Bodies from the Library 1 (MbD’s Deal-me-in Challenge)

Rather than create a separate post for each short story, I’m appending them under the anthology title as I read them.  Older short stores will be behind the ‘read more’.

Bodies from the Library 1Bodies from the Library 1
by Tony Medawar (editor)
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780008289225
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Pages: 324
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Collins Crime Club

The Elusive Bullet by John Rhode, ✭✭✭✭

In spite of 90% of the solution being screamingly obvious from the start, I enjoyed this story.  Dr. Priestly and his secretary are a very Holmes and Watson-esque duo, with Dr. Priestly relying, it seems, entirely on mathematics to solve his crimes.  It was well-written and flowed easily, with the action moving at a nice pace, allowing a quick read before bed.  An excellent way to be introduced to this anthology.

Magic Tides (Kate Daniels: Wilmington Years #1)

Magic TidesMagic Tides
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 978164197529
Series: Kate Daniels: Wilmington Years #1
Publication Date: January 17, 2023
Pages: 146
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: NYLA Publishing

Kate, Curran and their son, Conlan have left Atlanta, vowing to keep a low profile, and are settling into a new city and new house…but some things never change! Magical mayhem is about to erupt when Kate undertakes the rescue of a kidnapped youth, while Curran guards the homefront.

It should be a simple retrieval, but with monsters on land and sea, Kate’s got her work cut out for her. Still, she's never let her blade dull or her purpose falter. And that low profile? It’s about to wash away with the raging tides!

Just when I thought Kate Daniels was through and I was reduced to catching glimpses or mentions of her through Andrews’ other same-universe series, out comes this little novella, re-whetting my appetite for Kate and Curran adventures.

It was almost perfect.  I understand moving Kate and Curran to another city allows for a fresh set of adventures with new fiends to fight and friends/alliances to make, but I still knocked .5 a star off because I miss the old friends, dammit!  Not all of them, but I’d have really liked Barabas and Christopher to stick around.

Even without them, the story was excellent.  Very tightly written (and well edited!) with a plot that’s constantly moving forward, a lot of action, and a fair number of bad guys dying, with the humorous dialog that always make these books fun to read, even when the content gets a bit dark.

In my last review of an Andrews’ work, I bemoaned their decision to break completely from traditional publishing and stated a number of reasons why I thought it was less than ideal; I’ll add another (purely selfish) reason: with no traditional publishing contract, it’s anyone’s guess as to when – or even if – they’ll get around to writing another Wilmington Years story.  It’s hard enough to wait for a favourite series when you know it’s scheduled; it’s excruciating when you’re left at the whim of the author.  Still, fingers crossed, because it’s obvious Kate and Curran aren’t ready to be retired just yet.

Great Stories of Crime and Detection (MbD’s Deal Me In challenge)

Great Stories of Crime and DetectionGreat Stories of Crime and Detection
by H.R.F. Keating, Various Authors
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 2002
Pages: 1784
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Folio Society

As I’ve done for the other anthologies I’m using in this challenge, I’m creating one post per anthology – or in this case the boxed set of 4 volumes.  I’ll share some quick(ish) thoughts about each story as iI read them and append them to the top of post.  Previous thoughts will be under the ‘read more’.  Since this is a multi-volume collection, it will cause a bit of a mess, but I’ll try to keep it neat.

Volume IV: The Sixties to the Present (2000)

The Last High Mountain by Clark Howard: ✭✭½  Not my jam.  I really liked the setting of the Shoshone Indian Reservation, but the rest was all too … testosterone for my tastes.  There’s no mystery here at all; it’s the story of a just-released-from-jail-early Native American, who, in exchange for the early release (which was engineered by another shady Native American), agrees to knock off the payroll for the nearby Air Force base.  It’s a story of ironic timing, lots of errors and no happy ending.  For anybody.

