Thursday, November 14, 2019

2020 Reading Challenge: 52 Books in 52 Weeks

Will be joining Liz @ Mommy Mannagren for her third round of 52 Books in 52 Weeks. Hers is a low-key challenge, so there is no pressure to fulfill all 52 categories. I'm setting a personal goal of 20--I may read more that fit the categories, but at 20 I can claim my challenge goal fulfilled.

Some thoughts that I have percolating on choices for some of the categories:

By an indigenous author: This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila (native Hawaiian) 
Character who is a senior: A Miss Marple book by Agatha Christie or a Miss Silver book by Patricia Wentworth
An author local to you: Buddha's Orphans by Samrat Upadhyay (professor at the university where I work)
A bestseller: will use the NY Times bestseller list 
An author whose last name starts with the same initial as yours: something by Brett Halliday
Written by a blogger or journalist: This Is Your War by Ernie Pyle 
Literary Fiction: Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
An award-winning novel: Neuromancer by William Gibson (Hugo Award 1985)
A book with recipes inside: If Onions Could Spring Leeks by Paige Shelton 
A book featuring royalty: Rupert of Hentzau by Anthony Hope
An author's debut novel: The Nocturne by Audrey Peterson
A book used in a celebrity book club: The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Reese Witherspoon Book Club)
A book on the Mensa reading list for grades 9-12: Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
Reuse a prompt from a past year: Book by Agatha Christie (from 2018)
A book that cost you less than $5: Any that I've gotten from a past community book fair 
About a World leader: Elizabeth & Essex by Lytton Strachey (Elizabeth I)
An author you previously disliked: The Dog It Was That Died by H.R.F. Keating
A genre you don't normally care for: any Chandler or Hammett (hardboiled) on my TBR stacks

Monthly Book Award Challenge

The ladies over at Girlxoxo have given us another reading challenge: the Monthly Book Award Reading Challenge. The goal? To read one book per month--and the book read must have earned a book award that was given out that month. For full details click on the link.

Here is my tentative list:

January: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turtin (Costa Book Awards 2018)
February: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh (Southern Book Prize 2019)
March: Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (National Book Critics Circle Award 1975)
April: The Grey Flannel Shroud by Henry Slesar (Edgar Award 1960)
May: Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran (Agatha Award 2010)
June: Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre (Locus Award 1979)
July: Between the Devil & the Duke by Kelly Bowen (RITA Award 2018)
August: Neuromancer by William Gibson (Hugo--awarded August 1985)
September: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1954 Retro Hugo--awarded September 2004)
October: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (Anthony Award 1989)
November: Replay by Ken Grimwood (World Fantasy Award 1988)
December: The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell (Anthony Award 1990)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Eel Pie Murders

Probably no man in the C.I.D. ever had a more unimpressive Watson than Inspector Bull had in the little gray Welshman who had been waiting at Strand Corner House long past the hour Bull had appointed for lunch. In fact  it might be said that as a Watson Mr. Pinkerton was positively insignificant, except of course that he had frequently helped out, which Watons, properly speaking, seldom or never do. 

The Eel Pie Murders (1933) by David Frome (Zenith Brown)

First off--let me just say that I don't know what book that blurb on the cover is supposed to be for, but it's definitely NOT The Eel Pie Murders. There is no chic spa. No "exploding" scandals. And Mr. Pinkerton doesn't "confront" anybody. Mr. Pinkerton is, quite frankly, as insignificant to the story as the quote above implies. He does, randomly, follow one of the suspects and that helps Inspector Bull (who is the true hero of the piece) sort out who did what to whom. But honestly, if Mr. Pinkerton weren't around, I'm quite sure that the good inspector would still get his man (or woman). I'm still trying to figure out why the books are billed as "Mr. Pinkerton Mysteries."

The back of the book is a little better:

[Inspector Bull and Mr. Pinkerton] find the body when the tide goes out. It is the best-dressed corpse Eel Pie Island has ever seen, and even Mr. Pinkerton has to admit the dead girl is beautiful. She is also the  the victim of an extraordinarily clever killer

Good so far...but then the blurb-writer takes another flight of fancy:

Before long, the shy sleuth wanders too deeply into the scandal-laden maze of Eel Pie Island. First a young woman runs for her life {Huh?}; then Mr. Pinkerton himself becomes the target of the very persistent, very brutal murderer. {Double Huh? Mr. Pinkerton is about as far from being in danger as one can get....}

You'd think that Mr. Pinkerton is the intrepid man of action taking on all perils instead of the of the shy, gray policeman wannabe that he is.

