2020 in Facts and Figures

I already posted my main 2020 in Review and Looking Ahead to 2021 posts a while ago — only on my new blog (separate post to come) –, but I held back on my 2020 reading statistics until the year was well and truly over.  And for all my good intentions when posting my mid-year summary back in early July 2020, the second half of the year continued pretty much in the same vein as the first half had begun; i.e., my statistics for the whole year are still a variation on the theme of Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, or, 17 charts showing that 2020 was a year of reading Golden Age mysteries written by women (and following other Anglo-/ UK-centric reading proclivities); i.e. comfort reading galore … it was just that kind of year, I guess.

As a result, my Golden Age Mysteries / Detection Club reading project progressed very nicely.  Luckily, as I said in my main 2020 in Review post, I also managed to add a number of new countries to my Around the World challenge, and the gender balance is solidly in favor of women authors: I read almost 2 1/2 books by women for every book written by a man — in fact, I even reread more books by women than the total number of books by men.  So there was at least some progress in other areas, too.  And I liked or even loved most of the books I read in 2020 — including most of the new-to-me books –, which of course was another huge plus; in a year where reading was my go-to source of comfort, at that: most of my ratings were 4 stars or higher and thus, above the rating that marks “average” in my personal scale (3.5 stars).

Still, in 2021 I’m going to make a fresh attempt to refocus on my Around the World reading project, in furtherance of which I’ve also created a Diversity Bingo that I’ll try to get through in the space of this one year (though if it takes longer, it takes longer); and I’ll also try to include more books from my Freedom and Future Library in my yearly reading again.

And now, without any further ado:

Greatest New Author Discoveries of 2020

Classics and LitFic
Bernardine Evaristo
Olivia Manning

Historical Fiction
Dorothy Dunnett
Jean-François Parot
Paul Doherty

Golden and Silver Age Mysteries
Josephine Bell
Moray Dalton
Molly Thynne
Christianna Brand
Anthony Gilbert
Raymond Postgate
Patricia Moyes

My Life in Book Titles

This is a meme I’ve seen on quite a few blogs towards the end of 2020; it was created by Annabel at Annabookbel.  You’re to answer the prompts, using only books you have read in 2020; without, if possible, repeating a book title.  I thought I’d include it in my yearly roundup — and to up the ante a little bit further, I decided to use only books I read for the first time in 2020.

In high school I was Unspeakable (John Bercow)

People might be surprised by (my incarnation as) Lioness Rampant (Tamora Pierce)

I will never be The Horse You Came in On (Martha Grimes), nor Resorting to Murder (Martin Edwards, ed.; Various Authors)

My life in lockdown was like (a) Tour de Force (Christianna Brand) and (a) Tragedy at Law (Cyril Hare)

My fantasy job is The Thinking Machine at Work (Jacques Futrelle)

At the end of a long day I need to be Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi) (to my) Pilgrim’s Rest (Patricia Wentworth)

I hate being (around) Serpents in Eden (Martin Edwards, ed.; Various Authors)

Wish I had The Lost Tools of Learning (Dorothy L. Sayers)

My family reunions are (often with) Thirteen Guests (J. Jefferson Farjeon)

At a party you’d find me with My Friend Mr. Campion (Margery Allingham), Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (Emmuska Orczy), and other Bodies from the Library (Tony Medawar, ed.; Various Authors)

I’ve never been to Goodwood (Holly Throsby), Cherringham (Matthew Costello, Neil Richards), or At the Villa Rose (A.E.W. Mason)

A happy day includes A Small Place (Jamaica Kincaid) (of my own): My Beloved World (Sonia Sotomayor)

Motto(s) I live by: To Love and Be Wise (Josephine Tey); and We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

On my bucket list is Shakespeare’s Local (Pete Brown)

In my next life, I want to have The Grand Tour (Matthew Pritchard, ed.; Agatha Christie)

The Stats

Number of books started: 273
Number of books finished: 271
DNF: 2
Average Rating (overall): 3.9
Average Rating w/o Favorite Annual Xmas Rereads: 3.8

Note: The above chart includes my 6 annual Christmas rereads, which have a habit of slightly skewing my overall rating figures upwards; without these books, the number of 5-star books is reduced by 5 and the number of 4.5-star books is reduced by 1.

Note: “F / M (mixed)” refers to anthologies with contributions by both male and female authors, as well as to books jointly written by male and female authors. — “N / A” in the protagonist gender chart refers to Martha Wells’s Murderbot, who is deliberately created as gender-neutral.

Note: “Multi-ethnic” either refers to several persons (authors / protagonists) of different genders, or to one person of mixed ethnicity.

 

The Halloween Creatures Book Tag

Rules:

Answer all prompts.
Answer honestly.
Tag 1-13 people.
Link back to this post. ( For me it was SnoopyDoo!)
Remember to credit the creator. (Anthony @ Keep Reading Forward)<
Have fun!

 

Witch

A Magical Character or Book

Terry Pratchett’s witches, particularly Granny Weatherwax. And DEATH (preferably in his Hogfather incarnation). No contest.

 

 

Werewolf

The Perfect Book to Read at Night

Any- and everything by Agatha Christie.

 

Vampire – A Book that Sucked the Life Out of You – and Frankenstein – A Book that Truly Shocked You

Joint honors in both categories to two novels chronicling civil war and genocide in two African countries, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria / Biafra) and Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love (Sierra Leone). Both of them are, in their own way, the literary equivalent of a gut punch that leaves you gasping for air in huge, big gulps. And both are, for that and many other reasons (characters, writing, the whole package) unforgettable in all the right ways.

The Devil

A Dark, Evil Character

Umm … the original blood sucker? (I don’t much go in for the sparkly variety.) And, of course, Tom Riddle aka Voldemort … and the dementors. Those creatures are vile.

