Monday, October 29, 2018

Just the Facts, Ma'am 2019 (Vintage Mystery Challenge)

As was the case (pun intended) in the 2018 challenge, participants in the 2019 version of the Just the Facts, Ma'am Challenge will be playing detective. The objective is to answer all the important questions of Who, What, When, Where, How and Why to complete cases in either the Golden or Silver Mystery Eras (or for the more adventurous, both). I have added two more spaces to each category and have changed up some of the items to check off. [Thanks to Kate from Cross Examining Crime for her helpful suggestions!] See the Detective Notebooks below.

Challenge Levels
   Constable: 6 books -- one from each category
   Detective Sergeant: 12 books -- two from each category
   Inspector: 18 books -- three from each category
   Inspired Amateur: 24 books -- four from each category
   Chief Inspector: 30 books -- five from each category
   Superintendent: 36 books -- six from each category
   Chief Superintendent: 42 books -- seven from each category
   Deputy Chief Constable: 48 books -- eight from each category
   Chief Constable: 54 books -- nine from each category
   Master Detective: 60 books -- all ten books from each category

Golden: Pre-1960
click photo to enlarge (silver card is below)

~All books must be from the mystery category (crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.). The mystery/crime must be the primary feature of the book--ghost stories, paranormal, romance, humor, etc. are all welcome as ingredients, but not be the primary category under which these books would be labeled at the library/bookstore.

~For the purposes of this challenge, Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Golden Age short story collections (regardless of publication date) are permissible if they fit a category and provided all stories in the collection were originally written pre-1960. Please remember that some Golden Age authors wrote well after 1959--so keep an eye on the original date and apply them to the appropriate card. Silver Age Mysteries must be first published from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). Again, Silver Age collections published later than 1989 are permissible as long as they fit a category and include no stories first published later than 1989. Yes, I admit my dates are arbitrary and may not exactly meet standard definitions of Golden or Silver Age.

Silver: 1960 - 1989 (inclusive)
click photo to enlarge

~To complete the challenge and to be eligible for the participation drawing at the end of the year, participants must earn the rank of Constable: six books read from a single Vintage Era. If you choose to do both eras, you must use separate notebooks. You may not, for example, answer three golden questions and three silver questions to claim the minimum six.

~Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2019. All books should be read during this time period.. Sign up any time until November 1, 2019. Any books read after 2019 begins may count regardless of sign-up date. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge and your commitment--if you're going Silver or Gold (or maybe both). Then sign up using your challenge post url (please, not your home page) via the linky below. If you don't have a blog, links to an online list (GoodReads, Library Thing, etc.) devoted to this challenge are also acceptable OR you may comment below to indicate your sign-up.

~For most of the "Who" category, the who may be the sleuth, victim or other quite prominent character. It should not be a minor character who only shows up once or twice and isn't really crucial to the plot.

~An example for the item "Timing of crime is crucial" might be that X murders Y to prevent an inheritance OR X knocks off Great-Uncle Y to prevent him from changing his will. Just be prepared to explain what the crucial element is.

~For the "Made a best of list" item, the "best of" list can be a well-known list from a journal or newspaper, form GoodReads, or even from a fellow blogger. Please reference the list you have used.

~For "Simon Says"--Simon (that's me!) says to read the book at the bottom of your current TBR stack. If you don't have a stack, but have a TBR shelf--then read the book at the right-hand end of your shelf. If you have so many books that they're not really organized into stacks or shelves, then go to your hoard (list, whatever) and pick a book at random. You're on your honor to not put any thought into it. Just grab one.

~If you have any questions about a category (or anything else challenge-related), please email me at phryne1969 AT

~No double-counting within the challenge--but books may be used for other challenges. If a book qualifies for more than one category, you may only use it to check off one item on your detective notebook. You are welcome to change the item claimed at any time prior to submitting it for a prize drawing.

~Reviews are encouraged, but they are not necessary to participate. 

~Please keep track of your progress and be prepared to submit a final wrap-up post or comment. If you do not have a blog (or other means to link up), then post below your intention to join and you can post again at the end-of-year wrap-up site when you have completed your challenge (include a list of books read and categories you completed with any explanations necessary). Please do not submit completion comments prior to the posting of the wrap-up link. Thank you.

~The Headquarters link which appears on my sidebar will be updated for 2019 once the new year begins. You can go there for review links and information.

Yes, I mentioned prizes above. Since I have added an extra challenge (with prizes) and postage seems to keep going up, I have had to reduce the number of check point prizes this year.

1. There will be a Mid-Point check-in post this year. I will choose specific items ahead of time and keep them in reserve for the check-in drawing. Those who have already checked those items off in their notebooks will be eligible.
2. Challengers who complete the minimum six books from a single era will be eligible for the the year-end prize drawing. 
3. There will be a Super Sleuth prize for the challenger who completes the most items from the notebooks. In case of a tie, there will be a tie-breaker (To Be Determined). I will announce the tie-breaker method before entries are accepted at year's end.