So...what is the story really about? Glad you asked. Mrs. Sheila Campbell's red & white silk pajama*-clad body is found early one morning on the shore of Eel Pie Island. She was stunned by a blow on the back of the head and then drowned. Once Inspector Bull (and his shadow, Mr. Pinkerton) get down to cases, they find that various people might have wanted her out of the way. There's her ex-husband whose finances have taken a sudden down-turn and could stand to be relieved of the £500 payments he's been forced to make to her. There's the current boyfriend who has tired of her andwhose wife knows about the affair. There's the owner of the gambling den that she'd managed to do out of quite a sum of cash when she discovered how to use his own rigged game against him. There's her own sister whose arguments weren't quite as private as she thought...At first, it looks all neat and tidy--the boyfriend was on the spot and has an adequate motive. But Inspector Bull isn't convinced of his guilt, especially after another murder and an attempted third, and decides to set a clever trap. No one is more surprised then he when the trap is sprung and he sees whom it has caught.

Despite my comments about Mr. Pinkerton above, this really was an enjoyable book. I happen to think it would have been even better without Mr. Pinkerton--but that's neither here nor there. I don't have anything against the shy little man and he's not a detriment to the book, but I also don't see that he's essential to the story. Even though there is just a small handful of suspects, Frome manages to keep the reader guessing and Inspector Bull is a very satisfactory protagonist. He's a smart copper with a bit of intuitive flair--but not too many leaps of logic. He's very indulgent of his Watson and doesn't mind Pinkerton tagging along on investigations. Most of the clues are fairly displayed and sharp readers have every chance to identify the culprit. ★★

*think 1930s/40s Hollywood lounge pajamas in the movies

Deaths = 3 (two drowned; one shot)

Monday, November 11, 2019

Dead Water

Dead Water (1963) by Ngaio Marsh takes us back to the village setting--this time a small fishing community at Portcarrow. It begins with a scene two years in the past when a young boy by the name of Wally Trehern experiences what seems to be a miraculous cure. Plagued by warts all over his hands, he has suffered the jeers and taunts of his schoolmates for years. On this occasion he runs away from them to a local spring where he encounters a lady in green who tells him to wash his hands in the spring water...and if he believes his warts will be cured. The next day his warts have fallen off as if by magic and soon the legend of the green lady and the newly christened "Pixie Falls" is spread. 

Mrs. Fanny Winterbottom , the current owner of the land where the spring is found has no problem with pilgrims coming to the site and the village making what profit they can from the magical waters. An entry fee is established, a gift shop is set up, and the local pub/inn begins turning a profit for the first time in recent memory. And then...two years later, Mrs. Winterbottom dies and her sister Miss Emily Pride, a French language expert, comes into possession. Miss Pride doesn't hold with commercializing people's belief in mystical cures. She sends messages to the village that all commercial enterprises connected to the spring must stop--she won't prevent folks from coming to the spring if they want to, but there will be no more advertisement and no more profiting from it. She also announces her intention to visit the area to see what exactly needs to be done to return the spring and surrounding land to its former condition.

Well...naturally this doesn't go down so well with those who have made a business of the thing and Miss Pride receives threats made of cut-up newsprint. So, she calls upon the help of one of her former pupils--Superintendent Roderick Alleyn. He advises her to give up the plan to visit Portcarrow and to conduct her business through an attorney. But Miss Pride is a determined woman and believes in facing up to one's obligations. She goes anyway...and is the victim of an assault (from rock-throwing) and more threats. Alleyn arrives in the village for the first (and, if Miss Pride has her way, only) Pixie Falls Festival and is just in time to discover the body of a middle-aged woman, knocked out and drowned at the spring. Surprisingly enough, it's not Miss Pride who has been murdered, but Elspeth Cost--a middle-aged woman who has been the driving force in the mystification and veneration of the spring. Was she, as it appears, mistaken for Miss Pride and then killed anyway to prevent her from identifying the attacker? Or were there reasons for someone to kill Miss Cost? Alleyn will have to sort that out in order to identify the killer.

