Die Laughing ~ Carola Dunn

  • Title: Die Laughing
  • Author: Carola Dunn
  • Series: Daisy Dalrymple #12
  • Genre: Cozy mystery
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Spring hemlines for 1924 have risen almost to the knee, to the dismay of Daisy’s mama-in-law. Fashion is hardly the only bone of contention between Daisy and Mrs. Fletcher, but Daisy has encountered a problem that eclipses her domestic dilemmas. A visit to the one person sure to instill terror into Daisy’s dauntless heart–the local dentist–turns out even worse than expected when she discovers Raymond Talmadge slumped dead in his chair, a nitrous oxide mask clamped to his smiling face. Others may believe the dentist was a secret dope fiend whose addiction took a tragic turn, but Daisy and her husband, Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher, are sure he was murdered. Suspects abound–the devastatingly handsome Talmadge didn’t need laughing gas to make his female patients swoon. And then there’s Talmadge’s wife, Daphne, who was involved in an illicit dalliance of her own. With scandals surfacing in a case that grows more tangled every day, Daisy faces her most perplexing mystery yet, courtesy of a cold-hearted killer who may be preparing to strike again.


I’ll miss Daisy, the protagonist of my favorite cozy mystery series. I didn’t read it in chronological order, and I intentionally didn’t read the novels of this series back to back, to prolong the pleasure, but every good thing comes to an end. This book is the last of the series I hadn’t read before, except for the new one, just released. Now, to get a new Daisy, I’ll have to wait for eternity (well, maybe another year, but still…)

As always, Daisy stumbles upon a dead body in the beginning of the book. And not just a body – it’s her dentist. The investigation, conducted mostly by Alec, the DCI of Scotland Yard and Daisy’s husband, proceeds in a normal way, but now and again, Daisy comes up with a new little factoid or a new insight, and they frequently turn Alec and his crew in a new direction.

I can’t comment on the characterization in this book alone. I absorb Daisy as a whole, like a living person. With every encounter – every book in the series – she grows more complex and more human, progressing from a literary mystery heroine to a woman who lives nearby. I love her. For me, she is a friend, insatiably curious, wise, and deeply compassionate, always ready to take those less fortunate under her wing. Her resentment-laced relationship with her mother-in-law makes her even more alive.

The secondary characters are well defined as well, some of them recurring, others entirely new. Together, they form a solid framework for the story – the only story in the entire series where the culprit has got away from justice. But the search for the murderer is a fun ride, fast and baffling. Every chapter, one more red herring is disposed of, and a new suspect appears.

I didn’t guess the real villain until close to the end of the novel, and to tell the truth, I’m still not certain. As Alec couldn’t make an arrest, there was no confession and no real evidence, just the conjectures and the possible motivation for the crime. But the process of elimination works here as well as it worked for Sherlock Holmes: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

The author’s subtle humor, present in the whole series, comes to the fore in this book. After all, how many dentists get murdered in mystery fiction? This is the only one I know.
My favorite quote from the book:

As Daisy gave her address, she was trying to decide what to do next. The sergeant obviously wasn’t going to listen to her. Should she phone the Yard again, or just give up and let some maniac run loose hither and yon murdering dentists?
The notion was undeniably attractive.

She resists the attraction manfully and goes on helping the investigative team in any way she can, even using her “adhesive loquacity” (what a phrase!) when needed.

Note: Look at the gorgeous cover of this paperback. I read the hardcover edition with a different cover art, also good, but this one with a skeleton is just fantastic!

The Haunted Bookshop ~ Christopher Morley

  • Title: The Haunted Bookshop
  • Author: Christopher Morley
  • Genre: Mainstream
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  A charming and entertaining novel that captures the romance of books and bookshops. “When you sell a man a book,” says Roger Mifflin, protagonist of this classic bookselling novel, “you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue–you sell him a whole new life.” The Haunted Bookshop finds Mifflin and his wife, Helen McGill, ensconced in Brooklyn, where they encounter some strange goings-on in their bookstore. The unraveling of the mystery provides a rollicking plot while allowing Mifflin (and Morley) to expound on the delights of reading and the intricacy of the bookseller’s art.