Calendar of Crime Challenge (New for 2019!)

photo credit: Ellery Queen's Calendar
of Crime  (Signet edition)
My Reader's Block is pleased to present the brand-new Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge. Like the soon-to-be retired Follow the Clues, this is another reading challenge that will allow mystery readers to include any mystery regardless of publication date. If it falls in a mystery category (crime fiction/detective novel/police procedural/suspense/thriller/spy & espionage/hard-boiled/cozy etc.), then it counts and it does not matter if it was published in 1892 or 2019

Click photo to enlarge

The Rules

~Challenge runs from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. all books should be read during this time period. Sign up any time between now and November 1, 2019. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge. Then sign up via the linky below. and please make the url link to your challenge post and not your home page. (Links that do not follow this rule will be removed.) If you do not have a blog, links to an online list (Goodreads, Library Thing, etc.) devoted to this challenge are also acceptable OR you may comment below to indicate your sign up.

~All books must be mysteries. Humor, romance, supernatural elements (etc.) are welcome, but the books must be mysteries/crime/detective novels first.

~ Twelve books, one representing each month, are required for a completed challenge and to be eligible for the end-of-year prize drawing. Each month comes with several categories (see chart above) that may be selected to fulfill the month's reading. If you would like the excel version of the chart to use or have any questions about fulfilling a category, please email me at phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com.

~To claim a book, it must fit one of the categories for the month you wish to fulfill. Unless otherwise specified, the category is fulfilled within the actual story. For instance, if you are claiming a book for December and you want to use "Christmas" as the category, then Christmas must figure in some way in the plot. Did someone poison the plum pudding? Did Great-Uncle Whozit invite all the family home for Christmas so he could tell them he plans to change his will? 

~The "wild card" book is exactly that. If July is your birth month (as mine is), then for category #9, you may read any mystery book you want. It does not have to connect with July in any way--other than a July baby chose it. The other eleven months, you must do the alternate category #9 if you want to fulfill that slot. 

~For the category that says "Book title contains a word that starts with the letter A," the following do not count: "A" and "An." 

~Books may only count for one month and one category, but they may count for other challenges (such as my other mystery challenge, Just the Facts, Ma'am). If it could fulfill more than one category or month, then you are welcome to change the category/month at any time prior to the final wrap-up.

~Books do not have to be read during the month for which they qualify. So--if you're feeling like a little "Christmas in July" (or May or...), then feel free to read your book for December whenever the mood strikes.

~A wrap-up post/comment/email will be requested that should include a calendar of books read and what category they fulfilled. [Example: January: The House of Sudden Sleep by John Hawk (original pub date January 1930)]

~As with my other challenges, a headquarters link will be set-up in the left-hand sidebar by the beginning of January 2019 for easy access to this original challenge post, monthly link-ups, and the final wrap-up post. The final wrap-up link will not go live till the end of 2019, please save your wrap-up notification until that time.

~Prizes! All participants who complete the challenge will be eligible for an end-of-year prize drawing. There will also be a "My Calendar's Booked" prize for the challenger who fills their calendar with the most books, so challengers are encouraged to read more than one/all category/ies for each month. In case of a tie, there will be a prize drawing among the the folks who booked-up their year so fully.

UPDATE: I have made a spreadsheet of DOBs for authors on my TBR and read list (or at least of all the DOBs I could track down). If this would be useful to you--email me at phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com and I will send you what I have.

Color Coded & Read It Again, Sam 2019 Sign-Ups

There continues to be a lot of love out there for both the Color Coded and Read It Again, Sam Challenges. Since I don't monitor these quite as closely as my other challenges, I am setting these up on the same sign-up and headquarters sites again this year. The Headquarters with review links and wrap-up links will be posted on the sidebar at the beginning of the year. Here are the challenge descriptions and sign-up links:

The Color Coded Challenge

Once again the categories will be more open--the color may either be named in the title or it may appear as the dominant color for the cover of the book. For "implies color" the image implying cover should dominate the cover--for instance a large rainbow, a field of flowers, or the image of a painter. Get ready for a rainbow of reading in 2019. 

Here are the rules:

~Challenge runs from January 1 through December 31, 2019 and any book read after January 1 may count regardless of when you sign up. Sign-ups accepted until November 1, 2019.

~Read nine books in the following categories:
1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
5. A book with  "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Beige, Sand, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Magenta, Pink, etc.).
9. A book with a word that implies color in the title/on the cover (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Shadow, Paint, Ink, etc.).

