fascinating anecdotes and accessible science into gorgeous prose, Pollan takes us on an absorbing journey that will change the way we think about our place in nature.


Nopity nope, nope, nope.  Couldn’t do it.  Way too much meandering about and I was just bored.  Plus, I have problems with authors trying to explain evolution as though it were a sentient process, and while I agree with the premise that plants have likely evolved to appeal to humans, thus ensuring their own survival, I draw the line at the conceit, through bad use of language, that the plants made a rational choice to do so.  It makes me imagine a room full of plants, sitting around a table, plotting out the structure of their own DNA in order to better market themselves to humans.

No, no, no, no, no.

The Sherlockian

The SherlockianThe Sherlockian
by Graham Moore
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780446572583
Publication Date: January 1, 2010
Pages: 351
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Twelve Books (Hachette)

In December 1893, Sherlock Holmes-adoring Londoners eagerly opened their Strand magazines, anticipating the detective's next adventure, only to find the unthinkable: his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed their hero off. London spiraled into mourning-crowds sported black armbands in grief-and railed against Conan Doyle as his assassin.

Then in 1901, just as abruptly as Conan Doyle had "murdered" Holmes in "The Final Problem," he resurrected him. Though the writer kept detailed diaries of his days and work, Conan Doyle never explained this sudden change of heart. After his death, one of his journals from the interim period was discovered to be missing, and in the decades since, has never been found.... Or has it?

When literary researcher Harold White is inducted into the preeminent Sherlock Holmes enthusiast society, The Baker Street Irregulars, he never imagines he's about to be thrust onto the hunt for the holy grail of Holmes-ophiles: the missing diary. But when the world's leading Doylean scholar is found murdered in his hotel room, it is Harold-using wisdom and methods gleaned from countless detective stories-who takes up the search, both for the diary and for the killer.


This book and I had problems.  Well, half this book and I had problems.  The other half was amusing if completely unrealistic.

The Sherlockian is a story told in two timelines: one that begins in 1893, when Conan Doyle makes the fateful decision to kill off Sherlock Holmes, and covers the events that happen though 1901; the other timeline takes place in the ‘present’, which is 2010, in this case.

The Holy Grail of Sherlockians has always been what happened to a cache of Conan Doyle’s papers that were missing after his death, including one of his journals, so the present day timeline is the search for that journal and the answers to who killed the Sherlockian who claimed to have found it, while the Conan Doyle timeline follows events that would have been recorded in the missing journal.

As I mentioned above, I found the present day timeline amusing in a mad-cap caper kind of way – the kind that requires a complete suspension of disbelief, as well as operating on the pretence that law enforcement, for all intents and purposes, no longer exist.  This story line is entirely about the thrill of the puzzle, the hunt, the process.

But here’s my beef, and it’s about the other timeline; the historical one.  This is a work of historical fiction, and the author is quick to point out at the end that all the events are fabricated.  Fine.  I read that type of historical fiction frequently – real people in fictional settings.  But usually the author has a greater respect for the real-life people he uses in his fictional story lines.  There’s an expectation that the author adhere to a character’s basic … character.

That categorically did not happen here.  Moore obviously did not care a whit for maintaining Conan Doyle’s integrity, because most of the historical timeline had him doing things so completely out of character as to drive me to yelling at the book.

If I knew nothing about Conan Doyle, I’d have found him and Bram Stoker dressing up as women and crashing a suffragette meeting mildly amusing, but I do know something about Conan Doyle.  Enough to know that it beggars belief to think of him doing anything of the sort.  If an author is going to write a fictional story using real historical people doing fictional things, those historical persons should do those fictional things the same way they’d do the factual things – otherwise, it’s not the same person and the author (and reader) would have been better served using a fictional character instead of maligning the real one.  (“Malign” does not refer to Conan Doyle dressing as a woman, but to a different event that to share would be a massive spoiler.)

So.  Half the book was amusing.  The other half … ok, the other half might have been amusing for someone who doesn’t know, or hold in such high regard, the real life people used for fictional purposes, against their basic characters.  If you know nothing about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and are in the mood for a bit of madcap mystery, go for it.  If you do know and admire ACD, you’ve been warned.