Review: This book is not nearly as good as its prequel, Parnassus on Wheels. In The Haunted Bookshop, we meet the same protagonists, Roger and Helen, plus two new ones, Aubrey and Titania, but neither the new characters nor the double number of pages made this novel better. Just the opposite, I think the longer format caused the writer to succumb to the unforgivable sin: wordiness.

The story itself mostly takes place in Roger’s bookshop in Brooklyn and, like its predecessor, it proclaims the value of books and reading. Unfortunately, the author allows his hero, Roger, the bookseller, to expound on his favorite subject of literacy for far too long. Sometimes it reads like forever, and I skipped those pages.

Examples? Ten pages of an incomprehensible conversation of the booksellers – skipped. To give the author his due, he warned his readers in a footnote to skip those pages, if they are not booksellers. Five pages of Roger’s inner monologue on the same subject – skipped. Roger’s prolonged and repetitive discourses on the evils of war – skipped. Seven pages of Roger’s letter to his brother-in-law, presented in its entirety – skipped. In some places, the book reads like a sermon to literature and peace, boring and didactic, instead of a story it’s supposed to be. The story got subjugated by the preaching.

The long, involved moralizing slows down the action, and the heroes are not as well defined as they could’ve been. Although the main plot line is something of a thriller, with an enigmatic book that keeps appearing and disappearing from the shelves, overall, the novel is a bit tedious. The mystery scheme only coalesces into existence at about midpoint, throwing off the balance of the tale. Before that, it is mostly an empty talk. After that, it is almost a sprint to get to the end.

I think this book could’ve been twice shorter, and it would’ve been twice better for cutting out all the extra verbiage. I happen to agree with Roger’s point of view on all counts, but his long harangues don’t make his sentiments any more valid than they already are.       

One more complaint – everyone is smoking in Roger’s bookshop. He himself smokes constantly. I could almost sense the disgusting smell as I read – it’s so-o-o dated.

Still, I finished the book and I’m not sorry I spent the time. Roger is a wise man, his love for books is contagious, especially when expressed in a condensed form, and his humor is sometimes irresistible.

“People don’t know they want books. I can see just by looking at you that your mind is ill for lack of books but you are blissfully unaware of it. People don’t go to a bookseller until some serious mental accident or disease makes them aware of their danger. Then they come here. For me to advertise would be about as useful as telling people who feel perfectly well that they ought to go to the doctor.”

“Between ourselves, there is no such thing, abstractly, as a ‘good’ book. A book is ‘good’ only when it meets some human hunger or refutes some human error. A book that is good for me would very likely be punk for you. … There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it.”

“I don’t mind a man stealing books if he steals good ones!”

Roger’s loathing for war (the book was written soon after the end of the WWI) is also worth mentioning. I’m with him 100%.

“You see those children going down the street to school? Peace lies in their hands. When they are taught in school that War is the most loathsome scourge humanity is subject to, that it smirches and fouls every lovely occupation of the mortal spirit, then there may be some hope for the future. But I’d like to bet they are having it drilled into them that war is a glorious and noble sacrifice.”

It is a classic, and one should make allowances to its venerable age – 100 years – when reading it. Like an old man, this book is often more verbose than we would like, but even now, 100 years after its publication, every word still rings true. Recommended!

The Risen Empire ~ Scott Westerfeld

  • Title: The Risen Empire
  • Author: Scott Westerfeld
  • Series: Succession #1
  • Genre: Science-fiction
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  From the acclaimed author of Fine Prey, Polymorph, and Evolution’s Darling (Philip K. Dick Award special citation and a New York Times Notable Book) comes a sweeping epic, The Risen Empire, Scott Westerfeld’s dazzling hardcover debut.

The undead Emperor has ruled his mighty interstellar empire of eighty human worlds for sixteen hundred years. Because he can grant a form of eternal life, creating an elite known as the Risen, his power has been absolute. He and his sister, the Child Empress, who is eternally a little girl, are worshiped as living gods. No one can touch them.

