Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Haunted Man & The Haunted House: Review

The Haunted House is a strange little tale. John, our narrator, is told that he needs to take a house in the country to help his health improve. A friend spots a house that seems perfect when he's out driving and off John goes to see about it. As soon as he sees it up close, he realizes it must be haunted and the inhabitants of the nearby village confirm his impressions. So--what does he do? Decides it's just the house for him and moves in with his sister, a deaf stable man, two women servants, an Odd Girl (a tweeny, maybe?), and his bloodhound. Why on earth he thinks living in a haunted house is going to improve his health is beyond me. Naturally, the ghost--or rather ghosts because there's Master B, a disturbed young male ghost, and a hooded woman with an owl, starts right in with bell-ringing and appearances and whatnot. So to dispel the ghost, John comes up with the bright idea to send all the servants away except the deaf stable man (who hasn't seen hide nor hair of a ghost) and have a jolly house party--because if they're all happy and not looking for ghosts in every corner then they probably won't have any. Well...I don't know if John drank a little too much or maybe smoked something he shouldn't have but he lays down in Master B's room and has the most bizarre experience. It reads more like an opium dream than a ghostly experience and when he wakes up/sobers up/what-have-you then the story ends and we have no idea if there really was a ghost who took possession of him or he just got hold of some really bad weed. Seriously. Not one of Dickens best.


The Haunted Man is a tale of transformation not unlike A Christmas Carol. Redlaw, the central character, is a chemistry teacher who broods on the evil which has been done to him and grief he has experienced in his past. One night, near Christmas, he listens to his servants talking of their good memories despite their circumstances (particularly of Philip…who has seen “87 years!” and had many things to overcome) and he falls into a particularly deep brooding state. A shadowy phantom of himself appears and offers him the chance to forget all the wrongs from his past. With this “gift” comes the power that will pass the “gift” on to those Redlaw comes in contact with. The result? Peace and happiness as Redlaw expects? Not so. Redlaw and those he comes in contact with fall into a wrathful state of universal anger. All but Milly, one of Dickens’s purely good female characters and a young boy that Milly has taken in who has known nothing but evil treatment until now. Finally, Redlaw—seeing the damage his “gift” has wrought—begs the phantom return and remove the gift. It is done…but only Milly’s goodness can counteract the anger and bring everyone back themselves. And it is Milly who presents Redlaw with the moral of the tale: ""It is important to remember past sorrows and wrongs so that you can then forgive those responsible and, in doing so, unburden your soul and mature as a human being."" Redlaw takes this to heart, and like Scrooge, becomes a more loving and whole person.

★★  for the two novellas.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Whiff of Cyanide: Review

A Whiff of Cyanide (2017) by Guy Fraser-Sampson is the third in his Hampstead Murders series which makes great use of Golden Age detection--which, by the way, is a great delight for those of us who have a deep love for classic crime. He has found a way to weave tropes from the Golden Age into a modern day setting that is effective and makes for compelling reading. This time the Hampstead team--led by Superintendent Simon Collison with the assistance of Detective Sergeants Karen Willis and Bob Metcalfe--have to investigate a suspicious death at a crime writer's convention. Peter Collins, who has appeared regularly as a civilian assistant in these cases, has finally finished his book on poisons in Golden Age novels and has been asked to participate in one of the convention's panels. He brings Karen as his guest to the event's grand dinner and once again they're on hand when death occurs.

Ann Durham has been the head of the Crime Writer's Association for years--through pure force of will and a bullying personality more recently. But lately there have been stirrings of revolt among the ranks and (heaven forbid) there has been talk of a challenge to her leadership through a (gasp!) vote. She takes her frustrations out on everybody around her--from her loyal secretary to her daughter and her (the daughter's) regrettable boyfriend and workers at the hotel convention site. But even with all the bad vibes around, it's still initially suggested that she committed suicide when she takes a drink at the beginning of the dinner and immediately falls over dead. The scent of bitter almonds is very strong and everybody who attended the poison panel knew that she had a sample of cyanide in her possession (she brought it along as as tantalizing prop....). Since DS Willis is on the spot and moves rapidly to seal the area, no one at the head table is able to leave the dining room and a careful search of the room and those in the immediate vicinity leaves the police empty-handed. So if, as would be totally in character, she decided to take a most public leave of this world then why can't the cyanide vial be found?

The Hampstead team's investigation reveals secrets in Durham's past that adds a couple more suspects to the list. There are surprises in store for Durham's reading public...and a few surprises for members of Collison's team as well before murderer will be found and the case will be solved.

This is a strong entry in a very enjoyable series. I'm always interested to see how Fraser-Sampson will bring in references to Golden Age mysteries. The first entry had Peter Collins near-delusional in his assumption of the Lord Peter Wimsey persona. The second book brings in Dame Agatha herself (albeit through letters). And this time round we have an actress who has played Miss Marple for so long on television that she refuses to be addressed as anything else. She helpfully offers advice to the Hampstead officers in true Miss Marple fashion. But is she really helping or, as one of the suspects, is she trying to confuse the issue? There are clues and red herrings a-plenty, but clever readers should be able to sift them and rind the solution.

 Fraser-Sampson has created a compelling set of characters that have started to feel like old friends. It is fun to watch the progression of their relationships--both on the job and in their personal lives. The changes that come for the team members are interesting and not quite what I expected....and I'm not sure what I think about them. But I've come to trust the author's story-telling and can't wait to see what's next in the series. ★★★★ and a half 


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Murder of a Quack

The Murder of a Quack (1943) by George Bellairs once again finds Scotland Yard's Inspector Littlejohn investigating murder in a small English village. This time Nathaniel Wall, a beloved local "quack" bonesetter is found hanging from one of the contraptions he uses in his cures. At first it looks like the only people who had any dislike at all for the man were certified doctors. Wall comes from a family of bonesetters (those who can manipulate bones and joints, but who have no formal training) and the people of Stalden have come to rely on his skill. In fact, they prefer him over the new doctor who has bought the practice of a doctor who long had respect for the bonesetter. Circumstances (the doctor's alcoholic ways and a certain incident of a missed broken collarbone) had caused the villagers to seek out Wall's help even more. But would a doctor really resort to murder to get rid of the competition? 