Darwin’s Most Wonderful Plants: Darwin’s Botany Today

Darwin's Most Wonderful Plants: Darwin's Botany TodayDarwin's Most Wonderful Plants: Darwin's Botany Today
by Ken Thompson
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781788160285
Publication Date: July 4, 2018
Pages: 255
Genre: Natural Science, Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Profile Books

A rediscovery of Darwin the botanist and his theories on insectivorous and climbing plants

Most of us think of Darwin at work on The Beagle, taking inspiration for his theory of evolution from his travels in the Galapagos. But Darwin published his Origin of Species nearly thirty years after his voyages and most of his labours in that time were focused on experimenting with and observing plants at his house in Kent. He was particularly interested in carnivorous and climbing plants, and in pollination and the evolution of flowers.

Ken Thompson sees Darwin as a brilliant and revolutionary botanist, whose observations and theories were far ahead of his time - and are often only now being confirmed and extended by high-tech modern research. Like Darwin, he is fascinated and amazed by the powers of plants - particularly their Triffid-like aspects of movement, hunting and 'plant intelligence'.


A well written homage to Darwin’s other ground-breaking works, each chapter covers one of Darwin’s papers or books concerning plants.  As the author points out, if Origin of Species never came out of the drawer, Darwin would still be a genius game-changer just in the subject of botany.

The book is easy enough to read with a basic background in botany and/or a tolerance for the technical names for the parts of a plant.  As usual after reading a book about plants, I have a new list of plants I want in my garden – all of them carnivorous.

Histories of the Unexpected: How Everything has a History

Histories of the UnexpectedHistories of the Unexpected
by James Daybell, Sam Willis
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781786494122
Publication Date: October 1, 2018
Pages: 467
Genre: History, Non-fiction
Publisher: Atlantic Books

In this fascinating and original new book, Sam Willis and James Daybell lead us on a journey of historical discovery that tackles some of the greatest historical themes - from the Tudors to the Second World War, from the Roman Empire to the Victorians - but via entirely unexpected subjects.

You will find out here how the history of the beard is connected to the Crimean War; how the history of paperclips is all about the Stasi; how the history of bubbles is all about the French Revolution. And who knew that Heinrich Himmler, Tutankhamun and the history of needlework are linked to napalm and Victorian orphans?

Taking the reader on an enthralling and extraordinary journey through thirty different topics that are ingeniously linked together, Histories of the Unexpected not only presents a new way of thinking about the past, but also reveals the everyday world around us as never before.


This was a weird one.  The book focuses on the premise that everything has a history beyond the obvious, including things like bubbles, clouds and itching, and it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness style, so that the history of hands leads to gloves, leads to perfume, etc.  The authors host a podcast by the same name, so I’m guessing this book is the result of the podcast’s success.

It sort of works.  I genuinely enjoy reading history from any viewpoint that doesn’t include wars, battles, skirmishes, politics, genocides or religious persecutions, and for the most part this book delivered on that.  At times the authors slipped into their true historian selves and some of the above made an appearance.  I skimmed those sections, and skipped sections that included histories involving animal cruelty, but there was very little of both.

The writing was good enough to hold a reader’s attention, but the structure of the book lends itself to limited attention spans, or for dipping into a chapter at a time.  Since it’s designed to bounce around, it’s difficult to get absorbed in the reading of it.

Possibly a good choice for a young adult reluctant to see the point of history.

Heroic Hearts

Heroic HeartsHeroic Hearts
by Anne Bishop, Charlaine Harris, Chloe Neill, Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes, Kevin Hearne, Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780593099186
Publication Date: May 3, 2022
Pages: 350
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

In this short story collection of courage, adventure, and magic, heroes—ordinary people who do the right thing—bravely step forward.

In Jim Butcher’s “Little Things,” the pixie Toot-Toot discovers an invader unbeknownst to the wizard Harry Dresden . . . and in order to defeat it, he’ll have to team up with the dread cat Mister.

In Patricia Briggs’s “Dating Terrors,” the werewolf Asil finds an online date might just turn into something more—if she can escape the dark magic binding her.

In Charlaine Harris’s “The Return of the Mage,” the Britlingen mercenaries will discover more than they’ve bargained for when they answer the call of a distress beacon on a strange and remote world.

And in Kelley Armstrong’s “Comfort Zone,” the necromancer Chloe Saunders and the werewolf Derek Souza are just trying to get through college. But they can’t refuse a ghost pleading for help.

ALSO INCLUDES STORIES BY Annie Bellet * Anne Bishop * Jennifer Brozek * Kevin Hearne * Nancy Holder * Kerrie L. Hughes * Chloe Neill * R.R. Virdi


This sounds like a romance, but as the cover makes clear it’s an urban fantasy anthology, and the title refers to acts of heroism by characters that would normally be considered bit players or underdogs.