 

Zombie

A Book that Made You “Hungry” for More

Dorothy L. Sayers’s Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane tetralogy, particularly Gaudy Night. While I can totally see that (and why) for Sayers there really was no easy follow-up to Busman’s Honeymoon, I’d still have loved to see how she herself would have framed Peter and Harriet’s married life and continuing investigations … instead of having to rely on another author’s attempts to pick the bones of Sayers’s sketchy drafts.

Gargoyle

A Character that You Would Protect at All Cost

Hmm. This one was difficult, because one of the things that I like about my favorite characters — and pretty much any and all of them, and across all genres — is that they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, even in the face of adversity. But I guess if you’re up against evil incarnate and you’re looking at the one group / fellowship of people who actually stand at least a minute chance of facing up to it, a little extra protection can’t go awray.

Along the same lines, Harry Potter, Dumbledore’s Army, and most of the teachers at Hogwarts.

Ghost

A Book that Still Haunts You

I could easily have used Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love for this category all over again — as well as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (see below) and, to a minimally lesser extent its sequel, The Testaments. I didn’t want to do that, so I decided to go with Clea Koff’s The Bone Woman — not just for its content as such, though, but because I have seen cases related to the very ones that she describes up, close and personal … and short of actually being the victim of human rights violations yourself, there are few things as devastating and haunting as working with victims, or otherwise being involved in the aftermath.

Demon

A Book that Really Scared You

I reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale last year before moving on to The Testaments, and it scared the living daylights out of me; possibly even more than when I read it for the first time many years ago — not least because events in the past couple of years have shown just how realistic Atwood’s dystopia is, and how little it takes for society to slide down that particular slippery slope.

Skeleton

A Character You Have a Bone to Pick With

You mean other than each and every TSTL character ever created?

OK, let’s go with the two protagonists of what I’ve come to dub my fall 2017 headless chicken parade — Giordano Bruno in S.J. Parris’s Heresy (essentially for not bearing any demonstrable likeness to the historical Giordano Bruno, who would probably have sneared at his fictional alter ego in this particular book / series), and Albert Campion in Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, for losing not only his memory but also the better part of his essential character makeup as a result of being coshed over the head.

Mummy

A Book You Would Preserve Throughout Time

Well, the likes of Hamlet, Pride & Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes have already made their point as far as “timeless” is concerned, so it feels kind of pointless to pick a classic here.

That being said, I hope one day the time will come for people to scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss was about, but right now — there hasn’t been a book in a long time that challenged stereotypes (gender, race, class, writing styles, younameit) in the way that Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other has. It’s the reality check we all urgently needed, and a book that can’t ever possibly have too many readers … now and for the foreseeable future.

Creepy Doll

A Cover too Scary to Look At

That of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary — because I really do NOT want to think about the possibility of my pets ever turning into zombies, revenants or the like, or otherwise taking on similarly murderous qualities. And that is precisely what this cover makes me do.

 

The Monster Mash

It’s Fun to Be with Friends on Halloween!
Tag Your Friends!

Anyone and everyone who wants to do this, I hope if you are reading this and have not done it you will. It’s fun, and outside of Halloween Bingo, nothing says bookish Halloween like tying a few of your reads to a roundup of Halloween creatures! 🙂

Margery Allingham: More Work for the Undertaker


The thirteenth book in the Campion series; one of the few I hadn’t read yet and thus, a proximate choice for the “13” bingo square.  In tone, I find that the post-WWII stories are markedly darker than the series’s very first entries, which by and large is all to the good, however; even if they don’t quite reach the heights of The Case of the Late Pig, Police at the Funeral, or Death of a Ghost.  The story is typically wacky and also a typical entry in the series in other respects (characters, setting, etc.) nevertheless, culminating in a rather outré / macabre chase (the clue is in the title) … and introducing a character who will feature as a light in other post-WWII episodes as well (now that Stanislaus Oates has made it all the way to the top of the apple tree), the theatrically / oratorically-gifted D.I. Charlie Luke.

 

Halloween Bingo 2020: The First Week (+1 Day)

This year’s Halloween Bingo started a lot more promising than last year’s with a strong joint entry in Michael Connelly’s Bosch and Ballard series, and in fact, not one of the books I read earned less than a four-star rating — with the standout being Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die, which turned out to be a perfect choice for the “Psych” square.

 

The “Week 1” Books


Michael Connelly: The Night Fire

My bingo pre-read and a very welcome return to Los Angeles — or at least, the version thereof that constitutes the world of Connelly’s characters, which however only ends up making the city a major character of its own in addition to the humans living in it.

Harry Bosch may not officially be a cold case investigator any longer, but that doesn’t stop him from seeking justice for those who died without their murderers ever having been brought to justice; particularly if he is handed the relevant file by the widow of his own recently-deceased mentor.  He ropes in Ballard, and I loved seeing that it was she who was first to tumble to what was wrong with that long-dead investigation.  (I’m also relieved that, for the time being at least, Connelly doesn’t seem to be planning to make a couple out of them.)  Two other investigations keep our two protagonists busy at the same time, both concerned with more recent deaths.  The ending relies a bit too much on coincidence for my liking (for however much Connelly may be protesting that there is no such thing — and of course, in his writer’s mind there isn’t, since he’s the one who plotted the whole thing out to begin with, but from the characters’ / from inside the story’s perspective, it still remains a case of protesting too much); yet, by and large, a more than solid entry in the series.  It also would seem to explain, incidentally, why Connelly decided to focus on Jack McEvoy for a change again for his next book (Fair Warning), as there are recent developments in Bosch’s (and potentially Mickey Haller’s and Maddie’s) lives that he’ll likely will want to take some time developing.