Littlejohn soon discovers that there are others with a possible motive--from the young woman who had considered him an uncle...until "uncle" decided to poke his nose into her romantic affairs to the young man she wishes to marry (and who has a decided row with the doctor) to the mysterious man who once sought the doctor's help with a deformity. When newspaper clippings are found which feature a bank robbery and a well-known forgery, Littlejohn begins to wonder what the connections are. Once he figures that out, he'll be well on his way to solving the mystery. But not before another body is found at the bottom of a well....

This is another pleasant mystery in the Littlejohn line-up. The Inspector is a good man who investigates at a steady pace and with little "flair" or excitement, but provides a nice comfortable story to follow. As with the previous novel, the major complaint is that there are too few suspects. There isn't much doubt after about half-way in who the main culprit is, but Bellairs provides a little bonus that makes it well worthwhile. These stories are perfect for when you don't want a complicated mystery--just a little puzzle and nice visit to Britain of the 1940s. There is also a thread of wry humor that runs throughout and makes things interesting. ★★ and 1/2.

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All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Alphabet Soup Authors, Century of Books, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, Mystery Reporter, How Many Books, Medical Examiner,

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Dead Shall Be Raised: Review

In The Dead Shall Be Raised (1942) by George Bellairs, Inspector Thomas Littlejohn and his wife are set to spend a quiet Christmas holiday in the small town of Hatterworth. The story begins cozily enough--with a warm welcome from the local police superintendent and a visit from the village carolers. But the Christmas night performance of Handel's Messiah (with Superintendent Haworth in a starring role) is interrupted by the announcement that members of the Home Guard have dug up a skeleton while practicing maneuvers and fortifications on the moor. 

Materials found with the skeleton soon allow it to be identified as Enoch Sykes, a man thought to have murdered a former friend and run off after a falling out over a young woman over 20 years ago. Apparently someone else had it in for both Jeremy Trickett and Sykes and thought burying Sykes's body would allow their crime to go undetected...they've been right (and lucky) up till now. Haworth asks the Scotland Yard man if he'd like to take a busman's holiday and lend a hand in digging up the past. It's going to be a difficult job--half of the participants are dead, hrough old age, illness, or having perished in the current war. It isn't long before Littlejohn and Haworth discover that there were those who knew more than they told at the time and they had their reasons for holding their tongues. One of those in the know think it better to try their hand at blackmail than to take their knowledge to the police...and, of course, they meet the end destined for many blackmailers in detective fiction.

The Yard man and the local policemen work hard to track down clues on a very cold case. And they come down to being a hairsbreadth away from laying their villain by his/her heels. It will take the wiles of the 80-year-old retired Inspector Entwhistle to give them the evidence that allows the final confrontation.

This is delightful Golden Age mystery that I am so very glad the British Library Crime Classics decided to reissue. Bellairs writes about the English countryside during wartime with a sure hand yet gives the reader a pleasant, homey description of the village. Inspector Entwhistle is (to borrow a GAD phrase) a caution and I only wish that he had been allowed to participate more fully in the investigation. The characters are introduced with warmth and descriptions that make them seem like remembrances of real people rather than just characters in a novel.

Sometimes these Golden Age writers who produced mysteries during the war years appear to have been trying to forget that there even was a war going on. Perhaps they wanted to provide their readers an escape from the horrors. In fact, some of the novels could have been written just about any time, given how little current events make their way into the story. Bellairs brings references to the war into his narrative so easily that it places the book firmly in that era without making the story itself seem dated. Mrs. Littlejohn and Mrs. Haworth sit at home and knit scarves and other warm necessities for the soldiers. Ration books and identity cards are a necessary addition to life on the war-era home front. He also allows us to look back at a time when tramps were a common sight and farm laborers, game keepers and poachers were part of the country landscape.

The one draw-back as a mystery is the fact that there are fewer suspects than might be desirable to keep the reader mystified. There is, however,  a portion of the solution that allows for a bit of a surprise which almost makes up for the lack of suspects and red herrings. Overall, a good entry in the Littlejohn chronicles and I definitely look forward to moving on to Murder of a Quack--the second novel in the British Library Crime Classics reprint edition. ★★ and 3/4.

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All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime, Century of Books, World at War, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Clouds of Witness: Review

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. ~Hebrews 12:1

Clouds of Witness (1926) by Dorothy L Sayers (read by Ian Carmichael) is an old favorite. The Lord Peter Wimsey stories are comfort reads for me. I have read them many times since I first discovered them in my late teens. When I found this audio version at the library, I could not resist. I own several of the audio novels read by Ian Carmichael, but this is not one of them and I wanted to hear him read this early story in the Wimsey mysteries. He does a fantastic job giving each character their own voice and it's quite lovely to hear him as Lord Peter again.

On this particular round of Clouds of Witness, I was quite taken with the trial scene at the House of Lords--all the pomp and circumstance and Sir Impy Biggs for the defense. It is all quite theatrical and impressive. And it made me wish I had kept the "trial/courtroom scene" square on the Just the Facts Detective Notebook. It's not everyday that one reads about the trial of a peer of the realm. Another delightful part of the story is the friendship of Lord Peter and Parker. Their interactions while detecting in the grounds of Riddlesdale Lodge are great fun and Carmichael does justice to the humor and good feeling between the two. Overall, another wonderful visit to the world of Lord Peter Wimsey. ★★★★


For more on the story itself, please see my previous REVIEW from 2011 when I reread the Wimsey stories in their entirety.


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All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Virtual Mount TBR, Calendar of Crime, Cloak & Dagger, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, PopSugar Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Craving for Cozies, Century of Books, European Reading Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Mystery Reporter, Medical Examiner; Brit Crime Classics



An African Millionaire

An African Millionaire (1897) by Grant Allen is one of the first books to feature a "gentleman crook." Colonel Cuthbert Clay (his alias) is a master of disguise and an ingenious con man who sets his sights on the South African Millionaire, Sir Charles Vandrift. Vandrift is a man of dubious morality himself who has not been above shady dealings if it would get him what he wanted--whether that be diamonds for his wife or a diamond mine. In a series of twelve stories Clay transforms himself through skillfully applied make-up and his ability to mimic the behavior of others into a Tyrolean Count, a humble parson, a Mexican Seer with psychic powers, and even a detective employed by Vandrift to catch himself. Clay repeatedly eludes capture until the very last story--where, although he faces prison, he still manages to humble the financier who has been his prey.