Continue reading Great Stories of Crime and Detection (MbD’s Deal Me In challenge)

Sweep of the Heart (Innkeeper Series, #4)

Sweep of the HeartSweep of the Heart
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9798364351043
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4
Publication Date: December 1, 2022
Pages: 440
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: NYLA Publishing

Life is busier than ever for Innkeeper, Dina DeMille and Sean Evans. But it’s about to get even more chaotic when Sean’s werewolf mentor is kidnapped. To find him, they must host an intergalactic spouse-search for one of the most powerful rulers in the Galaxy. Dina is never one to back down from a challenge. That is, if she can manage her temperamental Red Cleaver chef; the consequences of her favorite Galactic ex-tyrant’s dark history; the tangled politics of an interstellar nation, and oh, yes, keep the wedding candidates from a dozen alien species from killing each other. Not to mention the Costco lady.

They say love is a battlefield; but Dina and Sean are determined to limit the casualties!

What a weird blend of Eurovision, The Bachelor and Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera.  Andrews sucked me in to the Innkeeper series by making the first one a gateway drug to what is ultimately a science fiction series – something that is definitely not my jam.  But I thoroughly enjoy the recurring characters so I keep with the series.

This was, for an Andrews book, a door stopper at 440 pages and the plot is a story within a story.  As it started as a serial, the complicatedness and length made sense and overall, it ready fast.

My biggest beef with the book and the reason for my rating is that, as a self-published book usually is, it’s terribly edited.  In addition to the myriad missing words (usually of the article and conjunction variety), Gaston becomes Tony from one sentence to the next in a scene that has already put Tony off-planet, and the final climatic scene of the Bachelor-like competition is so convoluted that I had to read it three times before it made any sense to me at all.  (The authors’ start with a countdown from 6th place, but then after 6th and 5th are announced, suddenly switch to counting up from 2nd.)  Frankly, this just pissed me off and really took a chunk of my enjoyment away from the story as a whole.

I understand the reasons for established authors to self publish on occasion but I think the Andrews are making a mistake to switch wholly to self publishing.  Their creativity might flourish, but their reputation, in the long run, won’t.  Self publishing suffers from the lack of editorial resources, and most of all, the lack of big publishing’s marketing resources.  While I’m a huge fan of just about everything this writing team puts out in terms of stories, I’m not about to haunt their website just to have some idea of if or when a new book comes out – and the odds of their attracting new readers to their body of work diminishes.  I just really wish they’d find a balance between self and traditional marketing.

Digression aside, this was definitely my least favourite InnKeeper book so far, although I love how the end circles back to what will hopefully be a follow up to Maude’s book and its cliffhanger ending.

Running with Sherman (re-read)

Running with Sherman: The Donkey that Survived Against All Odds and Raced Like a ChampionRunning with Sherman: The Donkey that Survived Against All Odds and Raced Like a Champion
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781781258279
Publication Date: July 2, 2020
Pages: 338
Genre: Memoir, Non-fiction
Publisher: Profile Books

When barefoot running guru Christopher McDougall takes in a neglected donkey, his aim is to get Sherman back to reasonable health. But Sherman is ill-tempered, obstinate and uncooperative - and it's clear his poor treatment has made him deeply fearful of humans. Christopher knows that donkeys need a purpose - they are working, pack animals - and so when he learns of the sport of Burro Racing or running with donkeys, he sets out to give Sherman something worth living for.

With the aid of Christopher's menagerie on his farm in rural Pennsylvania, his wife Mika and their friends and neighbours including the local Amish population, Sherman begins to build trust in Christopher. To give him a purpose, they start to run together. But what Sherman gains in confidence and meaning is something we all need: a connection with nature, the outdoors, with movement. And as Christopher learns, the side benefits of exercise and animal contact are surprising, helping with mental and physical health in unexpected ways.

I read this almost exactly 2 years ago to the day for the first time, and it was one of those stories that quietly stuck with me.  So much so, that when I saw a copy for sale at out local, I snapped it up without even thinking about it (I originally borrowed a friend’s copy).  I’ve been eyeing it for a re-read since I bought it and it did not disappoint.  My original review is below, and it stands – except for the part where I refer to the ‘filler’.  That has a negative sound and it isn’t a negative thing.  While the narrative dives off into different directions, those directions are related, and ultimately, quite fascinating.