And it’s an excellent collection; with the exception of one (The Vampires Karamazov, which felt like a story fragment, or at least, a story with an incomplete ending), I enjoyed all of them; not something I can often say about anthologies.  Of course this collection’s deck is stacked, if you know what I mean, with authors like Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Anne Bishop, Kevin Hearne, and Chloe Neil, each of them offering short stories that complement or extend their most popular series.

I’m not sure I can come up with a favourite.  As much as I enjoyed all my favourite authors’ entries, when I think back across all of them the two that immediately come to mind as stories that ‘stick’ are Jennifer Brozek’s The Necessity of Pragmatic Magic – perhaps because I might overly identify with Felicia, who only wants to be left alone, and Kerry L. Hughes’ Troll Life which somehow charmed me in ways I can’t quite pinpoint; maybe the sentient trains?

Patricia Briggs’ story features Asil, Dating Terrors, and while it’s always fun to read about Asil – he makes me laugh – and the story is good, I have to admit I think he plays to best advantage when he’s surrounded by Charles, Anna, Bran and the rest of the pack.  For those interested, this short story is not the same one as Asil and the not-date found in the Laurel K. Hamilton anthology Fantastic Hope; it’s related, I suspect, and I’m certain Dating Terrors takes place after Asil and the Not-Date.  It also appears to have long-reaching implications for Asil and his fans; I’m wondering if they’ll play out in the next Alpha and Omega book?

Skull Duggery (Gideon Oliver, #16)

Skull DuggerySkull Duggery
by Aaron Elkins
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780425227978
Series: Gideon Oliver #16
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Pages: 281
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Gideon is happy to be in Mexico with his wife-until he’s asked to examine the mummified corpse of a drifter thought to be shot to death. Gideon’s findings reveal that the cause of death is far more bizarre. Then he’s asked to examine the skeleton of a murder victim found a year earlier-only to discover another coroner error. The Skeleton Detective knows that two “mistakenly” identified bodies are never a coincidence. But if he isn’t careful, unearthing the connection between them could make him another murder statistic in Mexico.


Years ago – years and years ago now – this series was recommended to me by someone on BookLikes.  I never got around to hunting down the first book, but ran across this one at a used book sale a year or two later and bought it intending to hang onto it until I’d read the first 15 books.

Fast forward to last week, when I accepted that wasn’t going to happen and decided to just dive right in.

Turned out that was totally fine, I don’t feel like I missed anything at all, and best of all I was presented with a really good, solid mystery.  The pacing was leisurely, which frustrated me a bit at first, making me realising that even in books our attention spans have shrunk, but I found the characters and the writing interesting enough to dig out my store of patience.  I also put it down to read The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir when I was about 25% through, so obviously my store of patience could use some building up.

Once I picked it up again, though, it just all started working for me.  I like Gideon Oliver, a forensic anthropologist, and I loved the plot structure.  I knew from the start what the first plot twist would be, but that reveal was made so early it was clear there was far more coming.  It was all so laid back I kept wondering how the author was going to manage the moment in any mystery where the MC is in peril.  When it did happen it was so fast and furious and wtf? that it seemed anti-climatic, but from there the story just got more and more nicely twisty until the ending was just clever and satisfying.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have found a new series to seek out and enjoy – and it’s one that I’ll be happy to acquire at the same leisurely pace as the writing, with a sense of anticipation but not urgency.

The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner

The Witch's Vacuum CleanerThe Witch's Vacuum Cleaner
by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780857534835
Publication Date: August 25, 2016
Pages: 388
Genre: Children's Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Random House

Do you believe in magic?

Can you imagine a war between wizards, a rebellious ant called 4179003, or a time-travelling television?

Can you imagine that poor old Mr Swimble could see a mysterious vacuum cleaner in the morning, and make cheese sandwiches and yellow elephants magically appear by the afternoon?

Welcome to the wonderful world of Sir Terry Pratchett, and fourteen fantastically funny tales from the master storyteller. Bursting from these pages are food fights, pirates, bouncing rabbits and magical pigeons.

And a witch riding a vacuum cleaner, of course.


Long before Terry Pratchett became Terry Pratchett! he was a journalist for the Buck’s Free Press, writing short stories for their Children’s Circle.  This is a collection of some of those short stories, enhanced with illustrations by Mark Beech.  It also includes commentary after each story by a Suzanne Bridson, though I’d not include that as an enhancement.