The book was a somewhat disappointing read for me--primarily because the blurb on the back of the book made it seem as though we would be reading about the exploits of this magnificent con man from his point of view. That we would see how he plotted his schemes to take in Sir Charles. Instead we follow the millionaire about and see everything from the point of view of his "Watson"--his faithful brother-in-law and secretary/companion. Since the stories were told from this side of the confidence trick, it would have been more effective if we, the readers, hadn't been told that the same thief was pulling these jobs off. Then we could have been mystified until the final reveal at the end. As it was, the tales were fairly anti-climatic and we could only shake our heads at how gullible Sir Charles (and his brother-in-law) is. He is particularly so considering how often we are told that not just anybody could fool him, that he wouldn't have made his millions if he was taken in by confidence tricks. And yet...even though he knows that Colonel Clay has targeted him again and again, he never suspects that he's falling into another trap. 

What does work here is the social satire--revealing just how greed and vanity can lead even the greatest of millionaire into folly. Clay's job is made all the easier because Sir Charles just can't resist getting his hands on a diamond or a rare painting by a master--especially if he thinks he's underpaying. It is also satisfying to see the unscrupulous financier cheated himself. 

A decent read that might have been better if the blurb hadn't been so misleading. But then, perhaps the blurb-writer has a bit of Colonel Clay in him... ★★


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Died in the Wool: Review

Died in the Wool (1945) by Ngaio Marsh finds Inspector Alleyn still in New Zealand hunting spies in World War II. Alleyn had already been hard at work in the counter-espionage business in Marsh's previous novel, Colour Scheme. This time he's asked to investigate the death of a member of New Zealand's Parliament--Florence "Flossie" Rubrick. The Rubricks own a large country property which includes sheep herds and wool processing quarters. She had gone missing one evening after announcing she was headed to the wool shed to practice an up-coming speech. It isn't until sometime later that her body is found packed into a bundle of wool that has been sold.

Her nephew, Douglas Grace, fears that a spy is at work on the farm. He and Fabian Losse (nephew to Flossie's husband Arthur) have been working on a top-secret, hush-hush gadget that will greatly aid the war efforts and Grace is certain that Flossie must have discovered proof of the spy's identity and been killed because of it. Losse doesn't believe in the spy theory, but he does want the murder solved and after the local police flounder for over a year he writes to the "big wigs" and asks for Alleyn to drop in...dangling the possibility of a spy in front him as justification.

Since the case is so cold (no clues lying helpfully about to be picked up), Alleyn spends most of his time listening to every member of the household's account of the night in question and their impressions of Flossie. Arthur is no longer around--he died shortly after Flossie disappeared--but the two nephews, Flossie's ward Ursula Harme, and Terence Lynne, Flossie's secretary all give Alleyn their version of events. It isn't long before Alleyn realizes that there are several currents of motive running beneath the surface. There's a local boy who was Flossie's favorite until they had a grand row. And there's the growing affection between Terry (Terence) and her employer's husband. Not to mention the sudden fall from favor that Douglas experience with his aunt. A late-night hunt in the wool shed (yes--even all this time later) is called for and Alleyn becomes the target for the murderer himself before the curtain falls on this one.

What is particularly nice about this one is the way Alleyn's interviews so clearly underline that no one is the same person to each person they interact with. Every member of the household produces a different Flossie for the Inspector to understand. Marsh uses the psychology of each person's version to help Alleyn to understand what Flossie did in the days leading up to her murder that made her death imperative for the killer. Some may find this a bit slow going--there's a lot of talk and little action until the last third or so of the book--but in this instance I think it works. A good closed group mystery with excellent setting and background. ★★ and 1/2.



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Mount TBR Challenge, Just the Facts, Calendar of Crime, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, PopSugar Challenge, Ngaio Marsh Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, World at War, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Back to the Classics, Brit Crime Classics, Outdo Yourself, Mystery Reporter, How Many Books, Six Shooter, Medical Examiner

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

2018 Just the Facts Prize Winners



It's that time again...when all the detectives don their Inverness capes and deerstalkers OR monocles and top hats OR pick up their knitting bags and magnifying glasses and gather for the gala prize event here on the Block. I see that we have the usual suspects in the winners circle this year as well as a couple of new challengers to give the old hands a run for their money. 

I'll just drop all the detective notebooks into the Custom Random Number Generator and we'll see which detectives will come out on top this year.....



Drawing #1 (all who met the minimum): Aidan who completed the Gold Detective Notebook

AND

Drawing #2 (2nd chance for all who found 12 or more): Reese who competed on both the Gold & Silver Notebooks

Congratulations to you! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list. And thank you to all the super sleuths who joined me on the hunt for clues. I hope you all are joining me for another round of Just the Facts, Ma'am in 2019.


2018 Mount TBR Final Checkpoint Winner!



I just warmed up the Custom Random Number Generator and fed all the entries for my challenges into it. First up here on the block...we have the winner of the Mount TBR Final Checkpoint prize.



And the winner is...Link #3 Barbara H! Congratulations! I'll be contacting you soon with the prize list. Thanks again to all of yo for donning your hiking boots and joining me on another trek up the mountain range. Hope to see you on the 2019 trail.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Star Trek Little Golden Books: mini-review

My husband surprised me. Back in December, he pre-ordered these two Star Trek Little Golden Books and they just arrived today. So, I sat right down and read them immediately. Since they were pre-ordered in 2018, they count for this year's Mount TBR Challenge.

I Am Captain Kirk by Frank Berrios (2019): This is a lovely children's book for young Star Trek fans or Star Trek parents who want to introduce Start Trek to their children or older Star Trek fans who just want a fun ST book to add to their collection (that would be me). The illustrations are wonderfully done and the only thing that prevents this from a full five-star rating is the fact that the author doesn't seem to know that Chekov exists and while he includes Nurse Chapel in one of the illustrations he doesn't mention her at all either. Also--the book really focuses more on the "world" of Star Trek (introducing the crew, spelling out their mission to "Boldly Go," etc.) than it does on Captain Kirk himself. Perhaps the book should have been called This Is Star Trek★★★★ and 1/2.