~Crossovers with other challenges are fin.
~Please post about the challenge on your blog, if you have one and sign up using the linky below. Give your name and blog (Example: Bev@My Reader's Block) and use a direct link to your challenge post as your url. Please don't connect to just your home page. Links to a list on GoodReads or other social media sites are also acceptable.
~No blog or social media site? No problem! Post a comment below to announce your entry into the challenge and when you have completed the challenge just post a comment on the review site with a list of your books.
~Please use the Review Headquarters Page (sidebar link coming in January) to post review links and a final wrap-up post and/or comments. [Reviews are not required--but we'd love to see what you think about the books you've read if you do review.]

Read It Again, Sam

For those of you who love to revisit old friends in the book world, I present another round with Sam at the piano for all your reading music needs. While not quite as popular as the Color Coded Challenge, this one still has its devotees.

~Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31. 2019.

   Déjà vu: Reread 4 books
   Feeling Nostalgic: Reread 8 books
   A Trip Down Memory Lane: Reread 12 books
   Living in the Past: Reread 16+ books

~Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're lost in a nostalgic haze and want to tackle a higher level, then you are welcome to upgrade. You cannot change down, however.
~You may sign up until November 1, 2019. Any book read after January 2019 will count no matter when you sign up.
~Crossovers with other challenges are fine.
~Please post about the challenge on your blog, if you have one and sign up using the linky below. Give your name and blog (Example: Bev@My Reader's Block) and use a direct link to your challenge post as your url. Please don't connect to just your home page. Links to a list on GoodReads or other social media sites are also acceptable.
~No blog or social media site? No problem! Post a comment below to announce your entry into the challenge and when you have completed the challenge just post a comment on the review site with a list of your books.
~Please use the Review Headquarters Page (sidebar link coming in January) to post review links and a final wrap-up post and/or comments. [Reviews are not required--but we'd love to see what you think about the books you've read if you do review.]

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2019

January 2019 will kick off the eighth year for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge and, despite the intentions behind developing this challenge in the first place, I don't seem to be getting those mountains moved at all. Regardless of the fact that I hope to have knocked a little over 100 books off of my 2018 Mount TBR by the end of December, there are still whole mountain ranges lined up and down my hallway and in my back room waiting to be conquered. As fast as I read 'em and get 'em off the stacks, my bookaholic ways help me replace them. [Per usual I visited the community Hoosier Hills Food Bank Book Sale in October and I brought home 59 new-to-me books.]

So, once again, I plan to concentrate on reading primarily from my own books in the coming year. I always hope to plant my flag on Mount Olympus (even though I seem to hike slower and slower every year...), but I will most likely claim Mount Everest as my goal. And you're invited to join me in knocking out some of those books that have been waiting in the wings for weeks....months...even years.

I have revised a couple of the rules--so be sure to check them over carefully.

Challenge Levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

The Rules:
*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade. All books counted for lower mountains carry over towards the new peak.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2019.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 1st, 2019.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2019. No library books~. If you're looking for a library book challenge or one that counts books on your non-owned TBR list, then please see my new Virtual Mount TBR Challenge (click the link). 

    ~The ONLY exception to the library rule: If you own the book in any form and have a valid reason to check out a version from the library instead, then you may count it. I have, in the last couple years, allowed this when individuals have made requests. For example--if you own the hard copy, but are planning on taking a trip where listening to the audio version would be a great way to knock out a book while you drive, then by all means check out the audio version and have a wonderful trip! Please check with me if you wonder whether a library substitution is acceptable.

*REVISED REREAD RULE: Any reread may count, regardless of how long you've owned it prior to 2019, provided you have not read it in last five years (my arbitrary time limit) and have not counted it for a previous Mount TBR Challenge.

* Audiobooks and E-books may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.] 

*You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided that you had 50% or more of the book left to finish when January 1 rolled around. I will trust you all on that. The only exception to this rule is if you have participated in Mount TBR the previous year and were unable to finish the book in time for the Final Check-in Post. Then--if you finish the book post-January 1, you may count it as your first step of the new challenge.

*You may count "Did Not Finish" books provided they meet your own standard for such things, you do not plan to ever finish it, and you move it off your mountain [give it away, sell it, etc. OR remove it from your e-resources]. For example, my personal rule (unless it's a very short book) is to give a book at least 100 pages. If I decide I just can't finish it and won't ever, then off the mountain it goes and I count it as a victory--the stack is smaller! 

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*There will be a year-end check-in and prize drawing! [Since I am adding an extra challenge this year, I find that I must reduce the number of times I offer prizes on all my challenges. I wish I could afford to give you all prizes!]

*A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog, then please post about the challenge and link that post (not your home page) in the linky below. Non-bloggers may leave a comment below with your chosen challenge level OR, if you are a member of Goodreads, I will have a group there again this year and you are welcome to join us HERE.