I found the stories charming in a Roald Dahl way, except I suspect Pratchett of imagination, whereas I sort of suspect Dahl of LSD abuse.  They were funny, witty and there are hidden references to LOTR, C.S. Lewis’ work, and hilarious homages to the Wild West, including Maverick.  As I read, I kept thinking my nieces would find these fun, if I could get them to just try a story or two (they’re reaching that age when the tastes of all adults tank and can’t be trusted), and I must bring the collection to the attention of my sister-in-law who insists that teaching small children is fun.

The commentary was meh and in my opinion, skippable.  Bridson is, I’m assuming, aiming it at the stories’ audiences, and it’s obviously meant to steer them towards the full novels.  The comparisons she points out are the obvious ones, and she ignores almost all of the careful nuances and subtle wordplay that I appreciated most.

My edition is the slipcased one shown and it’s beautiful.  Inside I found it included a full colour illustration from Mark Beech, on postcard sized stock, slipped between the pages, a pleasant bonus.

Books & Mortar: A Celebration of the Local Bookstore

Books & Mortar: A Celebration of the Local BookstoreBooks & Mortar: A Celebration of the Local Bookstore
by Gibbs M. Smith
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781423650430
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Pages: 152
Genre: Books and Reading
Publisher: Gibbs Smith

A visual feast celebrating the alluring power of bookstores - 68 paintings by illustrator Gibbs M. Smith.

The local bookstore, a place of wonder, refuge, and rejuvenation for book lovers the world over. Books & Mortar is a celebration of these literary strongholds. Sixty-eight oil paintings capture these storefronts at a moment in time, and pair the artwork with quotations about the joy of reading, the importance of bookstores, and in many cases, anecdotes about the shops and owners themselves.


I’m a sucker for these types of books, even though I know they date quickly, and I was feeling grumpy about my DNF and needed something easy and quick.

Based on the About this Author on the back page, I gather that this was a posthumous publication of primarily the author’s (who was also a publisher) personal paintings of bookstores around the country, put together as a memorial of sorts.  As such, some of the bookstores included had already closed (thought only a small number).  Most have some description about the history of each shop, some only a quotation.

The painting style appeals to me and I was delighted to see a section at the back for “bookshops I have visited” with each shop listed and a place to include the date, making this book a journal of sorts for anyone willing to write in a book.

This Charming Man (Stranger Times, #2)

This Charming ManThis Charming Man
by C.K. McDonnell
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781787633384
Series: Stranger Times #2
Publication Date: February 15, 2022
Pages: 499
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Bantam Press

Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it's particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester . . .

Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose - step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.

It's not like they don't have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn't like people touching his stuff - it's the principle of the thing.

Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as 'a lot of baggage' and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.


Still a lot of fun, but not as enthralling as the first book, The Stranger Times.  Part of that, I suspect, is that it’s hard to maintain momentum over 500 pages.  The story never dragged, but it just lacked the snap the first one had.

Which makes it sounds back-handed, and I don’t mean it to; the book may have been 500 pages, but I devoured it over two days.  The writing was excellent, the plot was really good – relevant, creepy in both a supernatural and natural way – and the characters continue to charm (or not) with their eccentricities.  Because the story is told from multiple perspectives (3rd person always), the reader is able to connect a few dots before the Stranger gang can as they investigate why vampires are suddenly springing up all over Manchester when everyone agrees they’re the one thing that doesn’t exist, but not so much as to be frustrating – and when it all comes together, it’s all rather more appalling that I was expecting.

The author leaves plenty of scope for the third book; the editor of the paper is left hanging with a haunting message from beyond the veil, and nobody knows, or wants to know, what Stella is, except for Stella herself.  And the newspaper still has no bathroom.

Lots to look forward to in the next book, unfortunately, I’ll be looking forward until sometime in 2023.

The Dreamtime: Australian Aboriginal Myths in Paintings

The Dreamtime: Australian Aboriginal Myths in PaintingsThe Dreamtime: Australian Aboriginal Myths in Paintings
by Ainslie Roberts, Charles P. Mountford
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 0851790259
Publication Date: March 1, 1970
Pages: 79
Genre: Fiction, Mythology
Publisher: Rigby

I wanted a collection of Dreamtime myths from the moment I arrived in Australia, but it took me almost 10 years to find it and when I did, it was from a Canadian bookseller.

I picked it up today and read it all in about 90 minutes.  The introduction, written in the mid-60’s, tries to be respectful, and succeeds for the most part, but the style was at times hard to swallow: it sounded like one of those wildlife tv shows from the 70’s.

The stories themselves, and the paintings that pair with them, are mostly well told, though I noticed areas of geography are referred to by their colonial names.  The art is wonderful, sometimes haunting and sometimes disturbing, but always beautifully executed.