A good friend of mine – whose idea of a good time is competing in triathlons – and I met for our weekly coffee/tea a couple of weeks ago, and she said “I have a book I think you’d like.” I looked at her with heavy scepticism, because she reads running books and cookbooks, and I’d rather starve than cook, and be eaten rather than run. “No, really; it’s written by a runner, but it’s about a donkey and I SWEAR nothing bad happens to the donkey, and it’s ends happily.” She knows me well.

So I brought the book home, and when MT saw it, he said, with heavy scepticism, “Is that supposed to be for me to read?”, thereby proving that the only person he thought less likely to be interested in the book than himself was me. So I started explaining how the book ended up on our coffee table and as I did, I opened it to the first page.

And was completely captivated. I don’t mean “oh, this actually looks good” in an idle sort of way, I mean once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop and I heard MT ask about 30 minutes later: “Did you mean to start reading that now?” Er… no, but shhh…

Part of this easy engagement definitely stemmed from my friend’s assurances that the story ended well; if she hadn’t sworn up and down that this was so, I’d have thrown the book down before I got to page 2 and refused to touch it again. The donkey may end up in a great place, but he doesn’t start there. Horrifying fact: donkey’s hooves never stop growing; they have to be trimmed or else they start curling upwards.

The story in a nutshell is this: the author, a runner, agrees to shelter and rehabilitate a donkey rescued from a hoarder. Part of the donkey’s recovery success depends on being given a purpose, and at a loss for anything more purposeful, and with a secret curiosity about the sport of donkey racing, the author starts the donkey on the long path from death’s door to racing fit.

That nutshell makes it sound like it’s still more about racing than the more sedentary reader would like, but it isn’t. This book is about the donkey – Sherman – and his fellow goat and equine friends, Lawrence, Flower and Matilda; it’s about the people involved in helping Sherman be his best donkey self, and, as filler to pad out the page count, a lot of interesting asides about related topics, such as the history of donkey racing (honest to god, it’s a thing), the people involved in racing donkeys, the benefits of animal/human relations, the benefits and dangers (in excess) of athletic training, depression, and the Amish. Yes, the Amish. It works.

McDougall is, at heart, a journalist, and the writing style and narrative reflect that. It’s well written and an easy read, but it lacks that formal, reserved style sometimes found in similar books. It’s chatty, and his personality comes through clearly, as does Sherman’s and his furry friends. Who are awesome, by the way.

Running with Sherman is the best kind of feel good book, where the animal triumphs in the end, and everybody wins. As the reader who’d rather be eaten than run (not really, but it’s a close thing), I’d happily recommend this book to anybody looking for an easy but worthwhile read.

Tales from Margaritaville

Tales from MargaritavilleTales from Margaritaville
by Jimmy Buffett
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: June 11, 1989
Pages: 233
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

The singer/songwriter displays his gift for creating witty, laid-back Southern stories in a collection of bizarre tales and thoughtful essays

The cure for what ails a homesick Florida Cracker.  These stories age perfectly (especially since a lot of them take place in the 60’s anyway) and never seem to lose their charm.

My original review below, with any additional thoughts from this read in … green.

I bought a paperback copy of this book around the time it came out in the early 90’s. and I fell in love with the stories. I’ve been re-reading it over the years whenever I felt homesick or nostalgic, because truly these stories capture a flavour of the south, and Florida in particular, that is hard to find in the present day. Snake Bite Key (the setting for a lot of the stories, or the characters’ backgrounds) could just have easily been in South Florida in the 70’s as it is a fictional island in Alabama.  I’ll also add here that while the stories and the characters are fictional, the characters’ personalities exist in people all over the South, for good or ill.