This wound up being a middle-of-the road Marsh book for me. I had better memories of it (from my first reading 30ish years ago) than were realized in this go-round. The best of the book was Miss Emily Pride--even though she is well-named and pride almost goes before a fall. She is a determined and independent lady and it was nice to see Marsh portray a spinster in a more favorable light. I did appreciate her principled view of the supposed miracle cures. She didn't imply that they were fake, but she absolutely refused to be a party to anyone taking financial advantage of the situation. I was also amused by her relationship with Alleyn--it was fun to see him so disconcerted by his former French tutor. 

The book turns Alleyn into an action figure of sorts at the dramatic end--with the murderer bolting and Alleyn giving chase through a coastal storm and finding himself in danger of life. Not the usual drawing room summing up. With a fairly good plot (I didn't guess the murderer this time) and the exciting finish, this comes in at a solid  ★★.

Death = drowning 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Challenge Complete: SpaceTime Reading Challenge

For the past several years, I have participated in two SF reading challenges/events that were limited (running only in December/January), but neither of these events seemed to be on offer at the beginning of 2019.  So I jumped on board Jemima's spaceship and signed up for her SpaceTime Reading Challenge.

There are several levels and I chose the basic level

~5 Books: Planet Hopper  

I actually finished this back in October, but neglected to post about it. Here are the books read:

1. Zion's Fiction by Sheldon Teitelbaum & Emanuel Lottem, eds (2/6/19)
2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (2/17/19)
3. A Hard Rain by Dean Wesley Smith (7/31/19)
4. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (9/16/19)
5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (10/4/19)

Challenge Complete: Pop Sugar

The folks at the PopSugar Reading Challenge encourage us to expand our reading horizons by giving a list of forty reading prompts--plus a bonus ten for those who are very committed. They don't insist that we do all of them--just read as many as we like as we try new things. I set myself a personal goal of 20 books from any of the 50 and here are the prompts that most appealed to me when I was working on my 20--for the full list, follow the link above.

1. A book that makes you nostalgic: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle [remembering my reading as a child] (2/17/19)
2. A book with a plant in the title or on the cover: No Patent on Murder by Akimitsu Takagi [flowers] (2/21/19)
3. A reread of a favorite book: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (1/12/19)
4. A book about a hobby: The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman [mountain-climbing] (1/2/19)
5. A book with "pop," "sugar," or "challenge" in the title: Ellery Queen's Challenge to the Reader by Ellery Queen (22/5/19)
6. A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover: Blood of the North by James B. Hendryx [Mountie's hat & uniform] (2/15/19)
7. A book with a question in the title: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (3/24/19)
8. A book set on a college or university campus: Beverly Gray's Island Mystery by Clair Blank [actually takes place more at a college than on an island] (5/21/19)
9. A book told from multiple character POVs: Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh (1/10/19)
10. A book set in space: A Hard Rain by Dean Wesley Smith (7/31/19)
11. A book by two female authors: Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh (9/19/19)
12. A debut novel: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1/18/19)
13. A book featuring an amateur detective: A Knife in the Back by Bill Crider (4/2/19)
14. A book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (10/15/19)
15. A ghost story: The Haunted Man & The Haunted House by Charles Dickens (1/16/19)
16. A novel based on a true story: The Lover by Laura Wilson (5/17/19)
17. Favorite prompt from a past PopSugar Challenge (2017--book by a person of color): Becoming by Michelle Obama (3/27/19)
18. A "choose-your-own-adventure" book: Tower of London: A Chilling Interactive Adventure by Blake Hoena (1/26/19)
19. Read a book during the season it is set in: Where the Snow Was Red by Hugh Pentecost [Winter] (2/16/19)
20. A book set in an abbey, cloister, monastery, vicarage, or convent: Murder in a Nunnery by Eric Shepherd (4/26/19)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ellery Queen's Challenge to the Reader

Ellery Queen's Challenge to the Reader (1938) edited by Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay & Manfred Lee) contains twenty-five short stories by "famous" mystery authors featuring "famous" detectives. The challenge here is that Queen has left the authors' names off the stories (until the end where all is revealed) and has given the detective in question a pseudonym throughout the story. I use quotes around famous for two reasons--some of the illustrious detectives and authors are no longer common knowledge in mystery circles. In fact, I only came across some of them through The World's Best 100 Detective Stories (1910)--a ten-volume set edited by Eugene Thwing (and to my mind--overflowing with obscure authors). The second reason I put famous in quotes is that Queen's friend J.J., who represents the average reader of 1938 and makes his guesses at the end of each story, doesn't know some of the more recognizable detectives on offer. I'm rather proud of myself that I correctly identified about half and have Thwing's set and a couple of recently-read short story collections to thank for the more obscure ones that I spotted.