Not until the Rix, machine-augmented humans who worship very different gods: AI compound minds of planetary extent. The Rix are cool, relentless fanatics, and their only goal is to propagate such AIs throughout the galaxy. They seek to end, by any means necessary, the Emperor’s prolonged tyranny of one and supplant it with an eternal cybernetic dynasty of their own. They begin by taking the Child Empress hostage. Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial Frigate Lynx is tasked with her rescue.

Separated by light-years, bound by an unlikely love, Zai and pacifist senator Nara Oxham must each in their own way, face the challenge of the Rix, and they each will hold the fate of the empire in their hands. The Risen Empire is the first great space opera of the twenty-first century.

Review: Some books take a while to really get going, and some books throw you into the action from page one. This book was one of the latter. It opens with a thrilling space battle with a completely unexpected twist, and had me completely hooked from the get-go.

This is hard science-fiction (as opposed to the science fantasy from authors such as Jack Vance), with space travel at percentage-of-lightspeed, advanced technologies that sound scientific and plausible, and a suitably advanced culture that is completely believable. One of the coolest technologies is the synesthetic implant that everyone receives as standard, and which allows data to be viewed through the other senses a human possesses. Throughout the novel people see the real world in primary sight and have overlays in secondary and sometimes even tertiary sight, and it sounds pretty awesome. I also loved how there are four types of gravity: hard, easy, wicked and lovely. You’ll have to read the book for explanations of how they all work.

At the centre of the novel is the Empire of eighty worlds, ruled by the Risen Emperor and his sister, the Child Empress. The Emperor has done the impossible: he has found a way to conquer death and grant eternal life by means of a symbiotic implant, though this implant only works on dead people. This gift of immortality is controlled by the Emperor, and he has had absolute power over the eighty worlds for sixteen hundred years.

In contrast to this are the Rix, ‘enhanced’ humans who worship their planetary compound minds and wish to seed these AIs on every inhabited planet in the universe. Caught in the middle is Captain Laurent Zai, who is tasked with rescuing the Empress when she is taken hostage by the Rix.

This book has so much going for it that it’s hard to pin it all down. There is a thrilling space battle that takes up a big chunk of the book and at times takes place in microseconds, yet never gets boring. There is a good dose of politics, contrasting the unbending traditionalism of the Risen and their grey worlds with the pinks: those who believe that to be immortal is to be stagnant, and who would take the power away from the Risen. There is romance, in the form of the relationship between Zai and his lover Nara Oxham, a Senator from one of the pink planets. It introduces the concept of the Time Thief, the effect that the military experiences due to traveling throughout the universe at relativistic speeds. In essence this means that if they spend two years traveling at, say, ten percent of the speed of light, ten years may have passed in absolute time. Ten years relative to them could be fifty years absolute, so any family left at home will age and die long before they do.

I usually prefer to read fantasy over sci-fi, but when I do grab a sci-fi novel, this is the kind of novel that does it for me. Gripping from start to finish, and I can’t wait to read the conclusion.


Sample: Duck Blood Soup by Frank and James Hofer

SSV is happy to give you a tantalizing peek at Duck Blood Soup and tease your reading appetites for more! The post has a snippet of three different chapters from the novel. Just enough to get you hooked!

The Story

When Eizenfeng’s leading wizards combine science with magic, the world changes dramatically. Technological advancements, coupled with racial and economic tensions propel the country toward war with a longtime ally. Jeunelux is oblivious to the building turmoil; scorching days harvesting tomatoes and her annoying older brother are more pressing concerns.

Suddenly, strange dreams that haunt her nights become reality. Jeunelux, along with two other untrained and unlicensed teen wizards embark on a quest to save the girl’s father, rescue a giant, and prevent a war.


Chapter 1

“For someone who loathes humans, you sure waste a lot of time trying to understand them.”

Kruk didn’t bother to look up from the tiny book. “It’s because I study them that I despise them. Have you ever read their literature? Volumes dedicated to violence, deception, and adultery. They write about emotions that they have no hope of ever understanding. Their history books are full of weak attempts to simultaneously justify self preservation and self destruction. It’s mind boggling. Besides, it’s no different than you and your spiders.”