*As I have in the past, I will have a headquarters link in the left-hand side-bar which will offer links to this original post, monthly review links, and the final wrap-up.

The VIRTUAL Mount TBR Reading Challenge (sister site to Mount TBR)

image credit ST: The Next Generation holodeck with Capt. Picard

During the seven years that I have sponsored the Mount TBR Challenge (designed for book hoarders like me who buy/receive as gifts/own more books than they can possibly read), I have regularly been asked why library books or "books I've always wanted to read, but don't own" can't count. And I've had to reply: Well...because my challenge says its for people who own way more books than they get read in a year and it's to encourage them (me) to read from their own stacks. 

This year, I decided to create a Virtual Mount TBR Reading Challenge Books for all those folks with mile-long "wish-list" of TBRs who would like a chance to climb as well. The strategy and general set-up is the same--except you don't have to own the books. Heard about a great book from a friend, took note of the title, and then never got around to reading it? Saw a book online that you thought sounded intriguing but you keep putting off ordering it up from the library? You borrowed a book from somebody and need an extra push to read it and return it? This is the place for you!

Challenges Levels:
Mount Rum Doodle: Read 12 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Crumpit: Read 24 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Munch: Read 36 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
White Plume Mountain: Read 48 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Stormness Head: Read 60 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Mindolluin: Read 75 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Seleya: Read 100 books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library
Mount Olympus: Read 150+ books from your Virtual TBR/Wish List/Library

[In keeping with the virtual nature of the challenge, all mountains are fictional (references in comment below). How many do you recognize? The only one shared by both TBR challenges is Olympus--both fictional and on Mars. However, since I don't know actual heights, I have arbitrarily assigned the levels.]

The Rules:
~Once you choose your challenge level you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you are on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a "taller" mountain, then you are welcome to upgrade. All books counted for lower mountains carry over towards the new peak.

~Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2019. You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided you have 50% or more of the book left to finish when January 1 rolled around. I will trust you on that.

~[UPDATE] Just to be clear: this challenge is only for books you do not own. They may be borrowed from the library, a friend, found on a free e-book site (like Project Gutenberg), or anywhere else that allows you to temporarily checkout the book. Also--unlike Mount TBR, there is no date limit on your wish list. If you see a book online that strikes your fancy after January 1 and you just have to go get it from the library, then it absolutely counts.

~Rereads may count if you have not read it within the last five years [my arbitrary pick for a limit].

~You may count "Did Not Finish" books provided they meet your own standard for such things; you do not plan to ever finish it; and you move it off your mountain. For example, my personal rule (unless it's a very short book) is to give a book at leas 100 pages. If I decide I just can't finish it and won't ever, then off the mountain it goes and I count it as another step on the hike.

~Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

~There will be a year-end check points and prize drawing! [Since I'm adding an extra challenge to my round-up, I'm going to have to reduce the number of check points/prizes on all my challenges. I wish I could afford to give you all prizes!]

~A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog, then please post a challenge sign-up and link THAT post (not your home page) into the linky below. Non-bloggers please leave a comment declaring your challenge level--OR, if you are a member of Goodreads, I will offer this challenge there as well. Feel free to sign up HERE if that's where you want to participate.

~Just as I have with my other challenges, I will post a headquarters link in the left-hand side-bar by the beginning of January. That will be the place to find this original post, monthly review links, and final check point.

Monthly Key Word Challenge 2019

This is my second year hosting the Monthly Key Word Challenge. I took it up when the blog which formerly hosted it disappeared and I couldn't get a response from her through email. It had always been one of my favorites, so I'm glad to keep it going.

Your task is to read at least one book for each month whose title includes one or more of the key words for that month. For instance, for January you might read Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie. A full chart of all key words for the year may be found at the end of this post.

*The challenge runs from January 1 to December 31st, 2019. You may sign-up at any time until November 1, 2019. But to complete the challenge you will need to read (or have already read) books with keywords from any months missed by the time of sign-up. 

*The object is to read one book each month--ideally during that month. However, I know that life can get in the way and some folks may not see this challenge until a couple (or several) months have gone by. So, if you get behind or if you sign up later in 2019, you are welcome to post any catch-up reads while the most current month's linky is open. Just be sure to identify your post appropriately. For instance, if posting January's key word (at any time): Bev (Why Didn't They Ask Evans?) January.

*However, our time machine only works one way--to the past. Please do not read ahead and post books for future key words until that month's linky is up or later.

*Key words may be tweaked. If the key word is dance, you may use dancing or danced. You may also be more creative and use "tango" or "ballet" or "waltz."

*Link up below to participate. I will also post a new headquarters site by the beginning of January where this original post and the monthly review links will be housed.