I Am Mr. Spock by Elizabeth Schaefer (2019): Another lovely children's book for young Star Trek fans and those of us who are older ST fans as well. This one is more focused on Mr. Spock than the I Am Captain Kirk book is on Kirk and talks about what he does in the crew and his relationship with Kirk and McCoy. A good introduction to the character and his place in the Star Trek universe. Again, the illustrations are wonderfully done. An excellent, fun book. ★★★★

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019 Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge


Okay...so I lied. Here's another one...because I'm quite sure that Rick is determined to tempt me into signing up for an even 40 challenges this year. He's put together another dandy little mystery challenge that I can't resist. For full details, check out his post on the Medical Examiner Mystery Reading Challenge. Basically, just read mysteries and log the murder methods on his handy form. Compete for prizes!

Rick doesn't require a sign-up post, but in order to claim this one as complete on my own personal challenge tally sheet, I must submit at least 20 death certificates. With the number of mysteries I read per year, this shouldn't be too difficult.

List of Books Read and Deaths Recorded:
1. The Winter Women Murders by David A. Kaufelt (3 murders: 1 shoved down staircase; 2 strangled) [1/5/19]
2. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh (1 murder = strangled/asphyxiated) [1/10/19]
3. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (1 death = shot) [1/12/19]
4. The Dead Shall be Raised by George Bellairs (4 deaths = 2 shot and 2 poisoned)
5. The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs (2 deaths = one strangle and one drowned in the well) [1/13/19]
6. A Whiff of Cyanide by Guy Fraser-Sampson (2 deaths = one poisoned; one hit on the head)
7. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (one poisoned)
8.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Winter Women Murders: Slightly Spoilerish Review

The Winter Women Murders by David A. Kaufelt (1995): [from the back of the book] For nearly fifty years, the Waggs Neck Harbor Annual Literary Arts Symposium (ALAS) had been dedicated to the cultural enrichment of the winter women, the upper middle-class ladies who lived in the resort town year round. But when the founder and chair of ALAS took a fatal tumble into the next world, the group took a radical turn. Against her better judgment, real-estate lawyer and reluctant sleuth Wyn Lewis is volunteered to tend to one of the featured speakers, Keny Blue--a bestselling author of feminist romance novels expounding a brave new world of sexual freedom. When Wyn found Keny dead in bed wearing nothing but a wire around her neck, there were several suspects. Dickie ffrench, the interior designer who had moonlighted as Keny's ghost writer, took exception when Keny cut him off from that lucrative sideline. Peter Robaliniski--incoming director of ALAS and a seasoned "gentleman in waiting"--feared that Keny might expose the secret life they once shared. Even Keny's arch rival and fellow Symposium speaker, feminist Sondra Mercy Confrit, was not above suspicion.

All in all, Wyn would prefer to be at home with some take-out Chinese, an old movie, and her boyfriend Tommy. But the murder investigation just won't go away--and she's learning that in peaceful Waggs Neck if something sinful can happen, it most likely will....

My Take:
Pro Tip for guys writing books with lead female protagonists (especially when writing about their love life): The average woman is not nearly as enthralled with the awesome "beauty" of your "private member" (his word, not mine) as you are. Yes, there are women who are exceptions. And, yes, even average women may have moments that are exceptions. But--generally speaking, we're far more impressed with what you can do with it (with our enthusiastic participation) than we are with how it looks. In fact, quite often we think it looks more like this:




So, don't write love scenes that have the lady there in bed admiring the general awesomeness before her (and giving us her thoughts on the matter) for what, in book time, seems like eons. She's more likely wondering why he's doesn't come to bed and suit the action to the moment rather than posing like a model in Playgirl. Especially if you're writing what purports to be a cozy mystery and not soft porn.

As you might suspect from that opener on my thoughts, this book was not nearly as good as hoped for. When I picked it up at the Friends of the Library used bookstore, it looked like it would be a nice cozy mystery. But it has very rough edges. Nastier murder scenes than usual in cozies and I think Kaufelt would do better to focus on male lead characters. He just doesn't do women's characters well on the whole (and, again, there are exceptions)--most of them sound like men in disguise. And the romance for Wyn Lewis? That sudden resolution several months later is a bit odd....just saying. 

I think it's telling that most of the "rave" reviews quoted on the cover and the intro pages are from male reviewers. The characters are probably behaving just like they expect women to (or wish women would). To give him his due, he did create at least one very believable and interesting female character. Sophie Comfort Noble. Unfortunately, he killed her off before we could enjoy her properly. This isn't nearly as spoilerish as you might think--she's gone in the first chapter. But her brief moment onstage was a good one and she absolutely could have carried the show. Wyn is also a fairly good representation that just misses being very good--if he hadn't insisted on dragging her love-life into the story, that would have helped matters.

The mystery starts out fairly well, but it didn't stay mysterious very long and I even saw the extra twist coming. This is one I'm glad to have done and to take off the stacks taking over my house. ★★



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Complete list of challenges fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Monthly Key Word, Alphabet Soup Authors, Alphabet Soup, Craving for Cozies, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Century of Books, Book Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books,

Friday, January 4, 2019

What's in a Name 2019



This is my last challenge. Well....until Erin's next challenge comes out later this year. And Michelle does her Christmas Spirit Challenge at the end of the year....and.... Well, it's my last regular challenge. Unless it's not. I know how promises like that go.

But I've been waiting for this one. The What's in a Name Challenge has been sponsored by Charlie at the Wormhole for quite some time, but she has other commitments this year and has passed it on to Andrea at Carolina Book Nook. It's Andrea's first time hosting a challenge, so we all need to do our part and support her by joining in, right? Right!

The format is the same--six categories and read one book for each category. The category words (or a creative usage thereof) should be in the title. For full details, click on the link above.

Here are the categories and some tentative suggestions (from my TBR piles) for what I might read. I will confirm and add review links as I go.

1. Precious stone: The Ruby Raven by Michael Dahl OR The Hardaway Diamonds Mystery by Miles Burton OR Mystery of the Emerald Buddha by Betty Cavanna

2. Temperature: Stone Cold Blonde by Adam Knight OR Death Warmed Up by Marion Babson OR Death Likes It Hot by Edgar Box

3. Month/Day: The Thirty-First of February by Julian Symons OR The March Hare Murders by E. X. Ferrars

4.Meal: Death After Breakfast by Hugh Pentecost OR Murder at Teatime by Cynthia Mason

5. "Girl" or "Woman": A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

6. "Of" AND "And": Tales of Terror and Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 Six Shooter Mystery Reading Challenge


The Six Shooter Mystery Reading Challenge
Sponsored by Rick @ Rick Mills Project

Rick has been bitten by the challenge-making bug and has designed a nifty mystery reading challenge. The goal is fairly straight-forward. Read six mysteries on the same target (by the same author) during 2019. For complete rules, click on the link above.

