Thursday, December 28, 2017

Reading Bingo 2017

Reading Bingo 2017

Well...this year, for the first time ever, I'm going to fail to complete my very own Mount TBR Challenge (and, incidentally, the You Read How Many Books? Challenge since it was set for about the same number of books). So--I thought I might as well see if can possibly do THIS Reading Bingo meme which asks us to name books we’ve read this year that meet categories on a bingo card – and it’s a big one with TWENTY-FIVE categories. I got the card from Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books.

Like a lot of bloggers who do this meme at the end of the year, I have not read to the bingo card, but have tried, after the event, to squish my reading into the card. So I've had to fudge a little here and there, which I hope won't be a big problem.What's the worst that can happen? Book blogger demerits?

A book with more than 500 pages:  I just finished (today!) the last remaining story in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Seventeenth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois. I've dipping in and out of this collection all year for the Deal Me In Challenge (where we read a pre-selected group of short stories according to our draws from a deck of cards--see link if interested in what exactly that means). This is an excellent collection of stories for the SF/Speculative Fiction fan--ranging from human interest stories to hard science fiction. My BFF gifted this to me long ago and I've finally gotten around to reading it. Sorry it took so long, Paula!

A forgotten classic: I'm going with a forgotten classic mystery here. The British Library Crime Classics series has brought many forgotten and little-known pieces of detective fiction back into print in recent years. J. Jefferson Farjeon's Mystery in White is one such book. This is a classic Christmas mystery (which, oddly enough, I didn't read during the holiday season) featuring a group of train travelers who become stranded during a blizzard. They seek shelter at a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea - but no one seems to be at home. They wind up trying to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in the midst.

A book that became a movie: The only one on my list that fits (as far as I know) is The Black Dahlia (1987) by James Ellroy which was based on the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles, California and the novel was used as the basis of the 2006 film. The original murder received wide attention because Short's corpse was horrifically mutilated and discarded in an empty residential lot.  Ellroy's novel blends facts and fiction, notably in solving Short's crime when in reality her murder was unsolved.

A book published this year: Since the major portion of my reading is vintage mysteries and very few books later than the 1980s, it's always a struggle when any challenge requires a book published in the current year--but, having given up on my Mount TBR challenge, I grabbed up an interesting-looking book at the library last week and it just happens to have been published this year. Go me! The book? The House on Foster Hill. It is a historical novel that ties together a murder from a century ago to mysterious happenings in the present day. This is a debut novel by Jaime Jo Wright and is a mystery with subtle Christian themes (not preachy, just a definite foundation for many of the characters). What is definitely interesting is the rather sordid motive for the murder considering the religious flavor of the background. I haven't had a chance to review it yet, but I definitely recommend it as a fine debut in the field.

A book with a number in the title: I wasn't certain that I was going to be able to claim this square on the bingo card, but I had forgotten that I'd read The Snake on 99 by Stewart Farrar (as well as few other numbered titles that I see on my books read list). I almost passed this book by on one of my trips to Half Price Books last year. As I mention in my review, the cover sortof screamed western at me. Fortunately, I was intrigued by the book enough to investigate further. This was a delightful surprise and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

A book written by an author under thirty: I knew this one was going to be hard and this is where I start fudging a bit...some of the authors that I've read don't have biographies that tell their birth year ['cause why would they want to help out poor little bloggers who need to know these things? :-) ]. So, for all I know one of them could have written the book I read when they were under thirty. The closest I've got for authors who have revealed their world entry date is Pascal Girard who was 33 when he wrote Petty Theft. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of the highlight reads of the year. When I wrote my review, I summed it up with one word--awkward. And as awkward as this book is it definitely reads like something written by someone much younger than thirty.