 


Joy Ellis: They Disappeared

Before starting this book, I’d said I hoped Ellis was done with the serial killer plots, as I had a feeling she was at risk of turning into a one trick pony that way — well, let’s say I both did and didn’t get my wish.  (Several gruesome deaths, yes, but not a mentally diseased mind behind them.)  I loved that Ellis had the courage to give us a fresh perspective on IT whiz Orla Cracken: There’s always a risk associated with making a character heretofore so unapproachable and shrouded in secrecy as her more accessible, but Ellis pulled it of very well for the most part … even though I’m only half convinced by the part of “Orac”‘s past that is explored most in depth here: surely, based on the feats we’ve seen her perform in the past (and based on what we now know about her training), this should be a mystery that Orac herself should have been able to solve long ago — and on her own?  Be that as it may, though, it was interesting to see another character being included in this particular series’s sweep of Ellis’s authorial focus.  I also liked the setting she picked for this book — “urban exploration” — which seems almost tailor-made for her sort of books; even if her protagonists (who are all cops, after all) have a somewhat too tolerant (if not, downright gushing) attitude to that occupation, which is prohibited for a reason, after all.

Big spoiler warning for a previous non-series book, however: While I think it’s fair to say that any reader reading the Jackman & Evans series as such out of order does so at their peril (and this is true for this particular book, too, as it provides — or would seem to provide — a definite ending for one of the past several books’ major narrative strands, so it should definitely be read after everything from The Guilty Ones onwards by anyone wanting to avoid spoilers in that regard), I’m still a bit miffed to see this book also containing a major spoiler for a recent stand-alone by Ellis, which I haven’t read yet and had been planning to get to later this year (Guide Star).  I’m fine with authors setting all of their various series in the same universe (Michael Connelly does the same thing, after all), and as long as this merely meant swapping supporting characters (like Dr. Wilkinson) or cross-references in dialogue, I haven’t had a problem with this  sort of thing in Ellis’s case so far, either.  But the main characters from Guide Star have, it would seem, fully been integrated into the Jackman & Evans series, and Ellis apparently couldn’t find a way of doing that without giving away that other book’s conclusion, as it constitutes a major premise of the events in They Disappeared.  Shame.

 


Margery Allingham: More Work for the Undertaker

The thirteenth book in the Campion series; one of the few I hadn’t read yet and thus, a proximate choice for the “13” bingo square.  In tone, I find that the post-WWII stories are markedly darker than the series’s very first entries, which by and large is all to the good, however; even if they don’t quite reach the heights of The Case of the Late Pig, Police at the Funeral, or Death of a Ghost.  The story is typically wacky and also a typical entry in the series in other respects (characters, setting, etc.) nevertheless, culminating in a rather outré / macabre chase (the clue is in the title) … and introducing a character who will feature as a light in other post-WWII episodes as well (now that Stanislaus Oates has made it all the way to the top of the apple tree), the theatrically / oratorically-gifted D.I. Charlie Luke.

 


Nicholas Blake: The Beast Must Die

Wow. What a stunner. Blake (aka Cecil Day Lewis) messes with the reader’s mind literally from page 1, and being fully aware of the fact still doesn’t mean you’ll be up to what he is doing — or at least not all of it.  Even to begin talking about the plot would mean giving away half  the twists, so let’s just say it concerns a writer’s search for the reckless driver who mowed down his little son a few months earlier, as well as a family dominated by a bullying patriarch (and his equally bullying mother).  And from outright suggestions of lunacy to characters deliberately disguising their identities — or their innermost nature and / or intentions — to a myriad other ways in which Blake indulges in his cat-and-mouse game with the reader’s mind (authorial / narrative perspective, sequencing — the whole kit and caboodle), this is one big screwed-up joy ride … for those of us who like this sort of thing every so often, that is.

Side note 1: If you’ve read any of Blake’s other Nigel Strangeways books before (particularly any of the early ones), forget everything you’ve seen there.  Even though this book features both the Strangeways couple (Nick and Georgina) and Inspector Blunt, it is anything but a typical entry in the series (and all the better for it).

Side note 2: If you are interested in sailing, you may particularly enjoy this story.  It also probably helps to be familiar with the lingo  — which I am not, but I could follow along nevertheless, and during the one crucial scene set on a boat, I was just too glued to my speakers to pause listening in order to embark on an online search for the meaning of individual terms.

 


Agatha Christie: The Thirteen Problems

Audio revisit courtesy of Joan Hickson’s narration, both for Halloween Bingo and as part of the Agatha Christie Centennary celebration of her first novel (The Mysterious Affair at Styles) — and I find I’m drawn to these stories more and more with every time I’m revisiting them. Review HERE.

 

Currently Reading


Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson, aka Anne Meredith): Death in Fancy Dress

Country house mystery meets Wuthering Heights, with rather enjoyable effects (though more for the reader than for the main characters).  I’ll probably finish this either tonight or tomorrow morning.

 

The State of the Card

Master Update Post: HERE

 

My Markers


Read             Called                   Read & Called   Read = Called

February and Mid-March 2020 Reading Update

I never got around to doing this at the end of February, so what the heck … I might as well include the first two weeks of March, since that month is half over at this point already, too.  But then, February was such a universal suck-fest in RL that I didn’t even make it here for the better part of the month to begin with.  (Don’t even ask.)  So much for my hope back in January that things might be looking up …

So, lots and lots of comfort reading in the past 1 1/2 months; Golden and Silver Age mysteries aplenty, both new and from the reread department — but I also managed to honor Black History Month and advance my Around the World, Women Writers, and 221B Baker Street and Beyond reading projects.  In perhaps the weirdest turnout of the past couple of weeks, I even managed to include two “almost buddy reads” (reading books that others had recently finished or were reading concurrently — Patricia Moyes’s Dead Men Don’t Ski and Freeman Will Crofts’s The Cask) and, before vanishing into my February RL black hole, a real buddy read with BT of John Bercow’s excellent (though somewhat unfortunately-titled) memoir, Unspeakable.