Submit your shots as you complete your books. Once you complete a target, you can take aim at the same author again or set your sights on a new author (or shoot at more than one at a time.

My first target has Ngaio Marsh's name all over it. I'm already signed up for the Ngaio Marsh Challenge (Part II--having read her first 12 books in 2018). Then I may take on Christie next....

Ngaio Marsh Target
1. Died in the Wool  (1/10/19)
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.



The Ascent of Rum Doodle

Bill Bryson introduces the 2001 edition of W. E. Bowman's The Ascent of Rum Doodle (orig. pub. 1956) as "one of the funniest books you will ever read." He gives us great expectations of the delights that await us as we read Bowman's parody of the great mountain-climbing expeditions of the early 20th Century. "Binder" (as our narrator is code-named for the group's walkie-talkie usage) is the leader of this grand adventure and tells us the story of the eight brave men and 3,000 Yogistani porters who tackle the true highest peak in the Himalayas. The group is actually the greatest collection of misfits with misnomers ever assembled. Binder most certainly does not bind his group together. Burley is not the epitome of health and strength that one might expect. And so on... It a miracle that any of them ever reach the peak of anything...or do they? You'll have to read to find out.

Something tells me that reading this book is something like what I would experience if I were to decide to actually climb a large mountain...like Everest or that taller mountain, Rum Doodle. It would go something like this

~Boy, isn't this fun? I'm having a great time.
~Still enjoying myself. Nice scenery. Great adventure.
~What? Oh, yes, I am getting a little bit tired...but this is fun. I can totally do it.
~Hmmm. That bit of mountain ahead looks remarkably like that bit of mountain back there. Only steeper.
~Puff. Puff. It's getting a little difficult to get my bearings. And I'm getting a little light-headed. Why do I feel so tired?
~Goodness this is getting repetitive. And I'm really getting tired of climbing. When do we get to the peak?
~Seriously...are we there yet?
~I'm certain I thought this was a good idea when I started...but...does anyone know why?
~I don't think I can take another step...I mean it...Oh, wait. Is that the top? We're there? But I can't see anything with all those clouds in the way. Are you sure this was worth it?

I really enjoyed the first third or so. The British humor was humming along nicely and I was gently chuckling away to myself. But then just like the mountain bits that looked remarkably like other mountain bits only steeper...the humor was very repetitive and it got worse as we went along. Binder imposing himself on one of his men and forcing him to tell the "story" of his childhood...or his fiancee...or his broken heart just wasn't funny any more. And it was no longer funny that the reader knew that Binder's climbing buddies were leading him up the garden path and telling him the most incredible nonsense and yet Binder was taking it as the gospel truth. And Jungle getting lost for the 153rd time was no longer funny. And the fact that the number 153 was the magic number for everything. And the constant movement from Base Camp to Advance Camp 1 (and 2 and 3 and 4 and...) and back again became irritating nonsense instead of comical nonsense. And the fact that no matter what they did they couldn't lose Pong, the Yogistani cook with a knack for turning the most desirable delicacies into the most nauseating mush, for love or money. 

This would have been a heck of a lot funnier if Bowman had had more strings to his bow (so to speak)--if he hadn't harped on the same exact jokes every step of the way up the mountain. ★★ But there are several four- and five-star ratings out there on Goodreads, so your mileage may vary.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

January 2019 Calendar of Crime Reviews



Remember: You do not have to read your books according to the current month's prompts. You are welcome to post links for any month's book/s. In your caption please indicate which month your book counts for. If the link will allow room to do so, please also indicate which prompt you are fulfilling (my linky provider has changed the way I set these up--so I'm learning how the new format works this first month).

Preferred Caption Format (example):

Cover photo would be of The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman
Link Caption: Bev (September) Author's Birth Month

Inlinkz Link Party

January 2019 Virtual TBR Reviews



Inlinkz Link Party


January 2019 Monthly Key Word Reviews


January Key Words: Snow, Winter, Year, Jewel, Hat, Dance, Top, Car, Why


Inlinkz Link Party


January 2019 Mount TBR Reviews



Inlinkz Link Party

January Just the Facts Reviews



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2018: A Year in Review

Image source


Another reading and blogging year has come and gone and it's time to look back at the highlights and see what kind of year 2018 was here at My Reader's Block. 


Challenges still remain one of my biggest passions (after reading, which comes after collecting, of course) and despite vows that I will sign up for less I still manage to rack them up like they're going out of style. Over the course of the year, I signed up for 34 challenges and completed all but two of them. The Strictly Print and Birth Year Challenges both eluded my grasp.  I started with my very own Vintage Mystery Challenge and was busy signing up right till the end--joining Michelle's Christmas Spirit Challenge in November to carry me through to the New Year. 


Of course there was also a bit of hosting going on here at the Block, too. The Vintage Mystery Challenge and Mount TBR are still hugely popular. This year's Vintage Mystery Challenge was called Just the Facts, Ma'am and found my fellow mystery lovers and me reading like mad to check off boxes in our detective notebooks. We had to answer the famous Who, What, Where, When, Why and How questions that lead to a successful solution. The Color Coded and Read It Again, Sam Challenges also remain popular with their smaller circle of devoted fans. For the past two years, I also tried my hand at a non-publication-date-centered mystery challenge called Follow the Clues. That one didn't turn out quite as I hoped, so I'm shelving it for the moment. I've traded it in for the brand-new Calendar of Crime which debuts here in 2019. Not content with all those challenges, I also took on the Monthly Key Word Challenge as it seemed that the blog host had disappeared from the interwebs. But the overwhelming favorite remains the Mount TBR Challenge with participants in the blogging world as well as on GoodReads. Thanks to everyone who joined me in my own personal brand of challenge-madness!  