*No blog? No problem! If you have a Goodreads/Library Thing shelf or other link to post, you should be able to link that as well. You may also just add a comment telling me you'll be participating. When the monthly review post goes up, you may then comment with your book and keyword. 

click to enlarge

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Post for Reading Challengers

As we head towards the end of October, I'm beginning to marshal my thoughts about the challenges I will be sponsoring in 2019. And I have a few announcements and a request or two.

1. Just the Facts, Ma'am will be on offer again. I would like to ask participants to consider what categories (not already on offer) that you might like see added to the detective notebooks. Is there a murder method that I'm ignoring? A location that you'd like to hunt for when choosing your mysteries for next year? Please send all suggestions to me at phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com.

2. Mount TBR will also be back--and will be for the foreseeable future. I just don't see my TBR mountain range ever getting any smaller (no matter how much I read). As long as I've got mountains, I'll be asking you to join me for a Mount TBR hike.

3. And the Monthly Key Word Challenge will also return with new key words for a new year.

4. I am retiring the Follow the Clues Challenge. It hasn't worked out quite as I envisioned it and participation hasn't been high. I may try to tweak it and bring it out of mothballs at some point in the future....

5. In related news, I am currently putting the finishing touches on a Calendar of Crime mystery challenge which will accept all mysteries no matter the year of publication. Perhaps this will have more appeal for mystery lovers than item #4.

6. I am also toying with a companion challenge to the Mount TBR. Over the years, I've had people ask me why I don't allow library books ("I've had Book X on my TBR list for eons but I don't own it. Why can't I check it out from the library and count it as a TBR read?"). If I get this one together, it will be a Virtual Mount TBR--climbing that list of books you've always wanted to read, but don't own.

7. The Color Coded and Read It Again, Sam Challenges will most likely be back in the same low-key (low-moderator-involvement) way. 

If you think the sound of a virtual Mount TBR sounds great and/or you have a strong desire to have the Color Coded and Read It Again, Sam Challenges return, please let me know. I'd love to be able to gauge interest in these.

Thanks for listening!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Queen's Quorum: Review

In Queen's Quorum: A History of the Detective-Crime Short Story as Revealed by the 106 Most Important Books Published in This Field since 1845 (1951), Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee (under their pseudonym Ellery Queen) do just that--they give readers a run-down of the short stories they consider to be the best and/or most influential in a little over 100 years from 1845 through 1950. This is an interesting and informative reference book. It is not just a list of short stories, but Queen provides indepth historical and biographical information on the stories and their authors. 

I was pleased to note how many of Queen's selections I had already read. I didn't necessarily agree with their opinions on all of those, but I agreed with enough that I would definitely welcome the chance to read the
rest of the stories listed here. Unfortunately, it seems that several of their selections may be quite difficult to find. They were scarce when the book was first published and I'm sure that they are even more difficult to track down today. But there would be no thrill of the hunt if all vintage mystery stories and books were easy to find.

The only thing I would have appreciated more would have been a Queen's Quorum on the history of the detective-crime novel. While I do appreciate a good detective short story, I do prefer those that are novel length and it would have been interesting to have Queen's list of the most important novels. ★★ and 3/4.

[Finished 10/13/18]

Saturday, October 20, 2018

9/11: A Survivor's Story (review)

In 2011, Artie Van Why wrote a memoir of the horrific day in 2001 that changed him, his fellow New Yorkers, his fellow Americans, and the world forever. I was honored when he contacted me through My Reader's Block and asked if I would care to read it and post a review. And when I did this is how I summed up his work: "An absolutely beautiful book. With the ten-year anniversary of that awful day approaching, I highly recommend finding yourself a copy and reading for yourself about Artie and his memory of those events. You won't be sorry."

Artie has now taken that memoir and expanded it. He gives us a more extensive recollection of the events of that day, but he also gives us much more than that. He takes us into his confidence--sharing his backstory. He tells us how he came to New York and trusts us with all his vulnerabilities--from his struggles with his spirituality and sexuality to his long-time desire to work onstage. Having been welcomed into his psyche, we are better able to understand what it was like for him and all the survivors who were not in those buildings to watch the destruction and then come to grips with why they were spared when so many were not.

He uses that story to reach all of us--by showing what he went through and how he dealt with and continues to deal with it he teaches the rest of us important lessons on how we can work our way through the traumatic events in our lives that can be just as life-altering. This is another beautiful and very brave book from just one of the many witnesses to tragedy on September 11, 2001. Again--I highly recommend it. ★★★★

[Finished on 10/8/18]

[Disclaimer: I have my review policy stated on my blog, but just to reiterate....This review copy was offered to me by the author for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]

Friday, October 19, 2018

'Til Death Do Us Part: Review

Full disclosure: I started 'Til Death Do Us Part (2016) by Amanda Quick as an audio novel (which is how I own it). I buy interesting-looking audio novels whenever our library used bookstore has them so I can listen to books when I make the long drive to my parents. But, occasionally, I just can't listen to an audio novel no matter how interesting the story. That was the case with The Sign of the Book back in March. With that one, everything was fine until the loud-mouthed, annoying bumbling deputy showed up and I just could not take the voice/intonations the reader gave him. It's a little bit harder to say what it was about the audio version of Quick's novel. I don't know if it was the reader or the pacing of the reading or just the type of book (mystery/suspense/romance)--but, whatever the reason, I had to give it up. But the plot still intrigued me, so I ordered it up from the library so I could finish it off and count it for challenges (since I do own it, it counts for Mt. TBR; since read more than half of it in hard copy, I'm counting it for Strictly Print).