“It’s completely different,” Lren said. “Spiders serve a purpose. They’re worth understanding. Look at a spider web some time. If the natural art doesn’t convince you, the mathematical intricacies must.”

Lren paused as a smile crossed his longtime friend’s face. Kruk had once again managed to change the topic. Defeated, Lren muttered, “At least you’ve never seen me crush a spider.”


Chapter 9

Lightning briefly lit the pitch black sky and trailing thunder masked the screams for just a moment. The glow of distant fires reflected off of the low clouds and revealed the nearby smoldering ruins. The stench of death and destruction filled the air. Jeunelux instinctively knew that she was both here and not here; that she was a part of, but distant from the scene around her. Smoke and rain mercifully hid the full extent of the devastation.

Jeunelux found herself walking along a strange river bank. Across the river’s black water she could just make out the silhouette of a town much larger than Genderalt. Rain fell around her yet her night dress was dry. Mud squished between her toes, but her bare feet remained clean. She wanted to move faster but her leaden legs had a mind of their own. Jeunelux sensed rather than saw others like her.

Groenendael ignored the massive club swinging toward his head. The weapon passed harmlessly through the wizard and found its target in the person of a shop owner standing behind him. The behemoth did not seem to care that it had missed him, and in fact did not seem to notice the wizard at all but instead.


Chapter 12


It was the one word that brought dread to heart of every farmer in Eizenfeng. ‘Dragonfly’ would have been bad enough, but his wife Regle had yelled ‘Dragonflies’. She knew the important distinction between the two words.

One of the six-inch creatures might only destroy a few plants, but when their numbers grew they became far more destructive. A couple of dozen could destroy a whole farm — barn, house and all. A swarm could destroy a small town. Garimet looked out of the kitchen window. He couldn’t see how many dragonflies there were, but with his entire family out in the field one was too many. The farmer rushed out the back door of the house without bothering to drop his spatula.

Garimet wasn’t sure what he could do to help his family if there were more than a few dragonflies. The fields aren’t burning; that’s a good sign, the farmer thought. He could see his two youngest boys running toward the barn with Regle urging them along. She would try to protect the barn and its contents. The family’s livelihood depended upon it. A week’s worth of harvested vegetables were loaded onto wagons in the barn. If they lost those, there wouldn’t be enough money to cover the bills.

Regle stopped running once she saw Garimet. The normally strong woman was struggling to hold back her tears. “Teravus fell when we were running from the field. I think he might have broken his leg. Jeunelux was trying to help him, but there are so many dragonflies. Please Garimet, please save them. I can’t lose another child.”

Words alone wouldn’t comfort his wife. He wanted to hold her in his arms and let her cry on his shoulders. “Get the boys to the barn. If things get too bad, make your way to the root cellar. I’ll do what I can for Teravus and Junie.”

The farmer sprinted toward the fields, searching frantically for his children. The dragonflies’ buzz drowned out his shouts.

Garimet understood why his wife sounded so panicked. In his forty years he had never seen this many dragonflies. Hundreds buzzed above the fields, working themselves into a frenzy. Instead of feasting on the plants like they normally would, the insects darted back and forth, high and low. The bugs were most dangerous when they were agitated and he knew it wouldn’t be long before these started breathing fire.

In the middle of the swarm Garimet noticed an area devoid of insects. He ran to that spot, his fatherly instincts telling him that his son and daughter would be there. One of the dragonflies swooped down and with a small puff of fire singed the farmer’s hair. Experience told him that the worst thing he could do was swat at the bug. A crushed insect would give off an acrid scent that would provoke the entire swarm to attack anything and everything.


Are you intrigued? Do you want more? Get the book! For more information about the Hofer brothers and their work, please check out their website.

Measuring Your Fantasy World by Michael Pryor

November 6, 2013

A writer has many challengesold measurements france when creating a consistent, self-sustaining fantasy world for a story. Some are easy to anticipate, but others sneak up on you. After months of preparation, mapping, outlining and imagining, many a Fantasy writer has leaped into the first draft intoxicated by the joy of the world she has created, only to be brought up short by something apparently minor which results in some ceiling gazing and mumbling things like, ‘I really hadn’t thought of that.’