It seems to be a recurring theme...but I continue to regret my loss of blog-browsing time. Someone stole a few of my hours somewhere--or I'm just slowing down as I get older [did I really say that?]--and I apologize to all my friends out here in the blogging world.  I'm still peeking in on most of you--but it's more of a fly-by, I'm afraid, with very little commenting.  I did manage to get through nearly all of the reviews--especially for the Vintage Mystery Challenge, the challenge that is nearest and dearest to my heart. I want to send a shout-out to the bloggers who make this such a great place to visit and chat and read: Sergio at the Fedora, John at Pretty Sinister Books, Yvette at In So Many Words, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, Curtis at The Passing Tramp, Steve at In Search of the Classic Mystery, and Cheryl and Gina and all the others that I'm having an almost-senior moment and forgetting. You all continually feed my reading and/or challenge addictions and help my never-ending TBR pile to grow. 

Speaking of terrific bloggers...2018 also brought a great time of sadness when we found out that Noah Stewart, one of the most knowledgeable and generous members of the Golden Age Detection blogging community had passed out of this world. I, and many of Noah's other online friends, posted tributes to express our deep sadness and great affection for Noah. Every time I post a new GAD book review, I have to pause and remind myself that I won't hear from Noah on this one. Or the one after. I will continue to miss hearing his thoughts on the books I read and his memories of editions that had passed through his hands over the years. Please feel free to visit my tribute HERE.


Thank you once more to all of the wonderful people out here in the blogosphere--those who follow and just take a peek now and then, those who comment, and those who have become close blogging buddies--especially those of you who share my love of vintage mysteries; I have appreciated your knowledge and insights on my favorite genre. I also appreciate the Golden Age of Detection group on Facebook. It has been wonderful getting to know new folks there as well as getting to know of my blogging friends a little better.  Thanks as well to all who continue to sponsor the many challenges which helped feed my reading/challenge habit--they were all great fun!  I hope you all have a fabulous New Year!   

And my year-end stat totals:

Total Books Read: 128 

New (to me) Books Added to the TBR (either bought or gifted): 328 [How On Earth Did That Happen? No, seriously--we made fewer trips to my favorite used bookstore; I was unable to find a single book that I wanted to bring home with me from either the Spring or Fall Friends of Library Clearance Sales; and we made fewer trips to Half-Price books in Avon...and I still manged to wind up with just three fewer new-to-me books in 2018 than I did in 2017????] 
Total Pages Read: 31,512
Percentage by Female Authors: 47%
Percentage by US Authors: 48%
Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors: 9%
 

1 Canadian

2 Dutch
2 French
1 Greek
1 Irish
1 New Zealand (12 books)
2 Scottish
1 Swedish

Percentage Mystery: 78%
Percentage Fiction: 93%
Percentage written 2000+: 17%
Percentage of Rereads: 17%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100%
Number of Challenges fulfilled: 32 (94%)


The Best Reads of 2018 (no rereads allowed)

Five Stars: 

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards 
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
9/11: A Survivor's Story by Artie Van Why

     
Four & 1/2 Stars: 

Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville
  


Four Stars:
 Too Many to List--42 over all







And, finally, even though I did not dish out P.O.M. Awards throughout the year--a glance over my reviews and the ratings I've given tells me that the overall P.O.M. Award Winner for best mystery of 2018 [excluding rereads] goes to Alan Melville for Weekend at Thrackley. This is a book that I promoted for Kate's ROY (Reprint of the Year Award) and which I greatly enjoyed [see link above for full review]. As I mentioned then: "I know I have a delightful book in hand when I am jotting down quotes right and left. I had to stop jotting--I would have been copying nearly 80% of the book. And I certainly could load this write up with many more than what I have sprinkled about. I am submitting Weekend at Thrackley for Reprint of the Year based, in large part, upon its sheer readability, Melville's way with characters & dialogue, and the fact that it was just plan good fun."


A Bingo Card 2018 Year-End Wrap-Up

Reading Bingo 2017

Since I fell off the monthly round-up wagon this year (no P.O.M. prizes....) I thought this would be a nice way to post a round-up of some of the books read this year. I've done it before--this particular challenge 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:  Now, admittedly, I did not read every single word of this over 1,000 page catalogue. BUT I did read quite a lot of it and I did have a grand time looking over the advertisements from the 1920s. Everything from the Hercules Furnace for "Healthful Heat in Every Room" to the Kwick Kleen vacuum sweeper which provides "Maximum Cleanliness With Least Effort" and stules for Little Women ("Especially designed to fit the woman of short figure") to suits for the Big Man ("We Guarantee to Fit YOU").




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. Alan Melville's Weekend at Thrackley is one such book. This is a classic country house mystery and is a debut novel that does not read like a debut novel to me. Melville has characterization down pat. His dialogue is funny and charming. And overall this is a downright funny mystery. Martin Edwards mentions the influence of A. A. Milne's The Red House Mystery on this novel (and I can see the connections Martin is making). But even more I see the influence of P. G. Wodehouse. The breezy dialogue (particularly between Jim and Freddie) and characters especially remind me of Wodehouse's Blandings Castle novels. Catherine Lady Stone could have come motoring over from Blandings instead of venturing out of London. The humorous interactions between the characters--from Jim's relationship with his landlady, Mrs. Bertram

"Good-bye, dearie," said Mrs. Bertram. "Take care of yourself, now." (For if half of what you read in the papers were true, you never could tell with these house-parties.)


to his friendship with Freddie Usher


...Freddie Usher and I went to the same school, which can usually be trotted out as an excuse for pinching another man's automobile.


to the scenes between Carson and his servants and the scenes among the dinner guests--these interactions are all worth the price of admission.


A book that became a movie: The only one on my list that fits (as far as I know) is Rear Window (and other stories) by Cornell Woolrich.  Originally titled "It Had to Be Murder," this is the story the Hitchcock movie was based on. If you've seen the movie, then you've got the basic plot. But there are definite differences in the original story. Jeffries has no girlfriend doing his running about for him. He has no nosy female housekeeper--he has a houseman--and he's the one who operates as Jeffries's legs. [I have to say that while the story is enjoyable--I much prefer the film. The characters are fleshed out and it's more interesting seeing everything from Jeffries's point of view out the window.]