 

Number of books read since February 1: 27
Of these:

 

Black History Month
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: We Should All Be Feminists
Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing
Gaël Faye: Petit pays (Small Country)

 

Around the World
— counting only books by non-Caucasian authors and / or set neither in Europe nor in the mainland U.S.:
* The three above-mentioned books, plus
* Sonia Sotomayor: My Beloved World
* Mia Alvar: In the Country
* Matthew Pritchard (ed.), Agatha Christie: The Grand Tour: Letters and Photographs from the British Empire Expedition 1922

 

221B Baker Street and Beyond
Terry Manners: The Man Who Became Sherlock Holmes
Keith Frankel: Granada’s Greatest Detective

 

Golden Age Mysteries
4 by Ngaio Marsh (all rereads): Overture to Death, Light Thickens, Dead Water, Death at the Bar
4 by Margery Allingham (2 rereads, 2 new): The Beckoning Lady, Death of a Ghost, Mystery Mile, Black Plumes
1 by Patricia Wentworth (new): The Case of William Smith
2 by J. Jefferson Farjeon (both new): Seven Dead and Thirteen Guests
1 by Raymond Postgate (new): Somebody at the Door
1 by Freeman Wills Crofts (new): The Cask

 

Silver Age and Other Mysteries
Patricia Moyes: Dead Men Don’t Ski (new)
Colin Dexter: Last Bus to Woodstock (reread)
Ellis Peters: The Sanctuary Sparrow (reread)
P.D. James / BBC Radio: 7 dramatizations (Cover Her Face, Devices and Desires, A Certain Justice, A Taste for Death, The Private Patient, The Skull Beneath the Skin, and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman) — all revisits as far as the actual books were concerned, as was the dramatization of The Skull Beneath the Skin; the rest of the audios were new to me)

 

Other Books
John Bercow: Unspeakable (memoir)
Tony Riches: Henry (historical fiction)

 

Of all of these, the standout entries were:

Gaël Faye: Petit pays (Small Country)
A short but impactful novel tracing the coming-of-age of the son of a French father and a Burundian Tutsi mother, which coming-of-age is rudely interrupted when the genocide in neighboring Rwanda spills over into Burundi.  What starts out as an endearing but somewhat unremarkable read becomes a tale of unspeakable heartbreak in the final part, in which it only took very few pages for the book to completely skewer me.

Sonia Sotomayor: My Beloved World
Justice Sotomayor’s memoirs of her upbringing in the New York Puerto Rican community, and her unlikely, but doggedly pursued path to Princeton, Yale Law School, and ultimately, the Federal Bench — fullfilling a dream that had, oddly, started by watching Perry Mason on TV as a child.  I wish Sotomayor hadn’t finisihed her book with her appointment as a judge, though I respect the reasons why she decided to do so; and even so, hers is a truly impressive, inspiring story of overcoming a multitude of crippling conditions (type-1 diabetes, poverty, racism, and teachers discouraging rather than inspiring her, to name but a few) to chart out a path in life that even most of those who didin’t have to overcome any of these odds would not dare to aspire to.  Throughout the narrative, Sotomayor’s genuine empathy with and care for her fellow human beings shines through on many an occasion; not only for her family and friends, and for those disadvantaged by society, but for everybody she encounters — until and unless they rub her the wrong way, in whch case they will find themselves at the receiving end of a tongue lashing or two.  What particularly impressed me was that Sotomayor, though a staunch defender of Affirmative Action, repeatedly chose not to seek positions as a minority candidate but on a more neutral ticket, fearing she might unduly be buttonholed otherwise.  That sort of thing takes great strength and belief in the universality of her message.

Agatha Christie / Matthew Pritchard (ed.): The Grand Tour: Letters and Photographs from the British Empire Expedition 1922
Agatha Christie’s letters, photos and postcards from the expedition to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Canada in which her first husband, Archibald, and she were invited to participate out of the blue shortly after the birth of their daughter Rosamund.  Lovingly edited by her grandson Matthew Pritchard, and amplified by the corresponding excerpts from her autobiography, the letters in particular shed an interesting sidelight onto the thinking and life experience of the then-budding future Queen of Crime (her second novel was published while the tour was under way), and to fans, the book is worth the purchase for her photos alone (she had rather a good eye for visual composition, too) … and for her surfing adventures, reproduced here in their full glory, and in both words and images.

John Bercow: Unspeakable 
An impromptu boddy read with BrokenTune; delivered in Bercow’s trademark style and doubtlessly offering as much fodder to those determined to hate him as to those who regret his stepping down as Speaker.  I commented on the bits up to the Brexit chapter in a status update at the 70% point; the final part of the book contains much that Bercow had already said repeatedly while still in office, be it in interviews or from the Speaker’s chair; yet, while he doesn’t hold back with criticism of those whose stance he considers irresponsible, he is also scrupulously fair to all those who, he genuinely believes, are working hard to realize the political aims they consider in the best interests of theiri constituents.  In fact, the chapter about what, in Bercow’s opinion, makes a “good” politician, was possibly the most surprising inclusion in the book (and the book worth a read for that chapter alone), heaping praise (and in some instances, scorn) on a wide array of politicians of all parties, regardless whether Bercow shares their views or not. —  Even if no longer from inside the Houses of Parliament, I hope and trust Bercow’s voice will remain relevant and weighty in the months and years to come.