One of these insidious little aspects of world-building often overlooked is the business of measurement – distances, lengths, weights, volumes and so on. Once you start writing your epic, you’ll be surprised to find how often we need to refer to such things. How far away is the enemy? How can you give some indication that your hero is lifting something really heavy? In your fully imaginary world, how do the residents measure their surroundings? And when they do, how do they refer to them?

You can try using comparisons – ‘She was as tall as a house and she could throw a stone twice as far as three big houses lined up one after another’ – but these quickly get tedious, and reader will soon feel like you’re avoiding something. If your fantasy world is going to be convincing (and that should be a fundamental aim) then your inhabitants won’t go around their everyday lives looking to compare things to elephants. Or wagons. Or dinner plates.

One can simply ignore this issue and have your plucky goatherd tell the barbarian warrior that the castle of his lord is ‘about six or seven kilometres down the road’ or note that your wise sorceress adds ‘fourteen milligrams of eye of newt’ to her potion. Some writers do just that, but I have trouble with this approach. I’m a supporter of the metric system, but when it always strikes me as too ‘this world’ and it tends to jerk me out of the narrative. It sounds too modern and scientific for a quasi-mediaeval, low tech Fantasy world. And that’s even though I know that the metric system is a good two hundred years old.

Another approach is to use an older system, one more rooted in tradition – the Imperial system of weights and measures. Having your knights talk in pounds and ounces, while your peasants measure their height in feet and inches has an in-built consistency and fits neatly. It all sounds wonderfully old-fashioned and authentic – to some of us. The trouble is that the Imperial system isn’t as out-dated and outmoded as we might think. The USA uses it today and so, to USA based readers, the Imperial system might not have the cosy ring of antiquity that sets a narrative in a land far-off and long ago.

Some writers advocate going to all the trouble of inventing new units of measurement, terms that sound exotic and other worldly. I’d advise against this. Partly because it’s a lot of work, and partly because it can be utterly baffling for the reader. It can lead to such things as ‘Krognor was a good six m’mmbeths tall and weighed 12 systlas while Jeezra was as well built as a forty-one garleth barrel.’

Even worse, we get convoluted efforts to try to explain these units. ‘The farm was four hagronds away, which was a day’s walk for a strong warrior or two day’s walk for a weakling, or a quarter of a day for a mail carrier on a horse.’

It’s a pity that this approach is fraught with difficulty, for the judicious dropping in of created words is a useful way of reminding a reader that they aren’t in the ordinary world any more – they’re in a Fantasy world where normal rules may not necessarily apply. Exotica can contribute to the background texture that is part of the joy of reading Fantasy.

I do have a suggestion, a way that combines the best of the approaches above and avoids most of their disadvantages: use obsolete, traditional measurements. These have the beauty of being somewhat familiar but are obviously the creation of a long-ago time. When a reader comes across them they are immediately taken out of the here and now. And they are often based on the physical world and so are easy to relate to.

Here’s a bunch of obsolete and outmoded units of measurement that might be useful. Some of them are splendidly evocative of other times. Drop them in appropriately and your readers will be transported, in a good way.

Distance and length

League – about three miles (nearly 5 kilometres).

Chain – about 20 metres.

Furlong – about 200 metres.

Rod – about 5 metres.

Fathom – about 1.8 metres.

Ell – about 1.1 metres.

Cubit – about half a metre (the measurement from fingertips to elbow).

Armspan – a bit less than two metres.

Hand – about 10 centimetres

Barleycorn – about 8 millimetres


Hundredweight – about 50 kilograms.

Stone – about 6 kilograms

Dram – about 2 milligrams

Pennyweight – about 1.5 grams.

Scruple – about 1.2 grams.


Season  – a quarter of a year (four winters had gone by …).


Tun – about 900 litres.

Perch (for masonry) – about 700 litres.

Hogshead – about 300 litres.

Barrel – about 160 litres.

Bushel (for dry goods) – about 35 litres.

Peck (for dry goods) – about 9 litres.

Dram – about 3 millilitres.


Rood – about 1000 square metres.


To find out more information on Micheal Pryor and his work, please visit his website.