This was a clever idea and on the whole I enjoyed trying to figure out who the celebrated sleuths were. I'm not sure if Queen included both Holmes and Poirot so the reader could be guaranteed to have identified at least two detectives or if they really thought they might stump somebody. Even in 1938, I would think it would have been a bit absurd to suppose that mystery readers would be fooled by the name change in either case--even having gone the extra mile with Holmes and changing Watson's name as well. Both gentleman are quite distinctive. But then most detectives have their quirks and characteristics and it wasn't difficult to identify most of the sleuths that I had acquaintance with. Of those I had met before on the printed page, there was only one that fooled me--and that might not have happened if I hadn't been reckless and guessed too soon (and peeked at the end to see if I was right). ★★ and 3/4.

Deaths = 19  (one drowned; five poisoned; eight shot; two stabbed; three suffocated/strangled)

Saturday, November 2, 2019

November Calendar of Crime Reviews

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

November Virtual Mount TBR Reviews

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November Monthly Key Word Reviews

November Key Words: Leaves/Leaf; Thanks;Food; Family; Share; Dream; Live; Have; She

Just a reminder: For the last two years, I have hosted the Monthly Key Word Challenge. I took it up when the most previous host's blog disappeared. The challenge will be going back home to the original host, Kim who blogs with Tanya at Girlxoxo. I'm pleased to join her in 2020 as she sponsors it once again and I encourage you to join us as we read books for the monthly prompts (image above). Just click the link to head to her page

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

November Mount TBR Reviews

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

November Just the Facts Reviews

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Friday, October 25, 2019

Blueprint for Murder

Blueprint for Murder (1948) by Roger Bax* is a rare thing for me--an inverted mystery. I generally find it very difficult to enjoy a mystery novel where there is very little mystery. The blurb on the back of my edition tries to make it seem more like a standard detective novel:

Wealthy industrialist Charles Hollison is found bludgeoned to death shortly after his son, Geoffrey, and nephew, Arthur Cross, return from World War II. As the principal beneficiaries of Charles's will, both men are suspects. Inspector James, called in to investigate, thinks he knows which of them is guilty.

But we know from the beginning who the guilty party is (Inspector James is right). And a nasty piece of work he is too.

When we first meet Arthur Cross, he is on the run towards the end of the war. He has made his way from a Nazi concentration camp (wearing a German uniform, by the way) and is trying to put as much distance between himself and the Germans and the invading Russians as possible. When he's just about on his last legs, a kindly Polish man and his daughter take him in after listening to his tale of an escape from the camp which involved knocking out a guard and stealing his uniform. He repays their kindness by murdering them. And we get our first glimpse of just how cold-blooded he is.

Upon his return to England, both he and his cousin Geoffrey are welcomed with gladness by Geoffrey's father, Charles. Arthur's parents died while he was young and Charles took him in and raised him as if he were another son. The elderly gentleman offers them both shares in the family business, a comfortable salary, and a home with him if they'd like it. He also (inadvisedly) tells them that he plans to update his will, leaving the bulk of his estate between them. 

Arthur has no desire to kick his heels in a stodgy business job. He plans to live life hard and fast (and fun) and needs a large influx of cash sooner rather than later. He also has pressing reasons to leave Europe and head for somewhere more remote. So, despite unemotionally recognizing how generous and kind Charles has been (and is being) to him, he begins methodically plotting his death. His goal is create an unbreakable alibi that will allow him to do the deed and even be suspected, but give the police no way to prove him guilty. And he does a pretty good job--using a method and devices that I'd not encountered before in my murderous reading. Once the crime is committed, the second leg of the book is spent wondering if Inspector James will find a break in the impenetrable alibi.

But, of course, there is one little thing that Arthur didn't think about...and when that begins to fall apart, the last leg of the book turns into a thriller with Arthur forcing his cousin to take him by boat into a raging winter storm and help him escape to Holland. Geoffrey must find a way to scuttle Arthur's plans and save both himself and the girl he loves.

