Thursday, January 2, 2020

2019 Books in Review Bingo

Reading Bingo 2017

Since I fell off the monthly round-up wagon in 2019 (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  a few times 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 may have 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:
One of my least favorite books of the year.The subtitle for Books to Die For (2012) by John Connolly & Declan Burke is The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels. I felt from the first that I wasn't sure that I ought to take the word of a book that claims as "the World's Greatest Mystery Writers" a whole slew of people I've never heard of. Not just haven't read...but haven't actually heard of OR seen their books on shelves when browsing.

A forgotten classic
Tales of Terror and Mystery (1922; 1977) contains stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that were first published separately during a period from 1908 to 1921. The original publication does not appear to have included the very last story--and that was a very good thing. As with most story collections, the stories here are mixed in their strength and power to amuse. But that final story is a very weak offering indeed. My favorites ("The New Catacomb," "The Man With the Watches," and "The Brazilian Cat") lean more towards the detective genre than the supernatural. The few of these tales which I assume were supposed to terrify do not hold quite the power to shock that they may have done when first published. Nevertheless, Doyle has given us an entertaining selection and I did enjoy them. 
A book that became a movie:  A Passage to India (1924) by E. M. Forster is very much rooted in its time and place. Set in colonial India, the reader is exposed to the viewpoints of both the British who rule in India and the Indians who must live their lives as subjects to a foreign government. Forster comes through as solidly anti-imperialist and his characters appear most passionate when they speak of the situation of those who must endure the imposition of British power or those who are part of the system but feel it unjust. The movie came out in 1984. 

A book published this year: I don't read a lot of recent publications. so this is usual a difficult one for me. But at the end of 2018, my husband pre-ordered two Star Trek Golden Books for me and I read both I Am Mr. Spock and I Am Captain Kirk early in 2019. Very fun little books for the small Trek fans in your world.

A book with a number in the title Murdered: One by One by Francis Beeding was a great book for a number of reasons. It was the first one that I had tried of Beeding's work and I found it to be very enjoyable. Beeding is very descriptive and manages to build up the suspense surrounding the serial killings very nicely. It also provided the opportunity for me to do a join up with my good blogging friend, Brad over at ahsweetmysteryblog. He and I have been read this novel in tandem, so to speak, and inflicted our opinions, shared our thoughts with our readers in a joint post.

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--I have not idea if any of my authors were under thirty when they published the books I read. I suspect not and I'm not going to try real hard to find out....


A book with non-human characters
: I could have chosen any of the Big Little Books that I read at the end of the year. But I decided to go with Mickey Mouse and Goofy in 
Mickey Mouse Mystery at Disneyland: The security chief of Disneyland has a puzzle on his hands. Small portions of food and tiny toy-sized furniture and tools have been disappearing from the restaurants and toy shop in the amusement park. He calls on Mickey and Goofy to solve the mystery of how the culprit is getting in and out of locked buildings--building that remain locked and sealed up tight even after the things disappear. The pair find a surprising answer in the miniature village in Storybook Land.

A funny book
Unholy Dying (1945) is the first of a series of mysteries featuring Professor John Stubbs, the larger-than-life botanist-cum-amateur sleuth, by R. T. Campbell. This initial outing is told primarily from the point of view of Stubbs' "Watson," his nephew Andrew Blake. Blake, who earns his keep selling "culture" pieces to the Daily Courier newspaper, has joined Stubbs at a formal Congress of geneticists where he is expected to come up with interesting stories on such things as blood groups and taste tests. But soon something far more exciting than genetic presentations happens. Murder isn't a funny subject, but Campbell is a very humorous author. 

A book by a female author: I had long wanted to reread Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and several of my challenges this year gave me every excuse to do so. I thought this was a shatteringly good novel when I first read it for a college English class in 1988. At that time it was an interesting look at a dystopian society that could happen, but to a child of the 70s and early 80s it seemed unlikely. Though positive change was slow, it was happening and seemed to be trending to keep happening. So, I read it as more of a cautionary tale. Reading it now with the background of the United States from 2016 on, it is even more shattering. It doesn't seem so far-fetched that so much could change so quickly--that a free woman could find herself stripped of her autonomy and enslaved in the ways that Offred and her fellow Handmaids are. Because so much has changed so quickly in the last three years. It is so easy to take a way of life for granted--but this book (and current events) show us has dangerous it is to take anything for granted...even the basic rights promised to us in the Constitution.

