Tuesday, January 1, 2019

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. 

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