On the Edge (Novel of the Edge, #1)

On the EdgeOn the Edge
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441017805
Series: Novel of the Edge #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

Well, it just goes to show you: people change and you should never say never.  I read this book back in 2016 and my review from that reading was … unfavourable, ending with my declaration that I’d never read the book again.

Shows you what I know.  I not only read it again, I liked it better than I did the first time.  It’s still a little too PNR for me, but I found it easier to get into the story, the setting and the characters.  Maybe because I’d already read it and had a vague recollection of not liking the romantic interest, I found him less unbearable than I expected to, and the non-consent issues didn’t feel as egregious this time around, only typically arrogant.

I can’t really say why, except maybe I’ve read more Ilona Andrews’ since, or my mood was more receptive to the story.  Who knows?  But I went from rating this 3 stars and never reading it again, to rating it 4 stars and buying a copy of it for my shelves.  Along with the other 3 book in the series.

 

I’ve been intending to read this since I ordered it back in July, but its arrival during Halloween Bingo was fortuitous;  it’s a great fit for the Relics and Curiosities square.  The story line centers on a powerful artefact from a previous civilisation that eats magic and spits out something very akin to a demon hound.

Scourged (Iron Druid Chronicles, #10)

ScourgedScourged
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780525486459
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #9
Publication Date: April 15, 2018
Pages: 268
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Books

 

I bought a signed copy of this book around the time it came out, before I heard that the general conclusion of other readers’ was disappointment.  It sat on my TBR shelf neglected ever since.  But recently I read a review for the second book in his new series, which is winging its way to me as I write this and in that review it’s mentioned that Atticus and Oberon play a part and they get the ending they deserve.

Well, in order to appreciate the ending they deserve, I needed to know about the ending they got, so, being in a very bad mood yesterday anyway, I grabbed this book and thought “let’s get this over with”.

And it turned out, I guess because I was braced for the worst, that I didn’t think it was so bad after all.  Yes, if you agree with the premise that not all promises are meant to be kept, Atticus’ ending was pretty dire in consequence of keeping that ill-fated promise.  And no, I didn’t really enjoy all the self-flagellation Atticus had going on, nor did I think Granuaile’s reaction at the end entirely proportional.  But over everything else was kind of fun.  I enjoyed seeing all the pantheons show up, and I liked the humour and the ever-so-subtle oneupmanship between them.  And as much as I love Oberon, I wasn’t unhappy with his smaller role in this book.  There’s a fine line, I think, between Oberon being adorable and funny, and Oberon being insanely obnoxious, and this book found that line before it crossed it.

I’m not sorry to see the series come to a conclusion, though I’ll miss the characters.  I am glad I read it too, because I’m really looking forward to what I can only guess is Atticus’ redemption in the new series, Blood and Ink.

 

I read this book not really thinking how it would fit on my Halloween Bingo 2021 card.  And it really doesn’t, although it would work for Gallows Humour.  But I have a Wild Card I can use, and a square I don’t like, Plague and Diseases so I’m going to use Kevin Hearne and this book to take care of that space.

Schott’s Original Miscellany

Schott's Original MiscellanySchott's Original Miscellany
by Ben Schott
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780747563204
Publication Date: November 4, 2002
Pages: 159
Genre: Non-fiction, Reference
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

 

I love these types of books.  I picked it up on a whim at a neighborhood tag sale, and when I got home, and opened it, I was giddy with the eccentric variety of useful facts contained within.

A page of English Public School plan, the solution to the Hampton Court Maze, English/Continental glove size conversions … all on two facing pages.  Then there’s seriously useful stuff, like the molecular structure of caffeine, the Glasgow coma scale, and how to read Hazmat warning plates.  And the generally useful stuff, like an egg sizes scales (both traditional and modern), clothing care symbols, and clothing/shoe size conversions between British, American and European standards.

MT and I laughed at some of the silly things it includes too, like Scottish clan war cries, WWII Postal Acronyms and the degrees of Freemasonry.

I delight in collections of useful and less-than-useful information; as this book has a bit of both, it’s a gem of a find for me and my personal library.  And of course, I’m curious about whether or not there’s an updated edition.

How About Never? Is Never Good for You?

How about Never - Is Never Good For You? My Life in CartoonsHow about Never - Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250062420
Publication Date: December 8, 2015
Pages: 288
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Picador

 

My life waiting for Halloween Book Bingo to begin has been frustrating.  I’m in the tail end of a weird book slump that feels like it’s lasted forever (over a year to be sure), and my recovery still feels precarious, like it could go either way.  Because of this, I’m not doing any pre-planning for Bingo, but I still know there are a few books I’m waiting to read that will fit, so I’m trying to hold off.