This is a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the plus side, this is a marvelously plotted inverted mystery and I want to give credit to Bax for giving me an inverted mystery that I could appreciate. Bax has given Arthur the means to devise what really looks like an unbreakable alibi. I began to think that he might actually get away with it. And I thought the means by which his plot unravels was cleverly done as well. The ending was exciting and suspenseful without being too over-the-top (especially for a mystery portrayed in my edition as a police procedural). Negative points: there really is very little of Inspector James in this and very little actual detecting going on. James does a bit of interviewing--but most of the work is done off-stage. And, for me, there was way too much time spent with this cold-blooded, vicious killer and watching him plot the murder of a kindly, inoffensive man. But, even though it's really out of my comfort zone, it's a darn good mystery. ★★

*Bax is a pseudonym for Paul Winterton, an English journalist who wrote under the names of Bax, Andrew Garve and Paul Somers

Vintage Golden: What (Out of Comfort Zone)
Deaths = 3 (two drowned; one hit on head)
Feb = author's birth month

Monthly Motif 2020

Click on the link for full details. For this challenge each month is assigned a motif or theme. The task is to read one book each month that fits the motif...I've listed my tentative choices below.

January "Winter Wonderland": The Death of a Joyce Scholar by Bartholomew Gill (set in Ireland, that beautiful green island that I'd love to visit one day).

February "Seeing Red": Red Threads by Rex Stout or Murder in Bright Red by Frances Crane

March "Sub-Genre Sound Off" [Academic Mystery]: The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer OR Welcome Death by Glyn Daniel

April "Classics or Currents" (Birth Year): Nobody's Perfect by Douglas Clark OR What's in the Dark by Ellery Queen

May "Author Introduction" (New to Me Author):  Paint the Town Black by David Alexander OR The Murder Game by Steve Allen OR Say Yes to Murder by W. T. Ballard

June "Name or Number": Take Two at Bedtime by Margery Allingham OR Death of a Millionaire by G.D.H. & Margaret Cole OR Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate OR Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon

July "Around or Out of this World": The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler (Portugal) OR Death in Berlin by M. M. Kaye

August "Creature Feature":  Thurber's Dogs by James Thurber OR Jerry Todd and the Rose-Colored Cat by Leo Edwards OR Cats Don't Smile by D. B. Olsen OR The Proud Cat by Frances & Richard Lockridge

September "When Text Just Isn't Enough": Detective novel with either map or family tree or crossword puzzle included

October "Thrills & Chills": Five Victorian Ghost Novels by E. F. Bleiler (ed) OR Classic Ghost Stories by various OR The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost by John Bellairs

November "Dynamic Duos": Murder in a Hurry OR Death Has a Small Voice OR Curtain for a Jester by Frances & Richard Lockridge (Mr. & Mrs. North) OR If the Shroud Fits by Kelley Roos (Jeff & Haila Troy)

December "Sugar & Spice & Everything Nice": Mrs. Jeffries & the Feast of St. Stephen by Emily Brightwell

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Color Coded Challenge 2020: My Sign-Up

Every year I think I've used up my last title with "Brown" (or a shade of brown) for the Color Coded Reading Challenge and every year I prove myself wrong (or buy more books with suitable titles). I'll keep signing up as long as I have suitable titles (I'm determined to use titles and not covers).

Here's the basic rule: read nine books with the various colors listed below in their titles or as a dominant color/image on their covers. For full details, click the link above. I'll list my books and date read as they come.

1. Read book with "Blue" (or a shade of blue):
2. Read a book with "Red" (or a shade of red):
3. Read a book with "Yellow" (or a shade of yellow):
4. Read a book with "Green" (or a shade of green):
5. Read a book with "Brown" (or a shade of brown):
6. Read a book with "Black" (or a shade of black):
7. Read a book with "White" (or a shade of white):
8. Read a book with any other color:
9. Read a book a word/image that implies color (rainbow, polka dot, etc):

Calendar of Crime 2020: My Sign-Up

Ellery Queen's Calendar of Crime (Signet Edition)
As mentioned elsewhere, mysteries are my primary go-to reads. So it shouldn't be difficult for me to fill up a Calendar of Crime with all sorts of murderous reading dates. The goal--at least one month-related mystery book (see chart below) per month for a total of 12 books. If you'd like to join me, click on the link for full details.


Monthly Key Word 2020: My Sign-Up

For the last two years, I have hosted the Monthly Key Word Challenge. I took it up when the most previous host's blog disappeared. The challenge has now gone back home to the original host, Kim who blogs with Tanya at Girlxoxo. I'm pleased to join her as she sponsors it once again and I encourage you to join us as we read books for the monthly prompts (image above). Just click the link to head to her page.