The story features Calista Langley who, along with her younger brother, has inherited the family home but no income to go along with it. Having gone through a rather painful romance (the scoundrel dropped her like a hot potato when he discovered there was no finances to along with the big house), she develops an exclusive Introduction Agency where like-minded individuals may meet in comfort, privacy, and safety for good conversation and perhaps develop friendships. Her brother has a knack for investigation and does the background checks to help weed out potential gold diggers and worse. The business has just started humming along nicely when a variety of challenges are thrown Calista's way.

The scoundrel mentioned above, now married but bored with his wife and chafing at the restrictive settlement his papa-in-law made on his daughter (no cash for hubby if she leaves him or she dies), comes bursting back into Calista's life wanting "fan the flames" of their former passion. He doesn't want to take no for an answer. Add to that the famous mystery writer Trent Hastings who has descended upon her--ostensibly looking to use her service, but in reality to check up on whether she's a fraud. His sister has become rather enamored with Calista's salons and he doesn't want to see her get hurt. But Calista stands up to him and the reclusive author finds himself attracted by her.

Third...and most distressing of all...Calista has been receiving creepy momento mori gifts. Someone is sneaking into her house and leaving tear-catchers and coffin bells and a jet & crystal ring, all engraved with her initials. When Trent returns to make amends, he's just in time to witness Calista's receipt of another gruesome gift. He offers to help the Langleys investigate to find the person responsible and eventually his sister Eudora joins in as well. The deeper they dig, the more disturbing the evidence...for Calista is not this stalker's first victim. And he has left a trail of bodies behind him. The investigators must work hard to discover the villain before Calista needs a coffin to go with the bells.

While this is not a mystery cast in the Golden Age mold, there is a credible investigation undertaken by Calista and her supporters. Evidence is gathered and they work their way towards the grand finale. It does take an encounter between Calista and the stalker to reveal the stalker's true identity, though. Quick is strongest in her historical background and the relationships she builds among the lead characters--particularly the growing attraction and romance between Trent and Calista. Once I was reading instead of listening, I was able to settle down and enjoy the quick-paced story. This was my first Amanda Quick novel, but it won't be my last. ★★

[Finished 10/4/18]

I am most certainly not the hero of my novels. But I have been told that I have a talent for logical thinking. In addition, thanks to the research that I have done for several of my books, I have acquired a few useful skills and some connections in certain quarters that may prove helpful. ~Trent Hastings (p. 61)

I'm an author, Calista. The older I get, the more I'm convinced that a truth only makes sense when it is revealed in the form of a story. Without that context it is simply a random event with no meaning. ~Trent Hastings (p. 123)

Perhaps one must experience a passion of one's own before one can comprehend another's. ~Calista Langley (p. 133)

There is so much unnecessary loneliness in the world. Marriage is not necessarily the answer, at least not for women. But an enduring friendship is a great gift and a blessing. ~Calista Langley (p. 133)

I told him a story, Calista. People will follow you anywhere if you tell them a tale they desperately want to believe. It's astonishing, really, how gullible even the most skeptical person can be if he or she wants to believe. ~Trent Hastings (p. 229)

Before Midnight: Review

I would appreciate it if they would call a halt on all their devoted efforts to find a way to abolish war or eliminate disease or run trains with atoms or extend the span of human life to a couple of centuries, and everybody concentrate for a while on how to wake me up in the morning without my resenting it. It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing Oh, What a Beautiful Morning and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick, but I'd have to try it. ~Archie Goodwin (a man after my own heart) Before Midnight (1955) by Rex Stout

Archie Goodwin never dreamed he'd wake up one morning to find four men from Lippert, Buff, & Assa (LBA), the advertising company which handles Pour Amour, would show up on the brownstone's doorstep the day after he'd shown the perfume's ad to Nero Wolfe. But there they were, in living color, on the other side of the one-way glass panel in the door, clamoring to come in and see Wolfe before he was due to finish in the plant rooms.