Parnassus on Wheels ~ Christopher Morley

  • Title: Parnassus on Wheels
  • Author: Christopher Morley
  • Genre: Mainstream
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  “I warn you,” said the funny-looking little man with the red beard, “I’m here to sell this caravan of culture, and by the bones of Swinburne I think your brother’s the man to buy it.” Christopher Morley’s unforgettably weird classic tale of adventure on a traveling bookstore called Parnassus, drawn by a steed called Pegasus. Not to be missed.

Review: Charming, simply charming! I don’t believe in all my readings over the years I missed this author. I’m totally in love with this short and sweet gem of a novella, published in 1917, almost a hundred years ago. I’m going to read more of Morley. I’m definitely reading the sequel – The Haunted Bookshop – as my 1947 edition of this book has both under one cover.

Despite its low page count, Parnassus on Wheels incorporates two interweaved love stories: a short, poignant romance of two middle-aged, lonely people, falling in love with each other, and a story of a man’s overwhelming love for books.

The male protagonist Roger is a 41-year-old bookseller, a reader and a dreamer. He lives in Parnassus, his home and bookshop – a capacious country wagon, stuffed with books. Roger’s life-goal is to disseminate his love of reading to as many people as he could reach. A born salesman in the best meaning of the word, he inspires people by his passion for literature. Wherever he passes – small farms and large towns – he always leaves behind books and newly-converted readers.

The female protagonist Helen is a 39-year-old spinster, keeping house for her farmer brother. A no-nonsense, practical lady, she doesn’t have time to read. Her life consists mostly of cooking, cleaning and other farm chores. On a whim, she buys Parnassus from Roger for $400 and embarks on a road trip of her lifetime: to sell books. Along the way, she falls in love with the bookseller.

The plot is simple, with no unneeded twists. The heroes just trundle along the country lanes, selling books and chatting, but I couldn’t stop reading and I smiled a lot. The adventures our travelers encounter are small, the obstacles mundane, but the inner lives of Roger and Helen are so huge and beautiful, they shine in the grayness of our humdrum existence: two twinkling stars stretching their rays of light towards each other across America.

My only complaint: Roger talks too much, with too many incomprehensible literary allusions, but like Helen, I sometimes tuned him off.  

Otherwise, the writing is yummy, humorous and clear – a pure joy to read. The book is a hymn to booksellers, all the owners of small independent bookstores. And for the first time in my reading life, which has been quite extensive, I encountered an introduction to a book written not by a scholar or another writer but by a bookseller, Joseph Margolies. Among the quotes below, the quotes I had trouble choosing from so many captivating and insightful passages in the book, a couple belongs to Margolies.

From the introduction:

They [these books] should be compulsory reading for all booksellers and especially for those who are beginning to doubt that there is any romance left in the selling of books.

The greatest compliment one can pay to the business of bookselling is that although the monetary return is not great so few ever leave it for more remunerative work. Once the virus has entered the system there is not much that can be done to remove it.

I wonder: does Amazon count as a bookseller? What about big-box chain stores? Anyone there possesses that virus?

From the book:

“Lord!” he said, “when you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night—there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean….”

He laughed at his own vehemence. “Do you know, it’s comical,” he said. “Even the publishers, the fellows that print the books, can’t see what I’m doing for them … Sometimes I think the publishers know less about books than any one else! I guess that’s natural, though. Most school teachers don’t know much about children.”  

“Judging by the way you talk,” I said, “you ought to be quite a writer yourself.”
“Talkers never write. They go on talking.”

There are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning, and yearning. A man should be learning as he goes; and he should be earning bread for himself and others; and he should be yearning too: yearning to know the unknowable.


p style=”padding-left:30px;”>When God at first made man (says George Herbert) he had a “glass of blessings standing by.” So He pours on man all the blessings in His reservoir: strength, beauty, wisdom, honor, pleasure—and then He refrains from giving him the last of them, which is rest, i.e., contentment. God sees that if man is contented he will never win his way to Him. Let man be restless…   

Two new words for me in this book:

Bunkum – empty talk
Parcheesi – a dice throwing game