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 when I saw Hope Never Dies, I just had to give it a try and see if it was as much fun as it looked. And it is quite simply a fun, campy ride. It's also a bit of wish-fulfillment for those of us who would like to see these guys back together doing something meaningful for America. It plays heavily on the Biden-Obama relationship portrayed in so many memes and gives us a crime-fighting team to root for in these dark times of #45 in the White House. In addition to the campy, bromance moments, Shaffer manages to give readers a pretty decent mystery to unravel around a very topical plot.


A book with a number in the title: The Zero Trap by Paula Gosling  is a lively thriller. Gosling's strength is in her characters--particularly Laura, Professor Skinner, and the Morgan's young son, Timothy. Skinner is really fleshed out with a back-story that explains much of his motivation for various actions and interactions which he has with some of the other men. The dual story lines (following the hostages and then following actions of General Ainsley's group) works really well here. I don't always enjoy stories with multiple viewpoints or that jump back and forth between scenes, but Gosling's presentation is smooth and interesting. She also gives the story a few definite twists, producing an exhilarating and surprising ending. 




A book written by an author under thirty: This is another that is always difficult--in part because a large number of authors (particularly more modern ones) seem to be shy about letting us know when they arrived on planet Earth. So--this is where fudge for the first time. Since so little is known about Sappho and when she actually wrote her poems--I'm going to say that she wrote these before she was thirty. (Surely she wrote some of them before she was thirty....).

 

A book with non-human characters: The Tale of Brownie Beaver by Arthur Scott Bailey is is one of a series of classic animal stories by Arthur Scott Bailey. Bailey uses humorous tales of very people-like animals to introduce children to woodland creatures--explaining their habits and behaviors in short, intertwined stories. Brownie Beaver is a hard-working mammal who works with his fellow beavers and other animals living in his "village" to build and protect their homes from weather, outsider animals, and men. Children learn how beavers build their dams and lodges, what beavers like to eat, and how they warn one another of danger. 

A funny book: Since I signed up for the Humor reading challenge this year, it was easier to find a book for this category than it has been in the past. The Wrong Box (1889) is a hilarious mystery spoof by Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson Lloyd Osbourne. It revolves around Masterson and Joseph Finsbury, two brothers who are the last surviving beneficiaries of a tontine. This is an absolutely delightful story--the black comedy is a little unexpected from Stevenson, but it is hilarious. Watching Morris drive himself quietly crazy as he tries to outsmart Michael and track down his missing uncle is great fun. Who would have thought that the most prominent and interesting character in a book would be a dead man who won't sit still long enough for you to get a really good look at him? Not that the other characters aren't interesting, they are. 


A book by a female author: This year I signed up for the Ngaio Marsh reading challenge and read the first 12 books of her Inspector Alleyn series to fulfill the challenge, so I thought I would feature one of her books here. A Man Lay Dead (1934) is Marsh's first novel and it finds us in a typical country house mystery setting. Sir Hubert Handsley is well-known for his country house parties full of dancing, "rags," and general shenanigans. This weekend he decides to invite guests to participate in the latest thing among those "in the know"--Murder. Of course, it doesn't take a super sleuth to know that we'll wind up with a real murder instead of a fake one....


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 Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird. Aird has given us a mystery novel that is firmly rooted in the vintage works of the Golden Age. Though her book is set in the late 1960s, the detective work could have been done by Inspector Alleyn in 30s. The style of investigation is very much of an earlier era and she has made a definite effort display her clues in a nod to the "fair play" school. That alone makes this an excellent novel, but she also entertains us by making fun of the very tropes she emulates. She plays on standard motifs and plot devices and serves up a denouement that should make classic crime buffs howl in dismay--but, it fits with the atmosphere she has skillfully employed. 




A book with a one-word title: I don't have much choice on this one. In fact, I have one book and only one book that qualifies. She (1886) by H. Rider Haggard concerns the journey undertaken by Horace Holly, a Cambridge University professor, and his young ward Leo to find the mysterious woman who killed one of Leo's ancestors. It is an interesting Victorian adventure novel that runs just a tad long on the front end. While it was necessary to give the background for the adventure to come, Haggard had a tendency to over-explain and we definitely didn't need long passages in Latin (or Arabic or whichever version happened to be under examination amongst the materials in the box). A synopsis of the ancestor's story would have sufficed.



A book of short storiesBooks by Harlan Ellison are a trip. You never know if it's a trip through Wonderland or a trip through the darkest regions of human nature, but it's a trip. Partners in Wonder (1971) takes the unpredictable Ellison and teams him up with some of the biggest names in science fiction at the time--including Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley, Ben Bova and more to produce an even more out-of-this-world trip than usual.


A free square:Bill Weigand finds himself on a busman's holiday in Murder Out of Turn (1941) by Frances & Richard Lockridge, the second in the series featuring Pam and Jerry North as well as their favorite policeman. Things to like about the book: The plot itself. Clues are laid down and the observant reader has every chance to solve it along with Weigand and Heimrich. The characters are interesting and drawn well--even if some of them are more sketches than full portraits. And there's a quite exciting denouement waiting at the end. 



A book set on a different continentThe Lacquer Screen by Robert Van Gulik was published in 1962, but is set in the China of about the 7th century. Van Gulik was not only a Dutch diplomat, but also a well-known authority on Chinese history and culture. He drew his background from Chinese literature of the period and used the actual historical figure of Judge Dee  (Ti Jen-chieh, a magistrate of the Tang court). I have to admit that Van Gulik obviously knows his stuff. He produces  the China of the period with great detail and flair and I fel as though I were really visiting a small town of the time period. He gets full marks for historical detail and atmosphere. He is also very adept at writing in what purports to be the style of the period. However, as I mentioned in my first review of his work, I just don't think the style of the period is for me. It's not that it's bad; it's just not that gripping and the method of building the story isn't quite to my liking. It's certainly not in the classic detective style where clues are paraded before the reader and misdirection is employed to lead us up the garden path.



A book of non-fiction: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books:Martin Edwards has forgotten more than I will ever know about vintage crime classics. And he presents his knowledge in a most accessible way. A whole book full of novel synopses could easily have been dry-as-dust, but Edwards, as the title indicates, weaves his synopses into a story about the development of the classic crime novel from the turn-of-the century to 1950. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering new authors and new novels, as well as being delighted to see some of my favorites make the list. 




