Friday, December 4, 2015

Reading Bingo - 2015

So, the Puzzle Doctor has found a bingo challenge that looks at our reading for the year in retrospect. I'm used to signing up and planning my reading for the next year around the challenges. But we all know how hard it is for me to resist any sort of challenge.  As the good Doctor says, "it’s a chance to highlight some of the books that aren’t going to win any prizes this year" (and maybe a few that will win a virtual prize or two hear on the Block) and are still well worth your time. Let's see what I've got…Click book images to see full reviews.

Book Bingo 
More than 500 pages: 
 Fantastic and fascinating book that is an absolute must-have for anyone with interest in the Golden Age of mysteries, crime, and detection....overall a definite winner that all mystery lovers need to have on their reference shelf. 

A Forgotten Classic:
I read an awful lot of books that could fall into this category. The bulk of my reading comes from vintage mysteries. But I'm going to pick a really obscure one. According to Classic Crime Fiction, Death of a Dwarf (1955) is the fifth in a mystery series by Harold Kemp and features Detective Inspector Jimmy Brent and his team of sleuths. Like me, the folks at CCF have found very little information about Kemp out on the interwebs. The story is quite good with a standard motive given a nice little twist. Fairly clued--it's certainly not Kemp's fault that I completely forgot a little tidbit that he prominently displayed for me back in the early chapters.
Book to Movie:
The first adaptation of the novel came in the form of the 1965 film (The Alphabet Murders) starring Tony Randall as the Belgian sleuth. I've not seen this version, so I really shouldn't comment. But Mr. Randall does not seem to me to be the most obvious choice for the great Belgian detective. David Suchet makes a convincing Poirot in the 1992 television adaptation.

A Book Published This Year:
This is a hilarious homage to Nick and Nora Charles of the movies. The snappy one-liners come fast and furious--almost as fast as Nigel can down a martini. The mystery is light and breezy. The perfect read for when you want something fun that doesn't require a lot of brain power. Several plot twists keep it interesting and Nic & Nigel take the Nick and Nora roles right through to the dinner party wrap up scene at the end. with a Number in the Title:  
It may sound like it's a grubby little drug-ring caper when you read the synopsis, but the murder in the cottage makes it a good old-fashioned clue and time-table driven mystery. Armchair detectives have a fair chance to put the clues together themselves. I managed to figure out the how, but Bristow and Manning did a good job keeping me from figuring out the who. If you have the chance to get hold of a copy of this one, I'd be interested to know if you put it all together. Written by Someone Under Thirty:
Written by Douglas Adams in 1979 at the ripe old age of 27. I absolutely loved this book when I discovered it back in high school. I thoroughly enjoyed all the witty dialogue and the outrageous adventures of our heroes. I didn't mind that there really (if you think about it much harder than you should) isn't much of a plot. When you're having so much fun imagining the events that Adams puts in front of you, you don't really notice that the story line doesn't have much of an arc. And, you know what? Over thirty years later...I still didn't notice. This is an excellent, crazy, off-the-wall science fiction adventure. with Non-Human Characters:
There are few survivors left after the United States and Russia use their tremendous nuclear arsenal to try and decimate the planet. Lilith Iyapo is one of the "lucky" humans rescued by an alien species called the Oankali. Lilith has been Awakened several times during her captivity on Oankali ship, each time for a little longer as she acclimates to her new environment. On her final Awakening, she meets the Oankali for the first time and discovers just how alien they are....and what the cost of survival will be. 
A Funny Book: 
I have to agree with the good Doctor on this one. In fact, I have his review at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel to thank for bringing J. A. Lang's delightful cozy mystery series to my attention (click link for his review of Truffle). And he didn't steer me wrong. This book which offers a tribute to Agatha Christie has a plot that definitely follows in her footsteps while injecting a good deal of humor. I laughed out loud several times throughout the story just picturing our heroes in their detective efforts. by a Female Author:
This was a reread for me. I first read it back at the end of high school when I had recently discovered Jane Yolen. I thought it a terrific and haunting use of the classic fairy tale to represent one woman's negotiation of the terrible experiences she endured during the Holocaust. By masking the events in a fairy tale she told to her daughter and then to her daughter's daughters, by using this particular story to entertain children she was able to bring joy out darkness. She was able to emphasize the very specific happy ending--hers with her family in America--that came out of all grief and loss of the second World War.