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: A Whiff of Cyanide by Guy Fraser-Sampson. This 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

A book with a one-word title: Sometimes a work is so important that it becomes difficult to put into words what you thought and felt while reading it. Most often (for me, anyway) that happens with poetry. It happened again with Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming. This is a powerful and moving story of her journey--a journey of becoming that is still going on. A process that doesn't stop as long as you are willing to keep learning and growing and changing when necessary. Michelle reminds us throughout the book that whoever we are and wherever we are, we can take what we're given and make the most of it. We are all in the process of becoming and where we have the power to do so we need to take control and become with a purpose--choose to become more than we are now, to become a better version of ourselves. And to encourage others to do the same.

A book of short storiesGaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes (2009), edited by J. R. 
Campbell and Charles Prepolec, is a walk on the wild, gruesome, slightly supernatural side with the great detective. There's murder galore--but it's not always human agents at work and even Holmes has his faith in pure logic shaken at times. As with all short story collections some of these work better than others and I can definitely say that I preferred the ones that did not mess with the Holmes canon. Not the best book I read last year--but certainly the most unusual.

A free square: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.

A book set on a different continentNo Patent on Murder (1965; aka Honeymoon to Nowhere) by AkimitsuPeriodically, I decide to give a Japanese mystery a try. Almost always because it will suit a challenge that I'm doing. And almost every time I am reminded that the pacing of Japanese writing just doesn't suit me. The build-up to the crime is sooooooooo slow. Providing background is one thing, but the Japanese style of narration seems to require meticulous (I would almost say tedious) attention to detail. Where British or American mystery authors of the period would tend to summarize characters in short passages, Takagi takes several chapters to slowly provide details on Etsuko and her family, Yoshihiro, and all the supporting characters. I do enjoy learning about other cultures and those cultures during different time periods, but I find it difficult to adapt to the narrative style. The only exception to this rule so far has been The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji--most likely because it pays homage to the classic mysteries of the Golden Age. This story did pick up once the murder had occurred and Kirishima and his assistant Kitahara begin their investigation. I did enjoy following Kirishima's process of detection and interrogation.

A book of non-fictionCode Talker: The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII (2011) by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila.

As is evident by the title, this is an extraordinary memoir by one of the Original 29 Code Talkers (officially, 29--32, by Chester's count because he includes 3 men who helped develop the code). It details Chester's life from his early years in the Checkerboard through his war years and beyond. While the primary focus is on his time in the Marines helping to develop the code and then putting it to use in the Pacific Theater, we learn quite a bit about what it was like for a young Navajo to grow up pre-1940.

The first book by a favorite author: It had been a long time since I had read the first two books of the Trixie Belden series where Trixie meets the new friends who will become her very best friends. Trixie Belden & The Secret of the Mansion (1948) was most likely the very first cliff-hanger series book that I read and had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen to Trixie and Honey Wheeler when they set out to track down Jim.  I have always enjoyed the stories that introduce us to Trixie and her core group of friends. I loved meeting Jim and Honey and the adventures they all got up to around the mansion. This and the second book (The Red Trailer Mystery) were definitely two of my favorites of the series while growing up and I was able to enjoy them now as an adult.

A book you heard about onlineGallows Court (2018) is a bit of a departure for Martin Edwards, though those of us in the GAD (Golden Age of Detection) world shouldn't be surprised. Edwards is the author of two modern mystery series: one featuring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin and the other set in the Lake District and featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and Oxford historian Daniel Kind. But Edwards is also very much a GAD man--serving as eighth President of the Detection Club, an office filled by the likes of G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie. He has also helped bring vintage crime classics back into the public view by introducing British Library Crime Classic reprint editions of various long-forgotten GAD authors, providing a guide to such crime classics in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, and giving us the history of crime fiction between the wars in The Golden Age of Murder. With Gallows Court, Edwards uses his extensive knowledge of the Golden Age period and accepted tropes to create a historical novel that both pays homage to the conventions and atmosphere of the mysteries of the period and turns some of those conventions on their head.

A best-selling book: Welllllll, as I said when I did this last year, 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 Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel to feature Hercule Poirot. And, although Hastings has met the great detective in the past, this is apparently the first time that he has played Watson. Hastings is home on medical leave from the Great War and is invited by his old friend John Cavendish to spend his recovery time at the family's country home, Styles. Cavendish tells his friend, "I'm afraid you'll find it very quiet down here, Hastings." And Hastings assures him, "My dear fellow, that's just what I want." Unfortunately, it's not going to be quiet for long...

John's step-mother Emily Inglethorpe has recently been remarried to a much younger man. Alfred Inglethorpe has not been welcomed to the family bosom. The stepsons (John and Lawrence) don't think much of their step-papa, the servants all think Mrs. Inglethorpe has married beneath her, and even the man's own cousin, Mrs. Inglethorpe's beloved companion Evelyn Howard, believes he married Emily for her money. It isn't any surprise then that when Emily Inglethorpe dies of strychnine poisoning that suspicion immediately falls on Alfred.