Patricia Moyes: Dead Men Don’t Ski
A huge shout-out to Moonlight Reader for favorably reviewing this book earlier this year and thus bringing it to my attention.  Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy are a joy to be with, and like MR and Tigus (who has also read the book in the interim), I’ll definitely be spending more time in their company in the future.  What I particularly appreciated in addition to the delightful characters created by Ms. Moyes (and the rather cleverly-constructed locked-room mystery at the heart of this book) was the understanding she brought to the book’s setting in the German-speaking part of the Italian Alps, which is not only one of the most naturally stunning parts of the entire Alps but also a region fraught with a complicated history, which might have caused a lesser writer to glide off into easy cliché, but which Moyes uses rather skillfully in crafting her story’s background.

 Ngaio Marsh: Light Thickens
The final book of the Roderick Alleyn series and perhaps not everybody’s cup of tea, set, as it is, in Marsh’s “main” professional domain — the world of the theatre — and featuring a plot in which the murder only occurs at the halfway point, almost as an afterthought: and yet, upon revisiting the book, I instantly realized all over again why this (the first mystery by Marsh I’d ever read) was the one book that irresistibly drew me into the series and made me an instant fan.  This isn’t so much a mystery as a Shakespearean stage director’s love letter to the Bard, and to his “Scottish play” in all of its permutations; as well as to the Shakespearean theatre, and more generally, the world of the stage as such.  Roderick Alleyn (rather far advanced in his career and definitely not having aged in real time) eventually shows up to solve the inevitable murder, faithful sidekick Inspector (“Br’er”) Fox in tow and quoting Shakespeare with the best of them, but the stars of the show remain the actors themselves, the play’s director (whom those who read the series in order will, at this point, already have encountered in a prior installment), and ultimately, Shakespeare himself.  This may not be everybody’s cup of tea in a mystery … to me, it proved irresistible, the first time around as much as upon revisiting the book now.

Margery Allingham: Death of a Ghost
Unlike my reading experience with Allingham’s fellow Golden Age Queens of Crime Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, that with Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion series is a rather checkered one, where instances of true mystery reader’s delight repeatedly follow hot on the heels of groan-inducing forays into clichéd, implausible plots populated by cardboard characters, and vice versa.  That said, even upon my first read I considered Death of a Ghost one of the series’s absolutely standout entries, and that impression has only been confirmed and reinforced by revisiting the book.  Set in the art world and populated by a cast of fully drawn, quirky characters (some likeable, some decidedly less so), the book lives off Allingham’s acerbic wit, which is brought out to great advantage here; and although Campion tumbles to the probable identity of the murderer when we’re barely halfway into the book, Allingham easily maintains the reader’s interest by keeping the “how” a puzzle, and by tying in a further puzzle whose solution will eventually provide the motive for the murder.  If there is any letdown in the book at all, it’s in the murderer’s ultimate fate, but by and large, this is a superlative effort.

As a side note, I’ve also concluded that the audio versions of Allingham’s novels work decidedly better for me if read by Francis Matthews rather than David Thorpe.  I have no problem with Thorpe as a narrator of other books, but he takes a rather literal approach to Allingham’s description of Campion’s voice, making it come across almost as a falsetto, which in combination with his overly expressive narration as a whole tends to drive me clean up the wall.  Matthews’s delivery, by contrast, while hinting at Campion’s vocal patterns, is a bit more matter of fact overall (even though it still leaves plenty of room for characterization, both of people and of plot elements) — an impression that was swiftly confirmed when a search for further Allingham titles recorded by Matthews threw up a non-Campion mystery of hers, Black Plumes, which in turn also confirmed my impression that some of Allingham’s best writing is contained in books other than her Campion mysteries.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Overall, the past six (or so) weeks contained a lot of great books, regardless whether rereads or new to me.  The two most-hyped entries in the selection — Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Mia Alvar’s In the Country — proved, almost predictably (for me, anyway), those that I was least impressed with: they were both still solid 4-star reads, but both episodic in nature, with only some of those episodes engaging me as fully (and consequently, blowing me away as much) as, if I’d have believed the hype, I’d have expected the entire books to do.  (I know, I know.  4 stars is still a very respectable showing, and I wouldn’t give either book less than that … and considering that I’ve been known to one-star overly hyped books when called for, 4 stars is even more pretty darned decent.  Still … they both, but particularly so Homegoing, would have had so much more potential if they’d been allowed to spread their wings to the full.) — Of the Golden Age mysteries new to me, the standout was J. Jefferson Farjeon’s Thirteen Guests. Tony Riches’s Henry provides a well-executed conclusion to his series about the three first significant Tudors (Owen, Jasper, and Henry VII) — neatly complementing Samantha Wilcoxson’s novel about Henry VII’s wife Elizabeth of York, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen — and the two books focusing on Jeremy Brett and the Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series starring him as Holmes have given me the idea for a Holmes-related special project, which I will, however, probably only get around to later this year (if I get around to it at all, my RL outlook being what it is at the moment).

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/2083073/february-and-mid-march-2020-reading-update

Margery Allingham: Death of a Ghost


Unlike my reading experience with Allingham’s fellow Golden Age Queens of Crime Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, that with Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion series is a rather checkered one, where instances of true mystery reader’s delight repeatedly follow hot on the heels of groan-inducing forays into clichéd, implausible plots populated by cardboard characters, and vice versa.  That said, even upon my first read I considered Death of a Ghost one of the series’s absolutely standout entries, and that impression has only been confirmed and reinforced by revisiting the book.  Set in the art world and populated by a cast of fully drawn, quirky characters (some likeable, some decidedly less so), the book lives off Allingham’s acerbic wit, which is brought out to great advantage here; and although Campion tumbles to the probable identity of the murderer when we’re barely halfway into the book, Allingham easily maintains the reader’s interest by keeping the “how” a puzzle, and by tying in a further puzzle whose solution will eventually provide the motive for the murder.  If there is any letdown in the book at all, it’s in the murderer’s ultimate fate, but by and large, this is a superlative effort.