Last night, I was sooo bored with this plan that I almost scrapped HB all together and just started in on the small stack I’m trying to wait on, and in a last ditch effort to find something else on my TBR to hold my attention, I found How About Never? Is Never Good for You? on a very small outlier of my TBR pile.  I’d forgotten all about it, and honestly can’t remember where I bought it, only that I did so because I like most of the New Yorker’s cartoons, and I’d read Mary Norris’ Between You and Me which I thoroughly enjoyed, leaving me with a positive feeling about the staff’s extracurricular writing.

How About Never? Is Never Good for You? turned out to be a very engaging, and very fast read.  I knew nothing about Bob Mankoff before reading it and therefore had no expectations.  The subtitle is My Life in Cartoons which is a nice double play on words, as this memoir covers almost exclusively his career as a cartoonist and cartoon editor for The New Yorker, and the book is liberally sprinkled with cartoons, both his and others’ works, which is, along with the engaging writing, the reason the read goes so fast.

He discusses the rise of the periodical cartoon as an art form, the genesis of The New Yorker’s cartoons, the process by which the magazine chooses the cartoons each week, and the advent of, and the fiendish difficulty of, the “add a caption” contest and how not to win it.  And he does it all with a charming brevity that is just long enough to be interesting and just thorough enough that the reader gets something out of it.

All in all, it turned out to be a delightful way to kill 3 hours or so last night.

This is Improbable

This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and other WTF ResearchThis is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and other WTF Research
by Marc Abrahams
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781851689316
Publication Date: September 6, 2012
Pages: 299
Genre: Non-fiction, Reference, Science
Publisher: Oneworld

 

I had high hopes for this book, coming from the founder of the Ig Noble Prizes, but alas it wan’t quite the chatty, easy to read format I’d expected.  This is, in fact, a collection of his columns from The Guardian, slightly expanded upon and cited out the wazoo.  This makes it an excellent reference for those times when you’re specifically looking for bizarre, twisted or otherwise outlandish research, but rather less excellent if you’re looking for an enjoyable sit-down read.

Still, it’s a comprehensive (one would hope) collection of some of the most head-scratching research being done out there in the name of science, and if you’re willing to read through the dry reportage, a few amusing facts.  My two favourites were the patent issued in the USA in 1977 for the comb-over – yes, the one you’re thinking of, that oh-so-sexy and not-at-all-obvious disguise for male pattern baldness.  And an Australian patent in 2001 for a “Circular Transportation Facilitation Device”.  Which is, you guessed it, the wheel.

A more timely and relevant invention for us in these pandemic days is the US patent awarded in 2007 for a “Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks”.  A/K/A a bra, that in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks.  It was awarded an Ig Noble prize in 2009 for Public Health, but one has to wonder just how Ig Noble the invention remains?

What Cats Want

What Cats Want: An Illustrated Guide for Truly Understanding Your CatWhat Cats Want: An Illustrated Guide for Truly Understanding Your Cat
by Yuki Hattori
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781526623065
Publication Date: November 3, 2020
Pages: 160
Genre: Non-fiction, Reference
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

 

MT found this last year and bought it for our nieces who were adopting a couple of kittens.  He liked it so much he bought a copy for our library too.  It’s a very easy read, with small bits of information about every facet of raising happy cats.

I’d say the book is far more suited to those like my nieces, for whom having cats in the family is a wholly new experience.  Veteran cat-slaves will find a lot of what they already know here, although I really appreciated the charts showing the different meanings of cat expressions and tail positions.  The chart of differing meows was harder to interpret.  I’d also have liked the book to address more pragmatically the issue of different foods for different stages of life (we have two “senior” cats and one kitten, all of whom think they should be eating out of all the bowls – how to seperate diets?).

But for anyone I knew who was getting their first cat companion, or even their second or third, this is the book I’d give them as an excellent introduction.  Lots of information easily and attractively presented.

Heroes by Stephen Fry: I’ve listened to 24%

Heroes by Stephen Fry:  I’ve listened to 24%Heroes
by Stephen Fry
ISBN: 9781405940573
Published by Penguin Books on 2019
Format: Audiobook

Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes.Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta - who was raised by bears - outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera.Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of - at our worst and our very best.

I’m loving this so far. Stephen Fry states right up front that there are many names and lineages and begats and that the listener shouldn’t pay any attention to trying to keep track of it all – just enjoy the stories. He also adds that there are many ways to pronounce the Greek names, and he’s choosing the pronunciations that are most comfortable for his speech patters, most of which would probably make any self-respecting Greek cringe.