A book with non-human characters: Fortunately, each January I take part in a Science Fiction reading event so I was able to find a book that featured aliens. Robert Silverberg's The Silent Invaders was just what I needed. Welcome to 26th Century Earth! It's a hustling, bustling, over-crowded world where aliens can take on human form and get lost in the masses. And they do. Silverberg was a big favorite of mine when I went through my heavy-duty SF phase about 30 years ago. Occasionally, I go back to some of the authors that I loved in the past--with varying degrees of success. This one was a pretty good read.

A funny book: I didn't really read anything this year that obviously falls into the humorous category. But I did read The Far Traveller by Manning Coles which was a light and frothy tale by the creator of British spy Tommy Hambledon. Manning Coles gives us the Graf van Grauhegel and his servant Franz who, after being dead nearly a century and haunting the castle in the interval, rematerialize in order to right an old wrong so they may finally rest in peace. In the meantime, they also manage to star in a romantic musical movie based on the Graf's life and filmed at the Graf's castle on the Rhine as well as unmask a fraudulent medium. Not necessarily full of laugh-out-loud jokes, but definitely a fun read. And surely you'll agree that that cover looks like a lot of fun.

A book by a female author: I read a fair amount of books by women, so I had a number to choose from here. I decided to go with a book that ventures a little outside my usual reading habits-- Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly. Previous to this novel, the only books I had read by Hambly were her forays into the Star Trek universe. And those tend to feature the gothic and mild horror elements that can be found in this historical mystery. The core of this novel is a mystery surrounding the murder of a number of the vampires living in England.  One of the oldest of the vampires enlists the help of a mortal to track down the person responsible. It makes for a very interesting hook to pull the reader in.

A book with a mystery: For anyone who knows me well, it's obvious that I have a HUGE number of books to select from for this one. So, I give you one of the titles I rated highly: The Killing of Katie Steelstock by Michael Gilbert (four stars out of five). This is a fine police procedural set in a small town in England. It does an excellent job weaving tensions among the characters--tensions between the suspects, tensions between the local coppers and the Scotland Yard men, and tensions between the suspects and the police. Gilbert uses dialogue and setting to fully flesh out a cast of very believable villagers, internal police rivalries, and the rivalry between Chief Superintendent Knott and the defending counsel (a lady who would like nothing better than to watch Knott fall flat on his face in court). He manages to pull off quite a few surprises, though I must say I found myself with the right suspect before he produced the grand finale at court. The pacing is excellent and the story merges modern (for 1980) police practices with the classic mystery form.

A book with a one-word title: I don't have much choice on this one. So, I give you one of my least favorite reads of the year: Ubik by Philip K. Dick. The title and first sentence of my blog post really says it all...."PKD: It's not you, it's me. No wait. I actually think it's you." PKD is one of the SF writers that really doesn't do a whole lot for me. His Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is my favorite of what I've read of him and I can't say that it's one of my all-time favorite SF novels. I just don't think that he manages to build a new and interesting world, throw out thought-provoking ideas, and tell a spectacular story all in one go. Which is kindof the point of good science fiction.

A book of short stories: My participation in the Deal Me In Challenge (mentioned above) has given me a pretty good selection for this one. I already used the best collection above, but there are a couple of close runners-up. The Mystery Writers of America Presents Murder by Experts published in 1947 and edited by Ellery Queen is, what you most likely suspect, an anthology of crime and detective stories selected by prominent mystery writers of the day. It contains everything from a story by John Dickson Carr selected by Clayton Rawson to William Faulkner's "The Hound" selected by Margaret and Kenneth Millar. The stories represent the gamut from locked room to early private detective to the scientific sleuth to a psychological drama about the effects of guilt. As with all anthology, there is also a range of strength in the selections, but given the keen eyes and noses for a good story belonging to those who have made the choices the range is more heavily weighted on the better end of the spectrum.