Book with a Mystery: (Like the Doctor, I'm sure I'll have a problem finding one of those on my list for 2015....) with One-Word Title: 
Helen McCloy consistently entertains in her mystery stories. Here she sets up the suspense novel--frightened heroine in a secluded cabin, but she still provides the readers with a fair number of clues to make this a true Golden Age style mystery. Fair play is definitely evident--even though I didn't pick up on the clues she generously displayed for me. The story is a good one and the characters are interesting and memorable--with Argos, the blind cocker spaniel, nearly stealing the whole show. Throw in a vivid setting and slight shift in the mystery motive tableau, and we have a ★★★★ outing.

Book of Short Stories: 
For the most part, these are authors that I was not  familiar with--I had certainly heard of H.C. Bailey and Edgar Jepson, but had not read anything by them prior to this collection and had read very little of Robert Eustace and Mrs. Belloc Lowndes. Everyone else was a new acquaintance and I was very pleased to meet them. I don't know if Thwing did it on purpose (he doesn't mention it if he did), but there is a bit of a revenge theme running through most of these stories and it was interesting to see how each author works their method of revenge. Square:
One of the surprise books of the year--a five-star winner. After a beginning that had me wondering if I wanted to finish the book, le Carré reeled me in with his descriptive story-telling. A "toad"-like man may not have been my ideal spy when I began, but I was completely convinced of his abilities and his reality by the end. The picture of post-war Britain that le Carré paints is brilliantly rendered--I looked up from my book in the final chapters fully expecting to see the fog swirling round me and to hear the river traffic below the bridge. The story itself reads less like a spy-thriller to me than a more traditional mystery. Smiley is following up clues in the best Scotland Yard fashion. Set on Different Continent (South America, most likely Brazil):
What mystery there is here revolves around the question--man or beast? Whether the jaguar is responsible or not, where is it hiding? Why do the most elaborate searches produce no evidence of the big cat? If a man is involved, is he somehow keeping and manipulating the wild beast for his own bloodthirsty ends? Or is there a way that a man could mimic the horrific attacks? Woolrich writes a terrific suspense novel full of creepy night scenes and gains full marks for the horrible sense of foreboding whenever a young woman ventures out alone. For those of us that would like a bit more mystery and clues to follow up, there is a bit of a let-down. The one tiny "clue" that Manning says he recognized after the fact isn't really displayed fairly. of Non-Fiction:
MacGregor and Lewis fully examine the plots of the Wimsey novels, tying them firmly to both the events in Britain and the world during the "Long Week-End"--the period between the two World Wars--and to the life of Dorothy L. Sayers. For readers of Sayers's work, there may be little to surprise in the examination of the novels themselves, but the historical groundwork, social critique, and background on Sayers herself is interesting and useful for anyone who wants to understand her work better or see it in a different light. Book by a Favorite Author:
Miss Amelia Peabody's debut in Crocodile on the Sandbanks (1975) by Elizabeth Peters is delightful. She springs forth in the first chapter, fully formed and, as mentioned above, a force of nature. Peters writes a very witty and easy reading mystery. It is, admittedly, much more fun than it is mystifying--how Amelia as intelligent as she is could have been hoodwinked by that...oops, that would be a bit baffling. Maybe she was distracted by her verbal sparring with Radcliffe.  Readers looking for an intricate puzzle to unravel should look elsewhere. But if you want interesting characters, a bit of Egyptian mystical mummy adventures, witty dialogue, and a great deal of fun then grab a copy and settle in for a fun read. Heard About Online (darn, I used that book I found at the Puzzle Doctor's place...): 
But....I did find out about Ellison's book online and promptly made my husband order it up for me (or something like that). As far as the graphic novel goes--it is gorgeous. The teleplay has been expertly adapted for the graphic novel and the artwork is impressive. Most of the regular crew members look as we expect--McCoy's brief appearance being the only exception, but perhaps since he wasn't center stage he was given quite the attention that Kirk, Spock and Rand received. Overall, a fantastic graphic novel that any Trek fan should make part of their collection. Best-Selling Book:
Well--it depends on what you mean. If you mean made it on a best-seller's list, then I'm not sure. But...I do know that it seemed like everybody and her sister was talking about this one when it came out and in the year or so following. I just got around to reading it this year. Helen Simonson's debut novel is about much more than just the love story between a widower and a widow. When Major Pettigrew's brother dies, he begins a journey of discovery about himself. It is a compelling story that reminds us that it's never too late for love nor is it ever too late to learn and change and grow as a person. 
Book Based on a True Story:
In 1678 a high-profile, well-known London magistrate named Sir Edmund Godfrey disappeared for five days. Last seen asking for directions to Primrose Hill, he vanishes for almost a week amid cries that he has done away with himself or, worse still, that the horrible "Papists" have kidnapped him and possibly murdered him. And then his body is found. John Dickson Carr examines the historical evidence and the theories of various historians and other interested parties to weave a fictionalized account of the crime. 
Book at the Bottom of the TBR Pile:
This was, quite literally, at the bottom of one of my many teetering stacks. Connington provides a very nice English countryside murder that is fairly-clued and complete with a red herring or two. Engaging characters--particularly Ross and a lawyer's clerk who turns out to be something of an expert in graphology--and the adventurous ending all make for an interesting reading experience. Quite enjoyable. 
Book a Friend Loves:
Sergio over at Tipping My Fedora has been dangling Ed McBain in front of me for quite some time. I don't know if this one is an absolute favorite of his, but I wouldn't have read any McBain at all if it hadn't been for him and the reviews he keeps listing for my Vintage Mystery Challenge each year. And I enjoyed it in spite of  myself. The murder is rather more gruesome than I like. The talk is a bit more rough than I appreciate. But, my goodness, McBain can write! He picked me up and threw me into the story and I couldn't stop reading until I was done. I enjoyed Carella's interactions with Hawes and with Danny. I enjoyed the way Carella and Hawes worked as a team when interviewing suspects and witnesses. There are false clues as well as genuine clues and they are all checked thoroughly in a very nice police procedural. That Scares You:
I don't tend to read scary books. The closest I've got is Harlan Ellison. But he doesn't really do horror in the traditional sense. His horror isn't based on the non-human, but on the worst behaviors and twisted desires of very human people. He shows us ourselves at our weakest and ugliest and then tells us that we are better than that. That he believes that we could be better than that (who would think it of one of the crankiest, old so-and-sos in science fiction) if we'd only want it badly enough. More Than Ten Years Old (like the mystery category, I've got a lot that would fit this category):
 We'll go with The Stowmarket Mystery Or, a Legacy of Hate by Louis Tracy which was 1st published in England as A Fatal Legacy 1903 and features Reginald Brett, barrister and hobby detective, working opposite (and then with) Inspector Winter. This story is very much of the period, stereotypes abound--but there is plenty of action, lots of intrigue, and a cast of character that are interesting and engaging. A very entertaining mystery from the early twentieth century and one doesn't even mind that it breaks one of the Golden Age rules. We'll forgive Tracy--since he was writing well before Ronald Knox created his list of detective "no-nos." Book in a Series:
There Hangs the Knife (1988) is the second book in a trilogy by Marcia Muller which features art lover and co-owner of an art security firm, Joanna Stark. The short series revolves around her efforts to track down Anthony Parducci, a brilliant art thief who has managed to elude the authorities ofr years. Parducci is also Joanna's former lover and father of her son. Joanna is determined to catch the master criminal as well as deal him a hefty dose of revenge for the pain he's caused her over the years. 
Book with a Blue Cover:
The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree is the first book in Susan Wittig Albert's historical mystery series set in the Alabama of the 1930s. The Dahlias are the local garden club--a group of mostly middle-aged southern ladies determined to make the best of things even though the Great Depression has its grip on the country.  Albert does know how to write a historical novel. The pacing is perfect for the Depression-era South. And her details really give a good impression of the time period. The Dahlias are very believable characters and it was a lot of fun meeting them. Overall, a nice pleasant read--just don't expect an intricate puzzle plot.

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