LBA has been running a promotional million dollar (total prizes) contest for Pour Amour that has involved contestants solving clues, offered five quatrains, which point to the identity of famous cosmetic-using women. There have been several rounds--which opened with millions of contestants--that have resulted in a final round with five remaining prize-seekers. The last round of quatrains was just given to the contestants, in person, last night. So what has these four men in such a tizzy? Louis Dahlman, the brilliant--if difficult--young up-and-coming ad man whose brainchild the contest was and the only man who knew the answers to the contest, is dead. There were two copies of the answers. One set was locked in a safe deposit box that no one has accessed and the other set was in Dahlman's wallet last night. The wallet is now missing. LBA wants to hire Wolfe. Not to solve the murder, but to find out who took the wallet and the answers. If the thief is the killer, then Wolfe is welcome to hand him/her over to the authorities. But all LBA cares about is the integrity of the contest.

Does that bit of hardheartedness towards their former colleague bother Wolfe enough that he doesn't take the case? Of course not. A blank check fee has just been offered to him. So he sets about interviewing the contestants and the members of the firm and believes that he is shaping the case up nicely...until the murderer has the audacity to commit another murder in Wolfe's own office right under his nose. Cramer accuses him of having changed his job from finding the thief to finding a murderer and warns him to stick to his original contract.

Confound it, can a man kill with impunity in my office, with my liquor in my glass?

But, after being hoodwinked (Wolfe's word), the great detective is determined to finish the job he was hired to do. And he's pretty sure he'll be taking care of Cramer's job as well. And if he has to leave the brownstone to do it...well, that's just the price he'll have to pay. After all--he can recoup his losses in that blank check...

Cleverly plotted with a range of interesting characters--particularly the contestants. It's worth it just for the conversation between Wolfe and the history professor. One drawback--Archie has so little to do. In fact, until the wrap-up at the end, nobody does much of anything. Lots of interviews and talking. Fortunately, Stout knew how to write dialogue and the interactions are interesting, humorous, and enjoyable. ★★

[Finished 10/4/18]

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Death of a Peer: Review

Alleyn grinned, "No," he said. I'm not bored by my job. One gets desperately sick of routine at times but it would be an affectation to pretend one was bored. People interest me and homicide cases are so terrifically concerned with people.

Death of a Peer (originally published as A Surfeit of Lampreys; 1940) by Ngaio Marsh features the very interesting, very charming and very peculiar Lamprey family. Alleyn will certainly get his fill of interesting when he manages to work out who coldbloodedly murdered Gabriel Lamprey, Marquis of Wutherwood and Rune with a kitchen skewer while he waited in the elevator outside the family's London top-floor flat.

The Lampreys--at least Lord Charles, his wife, and their brood of children--love to sport the eccentric, grand style of the aristocracy. They simply exude charm and really seem to be quite nice people even if they are a bit clueless about how to hang onto money and often find themselves going through one "financial crisis" or another. They especially seem nice to Roberta Gray who fell quite in love with the family and all its eccentricities when the Lampreys came to New Zealand for a while during one of their crises.

At the story's beginning, Roberta has lost her parents and come to England to live with her aunt. But before she heads to the family bosom, she stops for a bit to visit her favorite family--the Lampreys. She arrives just in time for another financial crisis and to witness the family's massive effort to charm Uncle G (as the Marquis is familiarly known) into floating them another loan. They plan a nice little game of charades as a pleasant entertainment and Michael (the youngest) is prepared to butter up dear old uncle with a present of a rare vase. But the efforts are not a rousing success and Uncle G and Lord Charles have quite an argument about the latter's inability to manage funds. 

Uncle G slams out in a huff, hollers for his eccentric wife (who has taken up some kind of mystic, voodoo-like interest) to join him, and plops himself down on the elevator seat to wait. She joins him as does one of the Lamprey twins (yes, there are twins involved). The elevator starts down, there is a lot of screaming, the elevator comes back up, and there is Uncle G, dying from a skewer to the brain. No wonder Violet, his Marchioness, is screaming the house down.

Once the doctor and the police are called, the Lampreys close ranks (because, naturally, none of them could have done it--no matter how annoying it was that Uncle G wasn't going to cover any more crises). Alleyn has to work his way through half-truths, bald-faced lies, and innocent comments with hidden meanings as he interviews the household. He'll also have to sleuth out which twin was in the elevator because everyone claims not to know and the twins each claim to have been the one. In the end, it's Michael (dubbed by the family as the least truthful--in an obvious effort to keep Alleyn from even talking to him) who has the most revealing information to give--if Alleyn can interpret it properly. But...he wouldn't be Alleyn if he didn't.