A free square: Dead as a Dummy by Geoffrey Homes--that I'm including just because it is one of the lovely little pulp-era pocket-size editions that I love so much. What a fun cover! And a fairly good mystery as well. Ben Logan is a trouble-shooter and publicist for a chain of Western movie houses. He comes to the Empire Theater in Tucson, Arizona to try and drum up enthusiasm for a real stinker of a film entitled The Invisible Zombie. He rigs up the lobby with a skeleton, a vampire, and a dummy corpse in a coffin just to provide the right atmosphere. He expects the locals to get a bit of a thrill out of his theatrical display, but he doesn't expect a murderer to take advantage of the coffin as a place to dump a real, live corpse. And that's not the only corpse on offer in this mystery tale that features disappearing and appearing bodies, questionable mining deals, fascist plots, and conspiracies. Respected Mexican detective Jose Manuel Madero is on hand to get to the bottom of things.

A book set on a different continent:The Little Red Guard (2012) by Wenguang Huang recounts the author's life in Communist China from 1973 on. The story is held together by his grandmother's obsession with death and her burial. She is a product of the old ways--having had her feet bound and growing up with the rituals and superstitions of the past. A compelling story of a family trying to reconcile the old ways with the new and which tells of the failures as well as the successes.

A book of non-fiction: I'm actually choosing three books for this one (another fudge)--but all by the same author and the books are all part of a series. The series of books titled March (Books One, Two & Three) by Representative John Lewis tells the story of his early life in Alabama and the journey that took him from his parents' sharecropper farm through the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to the halls of Congress. Framing Lewis's story is the inauguration of Barack Obama, America's first African American President. It is a powerful story that is much needed in the current American climate--a reminder of where we have come from as a nation and what too many of our citizens have had to go through, as well as providing a reason to pledge that we not go back.

The first book by a favorite author: Here comes another of what might be seen as a fudge. I can't really say that Elspeth Huxley is one of my all-time favorite authors. BUT she was an author of vintage mysteries (and a pretty good one) and vintage mysteries do make up my favorite genre. Her Murder at Government House is the only first book I read that qualifies in any way at all. It is the first of her Inspector Vachell stories set in the fictional colony of Chania (corresponding to Kenya, Africa). Vachell has come to Africa from Canada and has a much more forthright, almost brash manner than many of the colonials are used to. The inspector is called to investigate when Sir Malcolm MacLeod, Chania's Governor, is found strangled to death in his office in the late hours after a dinner party. It first looks like a locked room murder--guards at the doors, the connecting office door was locked, and Olivia Brandeis, a young anthropologist, was outside the Governor's window smoking and talking with another guest during the crucial time. And Vachell must discover how the murderer got in and out of the office without being seen.

A book you heard about online: Quick Curtain by Alan Melville is another in the British Library's Classic Crime series. I first discovered that this title had been reprinted out here on the internet, so I'm totally counting it for this bingo square. Melville's book is a delightfully witty detective novel and Melville's "aim was to have fun with the genre." Dorothy L. Sayers took him to task in her review for not following police procedure, but, honestly--and I love Sayers's novel--Sayers doesn't stick that closely to procedure herself. Would Scotland Yard really let Lord Peter Wimsey go bargin' round hunting for clues as an amateur? Probably not. But it makes for lovely stories. As does Melville's use of Inspector Wilson of Scotland Yard and his journalist son (who plays both side-kick and devil's advocate to his father). They have a bantering relationship where each wants to prove to the other how smart they are and to reach the solution first.

A best-selling book: Welllllll, I don’t tend to read what I'm sure Cleo intends to imply by the category "best-sellers," but I would think that since Agatha Christie is said to be outsold by only the Bible and Shakespeare then I ought be able to count either of the books by the Queen of Crime that I read this year. I'm going with What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! (1957; APA: 4.50 From Padddington). Although this book is not one that I usually think of when trying to come up with a "Top Ten Christie List," it is a delight for various reasons--mostly to do with the characterizations. The relations between the Crackenthorpes tops out the list. Christie manages (in a very short novel) to imbue each of the Crackenthorpes with distinct personalities highlighted through conversations, their interviews with the police, and their reactions to the events surrounding the murder. The two boys (Crackenthorpe's grandson, Alexander, and his friend) also make things interesting as they try to play detectives and discover clues on their own.  And, of course, Lucy Eyelesbarrow really steals the show with her detective work and the way she manages the household. 