I recently upgraded my poor old softcover copy to a lovely hardback I found when I was on vacation, and I just had to sit down and re-read it. Funny how certain things stick out once your perspective changes: I never paid much attention to Buffett’s references to Australia and Australian Aboriginal myths until I was living in Oz myself; suddenly these references have more relevance for me. But otherwise, the stories hold up – they aren’t all gems and I love some more than others.

My personal favourites – and they remain my favourites to this day:
Off to See the Lizard:  I hate American football, but you can’t grow up in the South without an intimate knowledge of just how much of a religion it is – especially high school and college football.  This story folds that fervour into an entertaining story about the ultimate David and Goliath match.
Boomerang Love – this is my all-time favourite of the stories in this book.:  This is still true, even though it’s a flat out romance.  But it’s not really the romance that pulls me in, but the main character’s return home in the face of a hurricane; take the romance out of the equation and there’s just so much in this story I identify with.  
The Swamp Creature Let One In:  Another one I shouldn’t care a fig about, because it’s about golf, but it’s just soooo good.  A snake-handling preacher turned swamp creature who curses the sixteenth hole.  It makes me smile all the way through, even though it’s ridiculous and outrageous.  It also reminds me of home (where we had our own swamp legends).

Good but not great:
Take Another Road:  Ok, this one gets better as I re-read it.  It’s still not my favourite, but there are parts that appeal to me more and more.  Tully’s luck as he travels from Montana down to Alabama is sadly unrealistic, but it’s nice to imagine that a string of good luck sometimes happens.
I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever:  This is actually a really good story, but it’s a melancholy story that has a perhaps realistic ending, but not a satisfying one.

The Pascagoula Run:  Not as ‘meh’ or as tedious as I originally found it, but it’s definitely got a juvenile edge to it.  I remember days exactly like the one in this story, and how it felt to have to forge on the next day to face your commitments.  I remember thinking at the time it was all part of the wild ride of youth; now I just think about the mind numbing fatigue.

These are apparently semi-autobiographical:
You Can’t Take it With You: I wasn’t ever really sure there was much point to this one.  I still don’t.
Are You Ready for Freddy?: Tedious to the extreme. Freddy likes to hear his own voice.  Ok, this one didn’t strike me as tedious this time around.  Perhaps the difference this time is that since I read this last I’ve made the trip down the A1A/Overseas Highway to Key West, and a lot of the landmarks are still there, so I felt a more visceral connection to the trip Jimmy and Freddy make on their way to Key West.  Freddy’s stories still didn’t delight me, but I liked the rest better than I previously had.

Mostly auto-biographical:
Hooked in the Heart – this one couldn’t have been great – I can’t remember it!!  Now, this is wrong – I mean, I still can’t remember the story by looking at the title, but the story itself is memorable (an example, I think, of a bad title).  This is the story about Jimmy Buffett meeting the Cuban fisherman who inspired the ‘old man’ in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.  It’s a funny but touching story, and I thought Buffett wrote a compelling portrait of the man in just a few words.
Life in the Food Chain – Very good.  I’d probably downgrade this one to ‘good’.  It’s a laid back story about sailing – more an anecdote, really.
A Gift for the Buccaneer – I really liked this one.  I love this one – Savannah gets extra points for her reply; it elevates an interesting story into an entertaining one.
Sometimes I Feel Like a Rudderless Child – also thought this one was interesting, although it ended oddly.  I still think it ends a bit oddly, but this story – also a sailing one – is a notch above Life in the Food Chain.  It’s a complete story with drama and resolution, not merely an anecdote.

An oddball collection of stories, but most of them take me back home and leave me smiling when I’m finished; I’m not sure I can ask much more than that from Mr. Buffett.

Remainders of the Day

Remainders of the DayRemainders of the Day
by Shaun Bythell
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781800812420
Publication Date: September 1, 2022
Pages: 377
Genre: Books and Reading, Memoir
Publisher: Profile Books

The Bookshop in Wigtown is a bookworm's idyll - with thousands of books across nearly a mile of shelves, a real log fire, and Captain, the bookshop cat. You'd think after twenty years, owner Shaun Bythell would be used to the customers by now.