What he doesn’t make as clear, but is my favourite part, is that he’s telling these stories of the Greek heroes in very much his own way, his own style, with funny or witty asides. He’s chosen his source materials and sticks to the ‘facts’ of them, but the tales are liberally sprinkled with his own ad-libs, and when he does character voices, he makes no attempt to mimic anything resembling a Greek accent – there are shades of Monty Python in his character voices. I know he was never in Monty Python, but I stand by this assertion. Perhaps it’s his work with Hugh Laurie that’s showing through. I only know there’s one character I kept expecting to break out in “he’s a very naughty boy!” And I’m almost entirely certain none of the Greek heroes had Scottish accents.

This is Fry telling stories and oh, he’s so brilliant at it, I’m thoroughly loving listening to him regale me with these tales.

Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural World

Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural WorldNature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural World
by Andrea Hart, Ann Datta, David Williams, Hans Walter Lack, Judith Magee, Sandra Knapp, Simon Werrett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780565094645
Publication Date: September 1, 2019
Pages: 240
Publisher: Natural History Museum

Almost a year this book took me to read.  I just checked my start date, and if I’d known I was so close, I’d probably have put off finishing it just for the nice, round number.  Then again, probably not: the passive guilt of this book sitting on my ‘reading’ pile was wearing me down.

None of that is meant to be a condemnation of the book, so much as a result of the nature of the book itself.  Nature’s Explorers is a collection of essays written by a selection of contributors who all either work for the Museum of Natural History, or are closely associated with it.  Each essay covers one of history’s great natural explorers and their contribution to science and the arts.

All of the expected players are included: Darwin, Humboldt, Hook, Gould, Audubon, Banks, etc. but there are quite a few lesser known naturalists and explorers too.  Two women get essays, including Margaret Elizabeth Fountaine, the late-1800’s lepidopterist who inspired Deanna Raybourne’s character, Veronica Speedwell, in her latest historical mystery series.

As always in a collection of essays written by a variety of people, some are better than others.  All are detailed snapshots of the subject’s life and accomplishments, encapsulated in 3-5 pages and surrounded by gorgeous, richly coloured illustrations and reproductions of their work.

A gorgeous book worth owning, but not one to be rushed through.

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made WorldStuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World
by Mark Miodownik
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780544236042
Publication Date: November 6, 2014
Pages: 252
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I have this in hardcover, but I listened to the audiobook from the library.  So I’m not sure if my feelings about the book are because I listened to it, or if I’d have felt the same reading it.  I do know that Storm in a Teacup is a much better read about slightly similar subjects.

Stuff Matters is a relatively slim tome covering some of the marvelous ‘stuff’ we live with, and the selection is quite varied: concrete, stainless steel, chocolate, plastics (the most irritating of the chapters), glass, graphite.  There was good information about said stuff in here, but I admit it didn’t hold my attention in nearly the same way as Storm in a Teacup.

The narrator’s voice reminded me strongly of an actor, whose character I can clearly see but can’t place.  Very, very British, balding, bow tie, condescending and misanthropic in a humorous way.  This might have had something to do with my impressions of the book, too, though I’d have to read the print version to be sure.  And someday, I likely will.

Purrfectly Dead (Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery, #5)

Purrfectly DeadPurrfectly Dead
by Dixie Lyle
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250078445
Series: Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery #5
Publication Date: January 1, 1970
Pages: 325
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks

I’d given up on this series.  Purrfectly Dead was one of those books whose publication has been slated for years, but whose release date was always being pushed back.  I’d accepted it was something of a zombie.  And then a few months ago, there it was, released and waiting for me.

The series itself always leaves me baffled – not least because I thoroughly enjoy it in spite of myself.  I must not be alone in this feeling, as the author recognises this in the first chapter, in a clever breaking of the fourth wall combined with a series world-building summary: the MC can communication with animals telepathically, and part of her job is overseeing the pet cemetery, which serves as a crossroads for animal spirts travelling to visit their former owners (also dead).

I’ve never been a fan of talking animals so I shouldn’t enjoy this series as much as I do (and the cat calling the MC ‘toots’ grates on my nerves), but I love the idea of the crossroads, and the mysteries are usually pretty good, so it works.

I enjoyed the book, including the incredibly fast, witty dialogue, and not only laughed out loud, but had to read MT passages about the rock star with writer’s block and his efforts to overcome it (all of which involve copious amounts of recreational drugs).  But there’s a theme to the plot that’s based on Native American mythology – Thunderbirds – that I’d have liked to have enjoyed more, but didn’t.  There was no reference to Native Americans or their myths beyond using Thunderbirds, and the themes behind averting a supernatural war were heavy-handed.  A tad preachy.  However, the murder mystery was excellent with very clever plotting and possibly the best method of hiding by a villain I’ve ever read.  Admittedly impossible, but so much fun anyway.

I hope the reasons for the series hiatus are behind it and there’s a 6th book in the works; the premise is a bit silly, as the author acknowledges, but it’s also so heart-warmingly wonderful and fun at the same time.  So fingers crossed I can look forward to another one.