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:
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 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 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.
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 continent: No Patent on Murder (1965; aka Honeymoon to Nowhere) by Akimitsu. Periodically, 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-fiction: Code 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.
A book you heard about online: Gallows 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.
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.
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.
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....