The first book by a favorite authorAbout the Murder of Geraldine Foster (1930) is the first of the Thatcher Colt detective stories written by Charles Fulton Oursler under the name of Anthony Abbott. Colt is a New York Police Commissioner who can't stay out of the thick of things and leave the detective work to his officers--especially when the niece of one his oldest friends comes to his office for help. Betty Canfield is concerned because her roommate, Geraldine Foster has disappeared over the Christmas holidays. Of course, having seen the title of this book, you don't have to be a genius police commissioner to figure out that Geraldine Foster isn't coming back....


A book you heard about onlineMurder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries (2016) edited by Martin Edwards is another fine addition to the British Library Crime Classics series which brings back into print short stories and novels from the classic age of detective fiction.* Stories which have in most cases been out of print for far too long. Most of them come from the Golden Age--the period between the world wars--with a few from earlier and later. All them are worthy examples of that grand tradition of bringing together groups of people for a weekend or so at large home in the British countryside to dress for dinner, have a party, and...most likely...witness or commit murder. (*And I found out about these books online--so this totally counts for this category.)

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 a book by the Queen of Crime that I read this year. So, I'm going with The Mystery of the Blue TrainOne of the things I like best about this Christie novel is the characterization--particularly of Katherine Grey and Derek Kettering. Katherine is a very strong character and Christie gives her a more complete background than many of her characters get. She is a very solid, down-to-earth person who has played the supporting role for most of her life and is just now getting a chance to spread her wings on her own. But there is a sense of humor and a strain of knowledgeable common-sense running through her that makes her very interesting. 


A book based on a true storyThe Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher was a bit of a disappointment. The subtitle is Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World and quite a big deal is made about the fact that "Margery," the so-called "Witch of Lime Street" and famed medium has to prove herself to Houdini. It's presented as a duel between the two. But--Houdini disappears for a large portion of the book. The book is, however, well-researched and presents the story of how scientists (and others) sought to prove once and for all whether mediums had any real powers in the late 19th/early 20th century.


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 Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh [on the TBR stack since 1989]. Marsh once again gives us a country house party--and in the middle of a snow storm no less. But this time she gives the standard a slight twist. Jonathan Royal, who by his own reckoning is a stifled artist, has decided to use human beings in a drama of his own contrivance. He has deliberately invited a houseful of guests where each person is at odds with at least one other person (and sometimes more). And he has invited Aubrey Mandrake, a poet dramatist, to be his impartial audience. Mandrake is horrified. "It seems to me that you have invited stark murder to your house. Frankly, I can imagine nothing more terrifying than the prospect of this week-end." And, yet, it is the horrified fascination of someone watching a train-wreck. He can't not stay and watch the drama unfold.


A book your friend loves: Well, I didn't deliberately read anything that any of my friends loved and said, "Bev, you've just got to read this!" But my mom (who is also my friend) loved Nancy Drew enough to keep her set of six books and pass them along to me when I was old enough to read. And one of those six was The Haunted Showboat (1957) by Carolyn Keene [Harriet Adams] --which I reread (in a different edition that I've since bought) this year. I'm not entirely sure why this one wasn't a bigger favorite of mine when I was younger. There's a lot to appeal to the young reader--a car race of sorts as Nancy, Bess & George try to out-distance their pursuer on the way to New Orleans; a spooky old showboat with a ghost in the middle of the swamp; and a hidden treasure! What's not to love about that? And yet--for some reason, this was a "one and done" book for me. I initially read it because it was part of my mom's six-book collection, but as far as I can remember I never picked it up again. Until I found this Cameo Edition to add to my own collection and decided that I needed to give the book another try. It definitely has a stronger mystery element than many of the stories and makes for quite an exciting adventure.


A book that scares you: Hmmm. I didn't really read anything scary this year. The best I can do here is Melmoth the Wanderer. It wasn't scary (it was, in fact, deadly dull)--but it was a HUGE book and it intimidated me for several years--even though the synopsis sounded really good and, obviously, I picked it up at the local library used book store because I thought I'd like it. But its size scared me--and that cover is a little bit scary too. (There, that's my biggest fudge of the bingo card.)



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-- The White Cottage Mystery (1927) by Margery Allingham. It's one of her few mystery novels that doesn't feature Albert Campion. It opens with Jerry Challanor motoring along country roads when he spies a pretty young woman deposited along the road by a bus. She is struggling with a basket and he offers her a lift. She seems oddly unwilling to allow him to carry the basket into White Cottage for her and he is intrigued--both by her manner and her beauty. He dawdles a bit down by the gate--smoking a cigarette and and passing the time of day with the local constable when a shot rings out and a cry of murder goes up. Mr. Eric Crowther, the nearest neighbor to the cottage has been shot to death in the dining room. Jerry announces himself as the son of Chief Detective Inspector W. T. Challanor of Scotland Yard and soon his dad is on the case. 

The second book in a seriesAct One, Scene One--Murder (2016) by A. H. Richardson is the second novel featuring Inspector Stan Burgess, actor Berry (Beresford) Brandon, and Sir Victor Hazlitt. This time the trio gets involved in murder when Berry is cast for a part in a brand new play and someone decides to to poison the leading man when the cast gathers at the playwright's country home for a party that's supposed to smooth troubled waters. [Obviously that worked well....] Richardson's stories have a definite Golden Age feel. The setting is post-WW II Britain, but it seems more at home in the years between the wars. There are big, sprawling country houses with staff  to wait on guests. There is a very proper British butler at Sir Victor Hazlitt's aunt's house. House parties and Golden Age manners and the pre-cell phone and pre-computer era. It makes for a very enjoyable read and the plot has some interesting twists and turns to keep the armchair detective guessing. I also really enjoy our trio of heroes. Their interactions and their individual sleuthing styles make for an interesting mystery


A book with a blue cover: A Holiday Yarn (2010) by Sally Golden Baum takes place, as one might guess, in the days leading up to Christmas. This was a nice, middle-of-the-road cozy mystery--and my next-to-last book of 2018. With more emphasis on cozy than on mystery--it is a comfortable little book about good friends in a small town who knit and eat and, apparently, occasionally solve murder together. [After all, this is book four of a series that currently has 13 entries...] The characters show a nice, diverse slice of small-town life without being cardboard cutouts or stereotypes. It was also refreshing to have a theme-based [knitting] cozy where the theme didn't overshadow the whole book.