As a side note, I’ve also concluded that the audio versions of Allingham’s novels work decidedly better for me if read by Francis Matthews rather than David Thorpe.  I have no problem with Thorpe as a narrator of other books, but he takes a rather literal approach to Allingham’s description of Campion’s voice, making it come across almost as a falsetto, which in combination with his overly expressive narration as a whole tends to drive me clean up the wall.  Matthews’s delivery, by contrast, while hinting at Campion’s vocal patterns, is a bit more matter of fact overall (even though it still leaves plenty of room for characterization, both of people and of plot elements) — an impression that was swiftly confirmed when a search for further Allingham titles recorded by Matthews threw up a non-Campion mystery of hers, Black Plumes, which in turn also confirmed my impression that some of Allingham’s best writing is contained in books other than her Campion mysteries.

Halloween Bingo 2019: Tracking Post — Blackout! (And bingos Nos. 12 and 13.)

 

Many thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for hosting this game for the fourth year in a row, bigger and better than ever before!

Witih today’s call, I’ve blacked out my card, in addition to collecting my final bingos (nos. 12 and 13).

Somewhat to my surprise, after completing my books for my official bingo card at the end of September, I even managed to read enough extra books to put together a supplemental inofficial card throughout the month of October, so this year’s game has really exceeded my wildest expectations in every conceivable way!

 

My Official 2019 Bingo Card:

Weekly Status Updates and Reviews:

First Week
Second Week
Third Week
Fourth Week

 

The Books:

International Woman of Mystery: Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments – finished September 29, 2019.
Locked Room Mystery: Clayton Rawson: Death from a Top Hat – finished September 23, 2019.
Murder Most Foul: Michael Gilbert: Smallbone Deceased – finished September 13, 2019.
Psych: Sofi Oksanen: Fegefeuer (The Purge) – finished September 17, 2019.
Read by Flashlight or Candle Light: The Lady Detectives: Four BBC Radio 4 Crime Dramatisations – finished September 20, 2019.

DeadLands: Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment – finished September 26, 2019.
Fear the Drowning Deep: Delia Owens: Where the Crawdads Sing – finished September 25, 2019.
Relics and Curiosities: Patricia Wentworth: Eternity Ring – finished September 10, 2019.
Dark Academia: James Hilton: Was It Murder? – finished September 1, 2019.
Modern Noir: Joy Ellis: The Guilty Ones – finished September 21, 2019.

Ghost Stories: Nina Blazon: Siebengeschichten – finished September 1, 2019.
Gothic: Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor – finished September 9, 2019.
Free (Raven) Space: Agatha Christie: The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories – finished September 7, 2019.
Truly Terrifying: Bob Berman: Earth-Shattering – finished September 12, 2019.
Amateur Sleuth: Priscilla Royal: Wine of Violence – finished September 5, 2019.

Cryptozoologist: Terry Pratchett: Guards! Guards! – finished September 18, 2019.
Diverse Voices: Toni Morrison: Beloved – finished September 22, 2019.
Black Cat: Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – finished September 16, 2019.
Creepy Crawlies: Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Gods of Jade and Shadow – finished September 7, 2019.
Country House Mystery: Anthony Rolls: Scarweather – finished September 14, 2019.

Spellbound: Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown – finished September 6, 2019.
A Grimm Tale: Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling (eds.): The Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales – finished September 4, 2019.
Creepy Carnivals: Fredric Brown: The Dead Ringer – finished September 12, 2019.
Paint It Black: Trudi Canavan: The Magicians’ Guild – finished September 20, 2019.
Cozy Mysteries: Margery Allingham: The White Cottage Mystery – finished September 19, 2019.

 

My Square Markers

 

Called but not read

Read but not called

Read and Called

Center Square: Read and Called

 

The Extra Squares / Card and Books:

13: Rex Stout: And Be a Villain
Supernatural: Jennifer Estep: Kill the Queen
New Release: Sara Collins: The Confessions of Frannie Langton
Genre: Mystery: Catherine Louisa Pirkis: The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective
Romantic Suspense: Georgette Heyer: The Unfinished Clue
Terror in a Small Town: Ann Cleeves: Raven Black
Halloween: Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party
Monsters: Terry Pratchett: Pyramids
Shifters: Joan D. Vinge: Ladyhawke
Sleepy Hollow: Dennis Lehane: The Given Day
Film at 11: J.B. Priestley: An Inspector Calls
In the Dark, Dark Woods: Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness
Free (Raven) Square: Various Authors: The Rivals: Tales of Sherlock Holmes’ Rival Detectives
Grave or Graveyard: Kathy Reichs: Grave Secrets
Genre: Suspense: Tony Medawar (ed.) & Various Authors: Bodies from the Library 2
Southern Gothic: Sharyn McCrumb: The Unquiet Grave
Baker Street Irregulars: Joanne Harris: Gentlemen & Players
Darkest London: J.V. Turner: Below the Clock
Magical Realism: Joanne Harris: Chocolat
It was a dark and stormy night: Peter May: The Lewis Man
Full Moon: Edmund Crispin: Glimpses of the Moon
King of Fear: John Le Carré: Absolute Friends
Serial / Spree Killer: Steven Kramer, Paul Holes & Jim Clemente: Evil Has a Name
Classic Noir: Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train
Classic Horror: Matthew G. Lewis: The Monk

Note: With regard to the extra squares, I added the image for the relevant square for every book completed (= “read”); and I am using my “called” markers for the main card to indicate “called and read”.