Don't get him wrong - there are some good ones among the antiquarian erotica-hunters, die-hard Arthurians, people who confuse bookshops for libraries and the toddlers just looking for a nice cosy corner in which to wee. He's sure there are. There must be some good ones, right?

Filled with the pernickety warmth and humour that has touched readers around the world, stuffed with literary treasures, hidden gems and incunabula, Remainders of the Day is Shaun Bythell's latest entry in his bestselling diary series.

My second to last book wholly read in 2022, and there’s not a lot to say about it except if you’ve enjoyed Shaun Bythell’s previous memoirs about running a bookshop in Wigtown, you’ll enjoy this one too.  If you haven’t yet tried his Diaries of a bookseller, and you enjoy that kind of thing, AND you enjoy reading about cranky, curmudgeons, then you might enjoy giving his books a try.

Each entry includes simple stats about books ordered online (through Abebooks or Amazon) vs. how many of those books were found on the shelves (used bookstores are messy) and how many books were sold in the shop and how much money was made each day.  These stats are enough to reinforce that nobody goes into bookselling to get wealthy … or even eat.  But in spite of his plain speaking about how tough it is to make it, and how stupid people are capable of being, he fails to dim the appeal of owning one’s own bookshop.  At least, not for this reader.


by Nigel Planer (narrator), Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781407033075
Series: Discworld #20
Publication Date: January 4, 2007
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Audio

Susan had never hung up a stocking . She'd never put a tooth under her pillow in the serious expectation that a dentally inclined fairy would turn up. It wasn't that her parents didn't believe in such things. They didn't need to believe in them. They know they existed. They just wished they didn't.

There are those who believe and those who don't. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it's helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl - even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions...

Another re-read.  My first read of Hogfather was back in 2017, and I can’t really add anything different, so I’m appending that original review here.

Actually, as the original read was of the printed edition, I will just add that I thought Nigel Planer did an excellent job with the narration, and even MT, who passed by as I was listening, mentioned he was impressed with the wide variety of voices and accents Planer gave to all the characters.

I was supposed to be doing this as a buddy read with everyone, but I’ve not been keeping my end up at all. The cold I thought I’d beaten down made a comeback at the end of last week, so I kept falling asleep every time I tried to get stuck into Hogfather. Which sounds like a terrible condemnation of the book, but is really is NOT. The book was excellent. I’d prove it’s excellence with quotes, except all my reading buddies beat me to all the quotes I liked the best.

There’s mischief afoot in the Discworld, and the Hogfather is missing. Death decides to step in and play the Hogfather’s role, visiting houses, filling stockings and doing his best to ensure that belief in the Hogfather never falters, while his grand-daughter Susan and a host of others do their best to thwart the mischief so Hogfather can come back.

This is a brilliant story – practically flawless. My only two complaints are that:

  1. Teatime is a little too evil; it adds an edge to the story that I freely admit is necessary; without it the whole thing would be a little less brilliant. Nevertheless, His story line was the fly in my lemonade; I’d be reading along having a rollicking good time and then he’d show up being manically evil, and it felt like someone let the air out of my balloons.

  2. The book kept referring to both dollars and pence. Either this was done on purpose, because it’s the discworld and can use any form of currency Pratchett would like, or else it’s an editing error that wasn’t caught during a transition from UK to international editions. If it’s the former, well, that’s totally fine. But I don’t know, so I kept wondering if it was the latter and I kept getting tripped up by the discrepancy.

In the grand scheme of things, these are inconsequential – this is, hands down, the best discworld book I’ve read so far. But Teatime’s rain on my holiday parade does keep me from going the whole 5 stars.

If you like silly fun with a side of very deep philosophy, read this book.

There’s one quote I don’t think anyone has beaten me to yet:

Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

That might very well be my favourite quote of the book.