A book based on a true story
The PopSugar Reading Challenge has included a "Choose Your Own Adventure" prompt this year. When I saw that the library had a series of Chilling Interactive Adventures, I decided to give one a try to fulfill the prompt. These books take historical places and events and provide a choose-your-own-adventure plot line that is fun and educational. Each book gives historical information and descriptions of the people and events involved. This particular entry, Tower of London, takes readers on a tour of the Tower grounds. You and your friend Jerry get separated from the tour group and the various choices allow you to meet the ghosts of historical figures from Sir Walter Raleigh to Lady Jane Grey and to observe ghostly renditions of events that took place within the buildings and vicinity of the Tower...and, if you don't choose wisely, you may find yourself joining the ghostly inhabitants of the Tower.

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 A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. There are many reasons to appreciate the book--its lessons on self-reliance and belief in oneself, for one. I certainly do appreciate Elnora's thirst for knowledge and the desire to better herself. It was very good to read a story about an intelligent young woman's whose sense of self and purpose was strong enough that she refused to let obstacles (like her mother's refusal to help) stand in her way. And she manages it without becoming bitter.

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. So, I will choose a Nancy Drew book in her honor--The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (1961). It is the 38th entry in the Nancy Drew mystery series. This time Nancy is called upon by her Aunt Eloise to investigate the disappearance of a young Chinese woman. The young woman is the granddaughter of Miss Drew's neighbor in her New York City apartment building. It soon becomes apparent that Chi Che has been kidnapped because she stumbled across something in her job at a bookstore that made her dangerous to a certain group of people. Nancy, Bess, and George set out to discover just what Chi Che found out and what these people are up to. The trail leads to Hong Kong--where fortuitously Carson Drew has business to attend to and Ned Nickerson just happens to be studying abroad. There are, in fact, several kidnappings, a couple of impersonations, and (as is to be expected) an exciting escape by Nancy.

A book that scares you: Hmmm. I didn't really read anything scary this year--not even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Tales of Terror & Mystery mentioned above. Guess I'll have to skip this one too.

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 oldest book that I read last year: The Notting Hill Mystery (1863) by Charles Warren Adams has been put forward as the first published detective novel. Is it? Well, that's a discussion for another time. What it is is an early version of various mystery and crime themes and methods found at work in the next century when such novels really hit their stride. We have a story told in epistolary-fashion, through reports and letters and diary entries. We have an inverted mystery--there's little doubt that Baron R**** is responsible for his wife's death (among others), but is there enough evidence to convict him? We have an insurance agent put to work as detective and endeavoring to prove whether the woman's death was through accident, suicide, or murder. We have a mercenary man determined to kill the people who stand between him and the inheritance of a fortune. There's even a map of the Baron's house. And there is also more than a hint of the gothic involved as we have mesmerism (hypnotism to you and me) and a sort of sympathetic magic between the twins in the story (the Baron's wife and her sister).

The second book in a seriesMiss Trask--Honey Wheeler's governess--takes the girls and the Wheelers' camper on their next adventure in The Red Trailer Mystery. While the main objective is to find Jim, tell him about his inheritance, reassure him that the Frayne's family lawyer and executor of his uncle's will won't let Jonesy take him back, and then convince Honey's parents to adopt him, the girls also get caught up two more mysteries. The mystery of the down-trodden family traveling in a red camper and the outbreak of camper thefts that has Miss Trask worried about how long they can stay and look for Jim. The kind-hearted girls just can't help wondering why the family in the red trailer seem so sad and when the oldest girl runs away they can't help but search for her while they look for Jim. Trixie is convinced that if they solve the mystery of the camper thieves then they will find both Jim and Joeanne. It winds up that she's right as usual...though not quite in the way she expects. A happy ending is in store for everyone...

A book with a blue cover: 
Scales of Justice (1955) is one of Ngaio Marsh's most classically British mysteries. In fact, despite its 1955 printing date, it has a very pre-WWII feel to it. It is set in the standard small charming village with all the familiar figures--former British military types (Colonel Carterette, the murderee, and Commander Syce, an inebriate ex-navy man); the local landed gentry represented by Lady Lacklander and her son (recently elevated to Sir George Lacklander after the death of his father); the nosy middle-aged woman (this time Nurse Kettle,the county nurse), the romantic young couple (Dr. Mark Lacklander--George's son--and Rose Carteretts--the Colonel's daughter; and the Outsider in the form of Colonel Carterette's second (much younger) wife. There's a nice, healthy on-going feud between Carterette and his neighbor Mr. Octavius Danberry-Phinn over fishing rights and the attempt to catch the Old Un (a rather spectacular trout). And, of course, somebody is going to wind up murdered....

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