 

My Spreadsheet:

My Book Preselections Post: HERE

 

My Transfiguration Spells

Not used.

 

My “Virgin” Bingo Card:

Posted for ease of tracking and comparison.

 

 

Original post:
http://themisathena.booklikes.com/post/1942220/halloween-bingo-2019-tracking-post

Halloween Bingo 2019: Tracking Post — Bingo No. 3 and Reading Blackout

* Triple Bingo Happy Dance *

Well, that went by much faster than I had anticipated … Many thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for hosting this game for the fourth year in a row, bigger and better than ever before!

I’ll continue tracking my bingos of course — and since we now have so many more great squares than can possibly fit on one person’s card, I’ll just continue reading for a few of the extra squares that didn’t make it onto mine.

And I hope everybody else is going to continue / start collecting bingos soon as well!

 

Weekly Status Updates and Reviews:

First Week
Second Week
Third Week

 

The Books:

International Woman of Mystery: Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments – finished September 29, 2019.
Locked Room Mystery: Clayton Rawson: Death from a Top Hat – finished September 23, 2019.
Murder Most Foul: Michael Gilbert: Smallbone Deceased – finished September 13, 2019.
Psych: Sofi Oksanen: Fegefeuer (The Purge) – finished September 17, 2019.
Read by Flashlight or Candle Light: The Lady Detectives: Four BBC Radio 4 Crime Dramatisations – finished September 20, 2019.

DeadLands: Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment – finished September 26, 2019.
Fear the Drowning Deep: Delia Owens: Where the Crawdads Sing – finished September 25, 2019.
Relics and Curiosities: Patricia Wentworth: Eternity Ring – finished September 10, 2019.
Dark Academia: James Hilton: Was It Murder? – finished September 1, 2019.
Modern Noir: Joy Ellis: The Guilty Ones – finished September 21, 2019.

Ghost Stories: Nina Blazon: Siebengeschichten – finished September 1, 2019.
Gothic: Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor – finished September 9, 2019.
Free (Raven) Space: Agatha Christie: The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories – finished September 7, 2019.
Truly Terrifying: Bob Berman: Earth-Shattering – finished September 12, 2019.
Amateur Sleuth: Priscilla Royal: Wine of Violence – finished September 5, 2019.

Cryptozoologist: Terry Pratchett: Guards! Guards! – finished September 18, 2019.
Diverse Voices: Toni Morrison: Beloved – finished September 22, 2019.
Black Cat: Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – finished September 16, 2019.
Creepy Crawlies: Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Gods of Jade and Shadow – finished September 7, 2019.
Country House Mystery: Anthony Rolls: Scarweather – finished September 14, 2019.

Spellbound: Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown – finished September 6, 2019.
A Grimm Tale: Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling (eds.): The Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales – finished September 4, 2019.
Creepy Carnivals: Fredric Brown: The Dead Ringer – finished September 12, 2019.
Paint It Black: Trudi Canavan: The Magicians’ Guild – finished September 20, 2019.
Cozy Mysteries: Margery Allingham: The White Cottage Mystery – finished September 19, 2019.

 

My Square Markers

 

Called but not read

Read but not called

Read and Called

Center Square: Read and Called

 

My Spreadsheet:

My Book Preselections Post: HERE

 

My Transfiguration Spells

Not used.

 

My “Virgin” Bingo Card:

Posted for ease of tracking and comparison.

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1942220/halloween-bingo-2019-tracking-post-bingo-no-3-and-reading-blackout

Margery Allingham: The White Cottage Mystery


Allingham’s first mystery, and it clearly shows off her talent as a writer from the start.  As in the first Albert Campion book (The Crime at Black Dudley) and several of the subsequent Campion mysteries, there’s an international “detour” — here: literally so — that is not in any way, shape and form necessary to the plot and that I could therefore have done without, and it’s no particular surprise that Allingham later chose a somewhat more flamboyant hero for the series she would come to write.  But for an afternoon’s (or in my case, morning’s) worth of entertainment this works very nicely indeed.

Halloween Bingo 2019: The Third Week

Well, the third week really hit my bingo experience out of the ballpark this year — and not only Pbecause it finished with my first completed bingo; that was actually just the icing on the cake.  But it included no less than three absolutely knock-out fabulous books, plus a fourth that was almost as good — and the remaining three, though not quite reaching this level, were at least mostly enjoyable, all in their own particular way.  So without any further ado:

 

The Books

Sofi Oksanen: Fegefeuer (The Purge)

Based on everything I’d previously heard about this book, it took me quite a while to get up my nerve to read it, because I knew I’d be in for a fairly merciless game of psychological hares and foxes — which however, of course, meant that it would be a natural choice for the “Psych” bingo square.

Sofi Oksanen’s The Purge contrasts the early 1990s’ post-Soviet Union independent Estonia with that of the WWII and post-WWII era which had led to the country’s being swallowed up by the Soviet Union.  The setting in which this happens is the isolated farm where one of the novel’s protagonists, has been living almost all her life, and where at the beginning of the book the other protagonist — a young woman who is obviously on the run — suddenly appears, seeking refuge.  Although the two women have never seen each other in their entire lives (and the young refugee for all practical purposes is Russian rather than Estonian), it soon becomes clear that it is by no means an accident for her to show up in this place and none other.  What follows is a dance macabre style exploration of death, guilt, betrayal, running away from versus accepting responsibility for one’s own actions, and one (or two?) families’ entanglement with Estonia’s and the Soviet Union’s brutal social and political order in the second half of the 20th century.  This is an uncomfortable read, but it perfectly encapsulates the mental, psychological, political and social purge that every society will embark on both upon slipping into and upon freeing itself from a dictatorial system; and particularly in today’s political climate it comes highly recommended.