Salt: A World History

Salt: A World HistorySalt: A World History
by Mark Kurlansky, Scott Brick (narrator)
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781597770972
Publication Date: May 1, 2006
Pages: 828
Genre: History, Science
Publisher: Phoenix Books

Homer called it a divine substance. Plato described it as especially dear to the gods. As Mark Kurlansky so brilliantly relates here, salt has shaped civilisation from the beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of mankind.

Wars have been fought over salt and, while salt taxes secured empires across Europe and Asia, they have also inspired revolution - Gandhi's salt march in 1930 began the overthrow of British rule in India.

From the rural Sichuan province where the last home-made soya sauce is made to the Cheshire brine springs that supplied salt around the globe, Mark Kurlansky has produced a kaleidoscope of world history, a multilayered masterpiece that blends political, commercial, scientific, religious and culinary records into a rich and memorable tale.

I thoroughly enjoyed this.  It’s a straight up history, and I found it not at all boring.  On some level I knew salt was historically important, but that’s about it.  Its importance, it’s perceived rarity, the lengths cultures would go to for salt – I had no idea.  Needless to say, I learned a lot, and I liked it.  So much so that I found myself listening to this outside my car trips as I did mundane tasks at work that didn’t require my attention (cleaning tech).  Included throughout the text are recipes – mostly historical, but even so, it makes me wish I had a printed copy of this book for my shelves.

The narrator, Scott Brick, gets a lot of credit for the rating.  He did a fantastic job, reading this as if the thoughts were his own and you were in the midst of an enjoyable conversation.  Very natural, and his voice extremely pleasant to listen to.

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us

An Immense WorldAn Immense World
by Ed Yong
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: June 30, 2022
Pages: 449
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Penguin Books

The Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic fields. But every animal is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving only a tiny sliver of an immense world. This book welcomes us into previously unfathomable dimensions - the world as it is truly perceived by other animals.

We encounter beetles that are drawn to fires, turtles that can track the Earth's magnetic fields, fish that fill rivers with electrical messages, and humans that wield sonar like bats. We discover that a crocodile's scaly face is as sensitive as a lover's fingertips, that plants thrum with the inaudible songs of courting bugs, and that even simple scallops have complex vision.

We learn what bees see in flowers, what songbirds hear in their tunes, and what dogs smell on the street. We listen to stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, while looking ahead at the many mysteries which lie unsolved.

Ed Yong coaxes us beyond the confines of our own senses, allowing us to perceive the threads of scent, waves of electromagnetism and pulses of pressure that surround us. Because in order to understand our world we don't need to travel to other places; we need to see through other eyes.

I’d been looking forward to this book since I heard it was coming out, and I started it soon after I received it, but Halloween Bingo came up and the book got set aside for the duration of the game.  I had to go back and re-read a few bits to refresh my memory before picking it back up.  I mention this because the fact that it took me over 100 days to read this book isn’t a reflection on the book itself.

An Immense World is a very readable exploration of how non-human animals perceive the world, with Yong trying very hard to connect the reader to perceptions that he’s the first to admit are almost impossible for us to imagine.  Starting with the 5 senses we ourselves use, and how they differ wildly, and sometime dramatically, from animal to animal (peacock shrimp have 16 different visual receptors – we have 4) and why that’s not always the good or bad we imagine it to be, Yong than expands into the senses we can only imagine, like the use of electric  and magnetic fields.

He’s right, of course, that it’s impossible to experience the world as another animal does, but occasionally Yong comes close to bringing the reader at least a hint of what that other perception might be like.  He does this with a modicum of charts and as little rock-hard science as he can get away with, allowing any reader to expand their thinking without intimidating them.  On the other hand, as someone who enjoys rock-hard science, I wasn’t disappointed or left wanting either.  I think he found a decent balance between both audiences, and I really appreciated the color photo inserts in my hardcover edition, especially for those animals discussed that I’d never heard of before (knifefish, for example, which generate their own electricity).

There’s a lot to take in here, but I found it all interesting.  Enough so that I might re-read this via audiobook in the new year, in hopes that a bit more of what I read will sink in.