A book based on a true story: A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen is based on the 1927 trial of Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray for the murder of Ruth's husband. It was a sensational story smack dab in the middle of the Jazz Age--the era of flappers, Prohibition, speakeasies, hot jazz, fast dancing, and fast-talkers. Ruth Snyder was a blue-eyed, blonde coquette who was married to a man she claimed was emotionally cruel to her and her daughter. Judd was a mild-mannered man who taught Sunday School and was (up till then) devoted to his rather plain and unexciting wife. Judd was also a salesman who dealt in ladies unmentionables who met Ruth through a mutual friend. He sold her one corset...for her mother (so she said) and before he knew it he had been swept up into a wild love affair. 

A book at the bottom of my TBR pile: I'm not exactly sure which TBR pile I should use. The physical stacks all up and down my hallway and in the back room? My virtual TBR pile on Goodreads? Since I don't really know, I'll just use one that's been sitting on the TBR pile the longest....which would seem to be The Invisible Intruder by Carolyn Keene (on the stack since 1979). I loved Nancy Drew growing up and first read this one from the library when young. I just reread the edition that I bought for my very own.

A book your friend loves: I'm pretty sure that since my BFF Paula sent me Star Trek:The Art of Juan Ortiz by Juan Ortiz that she loves it as much as I did when I read and looked through it. Ortiz who has worked for Disney and Warner Brothers and published his own comic book series was looking to create something unique and uniquely his. He has definitely done just that with  his re-imagining of the classic episodes of Star Trek. The images are reminiscent of movie posters and combine elements which evoke the spirit of the classic television series as well as the 1960s of Trek's initial run. Each poster-size page is a gem in and of itself, but as a collection the book is extraordinarily lovely.

A book that scares you: My House Gathers Desires (2017) is the the most recent story collection by Adam McOmber. Like his earlier collection, This New & Poisonous Air, these stories are not strictly scary, but they do have a very unsettling, Gothic feel. He uses dark and unusual settings and atmosphere to explore the hidden corners of the human psyche. The tales are sometimes uncomfortable but always compelling and this collection in particular examines haunting manifestations of gender and sexuality. The backdrops come from the worlds of science fiction, history, fairy tales, and the Bible.

A book that is more than ten years old: Like the mystery square, this is one of the easiest categories for me. My preference is for vintage books. Let's just go with the first book I read last year-- Death at Swaythling Court (1926) by J. J. Connington. Connington's first venture into the detective genre gives the reader an entertaining story filled with humor and a solid murder plot. The Colonel is a grand old fellow--determined to detect on his own and show his nephew that he can put two and two together. He often jumps to conclusions, but he does get to the bottom of several parts of the mystery. He doesn't however quite see the whole picture and the story winds up being "solved" through a confession of sorts. But overall, a fun start to the year's reading. 

The second book in a series: I thought I would feature one of my online friends from our Golden Age Mystery group on Facebook. Guy Fraser-Sampson has created a new series that has the spirit of fine vintage mysteries woven throughout. Miss Christie Regrets is the second in the Hampstead Murders series. The first book had tributes to Dorothy L. Sayers and this one, as the title might indicate, has ties to Agatha Christie.

A book with a blue cover: I have a visual memory in some respects (I can usually remember where on a page a certain bit of information appears, for instance), but despite my love for the cover art of the small, pulp-era mysteries (see Dead as a Dummy above) I don't have a great memory for covers when it comes to color. But a quick scan through my Goodreads log shows that the edition of Best Max Carrados Detective Stories that I read did have a cover that came in blue tones. Hurray--that means I've managed to cover the card. How about you? Do you think you can fill in the Reading Bingo card for 2017?

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