Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly 2016

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Back in 2012 I used the famous movie title for my year-end wrap-up post and it has become an every other year tradition here on the Block. This year has been a very bad and ugly one in so many way that I find the tradition particularly fitting for my 2016 end-of-the-year post. Let's see what the stats look like in Bev's reading world and what kind of critic's awards are on offer for the books of 2016.

First up, here's a run-down of what my reading looked like this year... 

Total Books Read: 160
Total Pages: 34,390
Percentage by Female Authors: 41%
Percentage by US Authors: 54%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors: 9%3 Australia 
1 Canadian
1 Dutch 
3 French
1 Japanese
1 Scottish
1 Swedish
3 books with authors from various countries

Percentage Mystery: 77%
Percentage Fiction: 94%
Percentage written 2000+: 13%
Percentage of Rereads: 5%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100%
Number of Challenges fulfilled: 32 (94%)

Two of the challenges really gave me trouble this year--the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die and Million Pages. I just couldn't get into those classic books on the 1001 list and my reading pace has slacked off enough that I can't read 40,000 pages anymore. I'm going to have to lower my sights.

And now for the Critics Choice Awards:

The Train Wreck Book Award goes to...Murder Every Monday by Pamela Branch. It was a disappointing read that I couldn't stop reading because I hoped it' would get better. The blurb on the back promised much more than the book delivered: "Original plots like this are why Carolyn Hart called Branch's humor 'incomparable' and why Dean James of Houston's Murder by the Book described Branch's book as 'British farce at its best.'" If "incomparable humor" means that all of the characters speak in apparent non sequiturs, then, yeah, Branch has that covered. If it also means that there's a lot of scenes with one of the female pupils screeching at her supposed lover, then, yeah, we've got that too. Honestly, I have a preference for British mysteries and British humor and I just can't say that I found this funny at all. the premise was interesting (and would be the main reason I picked this reprint up),--after all a murderous school for scoundrels sounded like a nifty idea and some of the descriptions at the beginning did make me think that this might be a funny book. But it didn't deliver.

The But I Said I Wanted A Pony Award goes to...The Ticking Clock by Frances & Richard Lockridge. I love the Lockridge books--they are light fare, but almost always thoroughly enjoyable. So I was expecting a good read when I sat down to this one. It wasn't horrible, but there are certainly others that I'd recommend long before this one. Most of the suspense in this story is built up through that inner conversation that Constance has. We follow her thoughts and her fears. It's not quite in the "Had I But Known" category, because Constance doesn't spend any time at all foreshadowing events like that. It's more like a more coherent stream-of-consciousness where we know all about what she's thinking the whole time. The saving grace of the book is the few conversations that are had--between Constance and Jonathan, between the kidnappers and the father of the child, between the kidnappers themselves, and the brief glimpses we get of the policemen involved (even though they aren't any of our usual Lockridge friends).

On the flip side, The Oooh, You DID Get Me A Pony Award goes to...The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré. This is an absolute first-rate spy novel that keeps the reader on the edge of her seat waiting to see if Leamas is going to pull it off--and if what he pulls off is really what he thinks he's set out to do. This has everything--love and loyalty, betrayal, secrets, and a "trial" scene that reveals the chilling fiendishness of the plot within the plot within the plot. The finale is a wrenching and horrifying surprise. Well done.

The Poetry in Motion Award goes to...Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke. Like another boxing champion once said about his own boxing technique, Adrian Matejka's poetry about the legendary Jack Johnson "floats likes a butterfly and stings like a bee." The poems are smooth as silk, but pack a punch that knocks the reader out while they're busy watching the fancy verbal footwork. Using the art of monologue and dialogue Matejka shows us the many sides of the complex man who was the first African American heavyweight world champion. This is a knock-out book that proves why it was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in Poetry.

The Pop Culture Meets Reader's Block Award goes to...The Avengers: A Celebration by Marcus Hearn. The book traces the story of The Avengers from the early days with Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry (yeah, I know, who?) through the advent of Honor Blackman as the first of Macnee's stylish, intelligent and assertive assistants to Diana Rigg and the addition of color and the final days with Linda Thorson as Tara King. It features 350 photographs including rare stills from the first shows with Hendry. Unfortunately, only two episodes remain from Hendry's stint with the show, so modern viewers can't really get a good taste of what The Avengers were like before women came along to keep John Steed in line. In addition to the photos, the book is broken into six chapters which cram a lot of production background and anecdotes from Macnee & others into very little prose. The showcase of the book is the collection of photographs. It is interesting to note that there are around 10,000 photographs in the Avengers archive. One can only imagine what other treasures might show up another day. A lovely book for the Avengers fan.

 And, finally, the overall P.O.M. Award Winner for best mystery of 2016 [excluding rereads] goes to....

This, quite honestly, is the most fun I've had reading a mad-dash, mystery thriller in a long time. Even though I had never heard of Allan MacKinnon before, I snatched it right up when I saw this near-fine Dell Mapback edition sitting at my favorite used bookstore--just waiting for me. What a delight to find such a cracking good yarn with engaging characters, apt descriptions, and humorous dialogue. I have a feeling MacKinnon had a great deal of fun putting this story together and it translates to plenty of enjoyment for the reader. It was a definite surprise favorite for March--and I predicted at the time that  it might just turn out to be the overall favorite for the year. I was right.