 

Terry Pratchett: Guards! Guards!

And talking about books that ought to be read, today more than ever, this turned out to be yet another one, right on the heels of Oksanen’s.  The eighth Discworld novel and the first book of the Night Watch subseries — but first and foremost, an exploration of just how a political system can fail and slip into dictatorships right before everybody’s eyes. Whatever it was that motivated Pratchett to write this book exactly 30 years ago, in the waning days of the Cold War, it is eerily prescient and feels as if it were written this or last year; so exactly does it foretell recent events (particularly in the UK and the U.S., but by far not merely there).  There is, of course, also plenty of Pratchett’s trademark pith and humor, and plenty of lines that, at least in the first part of the book, will make you laugh out loud; but in the second half, more often than not your laughter is going to get stuck right in your throat.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering about my bingo square attribution, it features dragons.  Plural — but one in particular.

 

Margery Allingham: The White Cottage Mystery

Allingham’s first mystery, and it clearly shows off her talent as a writer from the start.  As in the first Albert Campion book (The Crime at Black Dudley) and several of the subsequent Campion mysteries, there’s an international “detour” — here: literally so — that is not in any way, shape and form necessary to the plot and that I could therefore have done without, and it’s no particular surprise that Allingham later chose a somewhat more flamboyant hero for the series she would come to write.  But for an afternoon’s (or in my case, morning’s) worth of entertainment this works very nicely indeed.

 

BBC Audio: The Lady Detectives

See separate post HERE.

 

Trudi Canavan: The Magicians’ Guild

The first book of Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy and, while it started out enjoyable enough, another book that ultimately failed to live up to my expectations.  (It’s by no means awful, but it also didn’t entice me to continue with the series, however much the ending may have be trying to do just that.)

The book concerns a teenage girl from the slums who in the course of an anti-magician rally with fatal consequences — though not for herself — accidentally discovers that (drumroll …) she has magical powers herself and is henceforth sought out by the Magicians’ Guild who (1) want to make her one of their own and (2) even if she should refuse that rather unexpeted honor — all things magical ordinarily being perceived as something restricted to the country’s ruling families — have decided that in her own interest as well as for the common good, a clamp must be put on her magical abilities, which indeed quickly turn out to be destructive and beyond her own control (a control she can only be taught by a fully-trained magician).

The first part of the book, which essentially concerns the hide and seek game involving the magicians’ hunt for the protagonist, is sprightly enough — though even there the book is displaying its first unnecessary lengths –, but the second part, instead of kicking things into a higher gear, is riddled with lengthy and largely unnecessary exposition, and from the book’s mid-point onwards the plot is entirely predictable.  The world-building, too, is only so-so: hardly original — and it doesn’t become anymore so just by giving fancy names to ordinary everyday creatures such as farm animals, crops, or certain types of city buildings such as boarding houses, taverns and brothels –, and I am seriously sick of fantasy novels that believe they’re doing something clever by slightly altering the spelling and pronunciation of ordinary everyday names.  (The heroine’s first name is Sonea — pronounced Son-EE-a –; one of the magicians is called Dannyl (pronounced DANNyl.)

In summary, I miight have enjoyed this a good deal more if (1) it had been only about half (or at most, 2 /3) of its actual length and (2) the second half of the book had lived up to the promise of the first half, instead of delving into banal predictability.

 

Joy Ellis: The Guilty Ones

Aaah, but what a joy to move from the week’s last so-so book to another absolute stunner!  I had every faith this was going to be the case, and Ellis delivers in spades — in a mystery that this time comes calling so close to DI Jackman’s home that in reality he would probably have had to recuse himself from the investigation.  (Obviously we can’t have such a thing in a mystery, but to give Ellis her due, at least she doesn’t duck the issue; and by and large she handles it more successfully here than a similar — albeit slightly less weighty — situation in an earlier book.)  I know that at least one other bingo participant is still looking to read this book, so I won’t say a word about the plot — and I only mentioned Jackman’s personal involvement because this is essentially the setup of the entire thing and we’re being told about it right from the start — but what I will say is that this book came very, very close to competing with Their Lost Daughters for the spot of my favorite installment in the entire series; and just when I thought I had figured it all out, Ellis kicked things onto a whole new level.  Brava!

 

Toni Morrison: Beloved

… and finally: The book that accompanied me throughout the week, bit by bit, in both audio and the print version.  And oh, what a writer the world lost when Toni Morrison died.  This wasn’t my first book by her, but it brought home her extraordinary qualities as a writer all over again: There isn’t a word wasted here; Morrison even makes every single sillable stand up and be counted, and each and every one of them comes from a place deep inside her and reaches out right to the reader.  The narration is not linear; every fact unveiled simultaneously shrouds two more in allusion and “rememory” too painful to be allowed to come to the surface; and both this and the changing viewpoints make for a canvas that requires time, patience, and the reader’s full attention to pull it out from its multiple layers of protection — and the complete picture, when it is finally out in the open, is one crying out with unbearable heartbreak.

Much as I enjoyed listening to Toni Morrison’s narration as a companion experience to the book, I would join those who counsel against relying on the audiobook alone if this is your first experience with the book: Morrison’s vocal performance essentially does the same as her writing, coaxing forth and simultaneously shushing bits and pieces of the story as they come up in the text, so it adds yet another layer of complexity to a book that, based on its story alone, already calls on the full engagement of the reader’s senses and awareness.

Whichever way you choose to experience this book, though — if you only read one book by Toni Morrison, by all means let it be this one.  She deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature for Beloved alone.

 

The Card

… as of today; with my “virgin” card below for reference:

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1956503/halloween-bingo-2019-the-third-week