This is a highly entertaining mystery with an entertaining cast of characters. The Lampreys are so very odd, such evident scroungers, and, as Roberta will attest, quite irresistibly charming. One really doesn't want the murderer to be one of them and hopes that all the evidence pointing against them is just a bunch of red herrings. Marsh manages to weave a very interesting murder plot into a pretty commentary on the aristocracy at the beginning of the second world war. It's quite obvious that the Lampreys of the world are on shaky ground with the changes coming and they're going to have to learn to change if they're going to survive (possible forthcoming inheritance or not....). Another of my Marsh favorites. It appears that most of her novels that I like best have to do with character from Bunchy in Death in a White Tie to the various characters in Death at the Bar to the Lampreys here--I enjoy Marsh's characters and the ways in which she has them interact. ★★★★

[Finished 10/3/18]

 A few more quotes:

"It is scarcely possible that it can be a case of suicide or of accident. The word that must be in all your minds is one that, unfortunately, calls up all sorts of extravagant images. Detective fiction has made so much of homicide investigations that I'm afraid that to most people they suggest official misunderstandings, dozens of innocent persons in jeopardy, red herrings by the barrowload, and surprise arrests. Actually, of course, the investigation in a case of homicide is a dull enough business and it is extremely seldom that any innocent person is in the smallest degree likely to suffer anything but the inconvenience of routine." ~Inspector Roderick Alleyn

"Do you read detective novels, Br'er Fox?"
"No," said Fox. And perhaps with some idea of softening this shortest of all rejoinders he added: "It's not for want of trying. Seeing the average person's knowledge of the department is based on these tales I thought I'd have a go at them. I don't say they're not very smart. Something happening on every page to make you think different from what you thought the one before, and the routine got over in the gaps between chapters....I don't say it's not clever but it's fanciful." 

Fox: The truth is homicidal cases are not what people would like them to be. How often do we get  a murder with a row of suspects, each with motive and opportunity?
Alleyn: Not often, thank the lord, but it has happened.
Fox: Well, yes. But motives aren't all of equal weight. You don't have much trouble in getting at the prime motive.
Alleyn: No.
Fox: No. Mostly there's one suspect and our problem is to nail the job on him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The House of Sudden Sleep: Review

The House of Sudden Sleep (1930) by John Hawk gives Assistant District Attorney, Rodney Colt, the chance he's been waiting for--the opportunity that he can take on a big murder mystery and solve it like a pro. His boss is away on vacation when David Ribblesdale is found dead at his desk. Ribblesdale appears to have just lain his head down for a little nap and, quite literally, slept himself to death. Was it natural causes? Suicide? Or maybe even murder? Ribblesdale's partner (and Colt's friend), Jimmy Armstrong is convinced that murder has been done and he is the one who brings Colt into the case. Two more members of the household also die under similar circumstances and the killer makes an attempt on one more before Colt gets his man/woman.

Hawk makes an effort to give this fairly straight forward detective novel a sinister atmosphere. Somehow Colt (and the readers) are supposed to believe that the house is having some kind of odd effect on its inhabitants. An effect that makes them sleep themselves to death. But our observant hero notices little clues here and there that cause him to know there is a human agent behind the deaths. As he investigates, various suspects emerge.

There are rumors of infidelity--but did David cheat on his wife or did Suzanne cheat on him? Had his wife tired of his philandering? Or did she just get tired of him? The rumors include Suzanne's half-sister Dorcas. It seems that she and David were fond of one another. Just how fond? Did she kill him because she couldn't have him? Or perhaps he wanted her more than she wanted him and she killed out of frustration. Of course, there's also Jimmy. When it's revealed that he and Dorcas are deeply attached, Colt has to wonder if his friend eliminated the unwanted competition. And then...letters from Cynthia appear. Who is this mysterious woman and why was she threatening David? And if she did kill him, how did she get in the house and why did she feel the need to kill others?

Hawk does a good job of providing several suspects in a rather limited field (especially once the deaths start piling up). The atmosphere is good--though just a tad overdone in the beginning--and Rodney Colt is a likable protagonist. We're definitely rooting for him to solve the murders before his boss gets back in town. The ending was a bit perplexing--not in solution (which makes perfect sense) but in the way the climax was handled. It seemed to me that it was contrived to make the denouement exciting--even though it made little sense that certain precautions were not taken to prevent a final near-murder. [sorry--can't be more specific without spoilers] Overall a very entertaining read and I would be interested to know if Hawk wrote any other mysteries starring Rodney Colt. ★★ and 1/2.

Spoiler info in apparent empty space (just highlight with mouse if interested): So--the doctor, who believes he knows who the murderer is, sends Dorcas away for safety because he suspects she's next on the list. He sends her to his cottage in the country with a trusted man to protect her. But he doesn't warn the man not to let the suspected killer anywhere near her! So, up toddles the murderer, is welcomed with open arms, and nearly polishes off a fourth victim. All in the name of exciting ending...

Rick Mills over at Reading the Mystery League has also read The House of Sudden Sleep (and nearly all the Mystery League books). Check out his blog at the link.

[Finished on 9/30/18]