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.

 

Patricia Wentworth: Miss Silver Comes to Stay

Yes — Still a Favorite


I’m getting to the point where I’m beginning to revisit “Miss Silver” books because I’ve read almost all the books in the series at least once.  (There are only some five or so books left that I’ve yet to read for the first time.)  So I figured, I might just as well start my rereads with the very first “Miss Silver” book I ever read, even before Tigus got us all hooked on the entire series, to see how my first impressions hold up now that I’ve encountered Maudie a good many times.  And I’m happy to say that yes, this is definitely still a favorite installment.

Some quick comments:

* Miss Silver should have brought cough drops on her visit to her friend.  I mean, we all know those little meaningful coughs are an indelible part of her character, but jeez, she really can’t open her mouth without beginning virtually every statement with one of them here.

* There are no less than two professionals who should have recused themselves from having anything to do with the matter (one of them on multiple grounds, at least one of which they’re openly discussing, albeit not under the headline of a conflict of interests).  The story wouldn’t be what it is without them (and their conflict), so obviously recusal can’t enter into things from a writerly point of view, but I’d still at least have liked to at least see it addressed for what it is — especially in light of the very active part that one of these persons takes in the action, which would be uncalled-for even under normal circumstances and is plainly inexcusable from a professional perspective here.  For however much I otherwise like the book, this is one of the reasons I’m withholding a higher rating.

* I love the fact that this book, for once, doesn’t focus on Wentworth’s panoply of young protagonists (strong and independent, TSTL, or otherwise), but rather, on middle-aged people.  There are a few twenty-somethings as well, but they are decidedly less interesting (and with one exception, also less important) than the real MCs, who are all in their 40s or above.  I wish Wentworth had focused on that age group in a few more of her books; she did it really well.  (I love the way how she creates characters anyway, but this book contains some of her strongest yet.)

* The plotting is rather well done here, too; similar to the way in which Agatha Christie might have done it, in fact. (And to those who would accuse Wentworth of dropping the solution deus-ex-machina-style, having revisited the book I’ll respond that there actually are enough clues spread throughout the book to allow you to at the very least form a suspicion as to the “who”, “why”, and “how”, if not actually solve the case, applying the same sort of logic that Miss Silver does.  This is all the more true as, even though Wentworth applies a technique similar to Christie’s, she does so somewhat less dexterously than Christie, so while it’s very obvious which conflicts she is interested in and why she presents the story the way she does, not every reader will necessarily be taken in entirely.)

* Frank Abbott still remains my favorite policeman in the series.  Randal March is nice enough, but no dice compared to Frank — whom even the profoundest respect for Miss Silver won’t stop from making fun of her every so often.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/2120193/yes-still-a-favorite

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

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

Halloween Bingo 2019: The Second Week

A day late (though hopefully not a dollar short), here’s my “second bingo week” summary; and it’s a summary of a much better week than the first one turned out to be.  (So, yey!)  For one thing this is due to the books, all of which were either outright winners or at least enjoyable on some level or other; for another, even though I finished the week with a fairly lengthy read AND RL was running really major interference, I managed to keep it to an average of one book per day, as a result of which — and as importantly, due to the way the bingo calls have been coming in — I’ve now got several sets of multiple “called and read” squares in a row or column (two of which, also with all five squares marked “read”).  Obviously, even three squares marked “called and read” in a row don’t necessarily mean I’ll be in for a bingo anytime soon, but that one is down to the bingo gods.  All I can do is go on reading …

 

The Books

Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor

The second bingo week’s first book, and for the longest time it was on a solid track for a 4 1/2 or even 5-star rating.  Tremendously atmospheric, with London (both 17th century and present day) not so much merely setting but additional character and two timelines tantalizingly mirroring and winding around each other like the two strings of a double helix.  From early on, this is also a book that knows very well just how clever it is, but during the first  90-95% that doesn’t matter a jot … until it does in the end and Ackroyd takes “clever” a step too far into the symbolic, as a result of which the ending is seriously deflating.  What a pity that he proved unable to contend himself with an actual dénouement (however cleverly constructed and meaningful) and instead chose to let narrative lift off and take flight straight into the ether instead.  Still, for the vast majority of its contents, definitely a recommended read — and the beginning in particular, set in the days of the 1665 plague and tying together the plague, a satanic cult, church construction and murder (mirrored by present-day murders in the same churches), definitely packs a punch.

 

Patricia Wentworth: Eternity Ring

Another book off to a great start; if for no other reason than the fact that we get to meet Frank Abbott’s family and learn why he didn’t become a lawyer — as had initially been his chosen career path — but a policeman instead.  (Wentworth takes us back to Frank’s family home in a much later installment of the series, The Fingerprint, which I had already read before moving on to this one, but that only made it feel even more of a priority to finally catch up with this story as well.)  It felt good to be back in Miss Silver’s (and Frank Abbott’s) world in one of the final novels from the series that I had / have yet to read, and it was cruising along nicely and could easily have earned a higher rating, too … if it hadn’t been for the fact that (1) the murderer is fairly easily to deduce by process of elimination and by looking at it from the perspective of where Wentworth herself, as a writer, was likely going to want to take this book’s plot; (2) the conflict besetting the married couple at the heart of the novel feels terribly manufactured (first because during 99% of the book it isn’t explained at all, and then because the explanation, when finally offered literally on the very last pages, comes across as ridiculously contrived); and (3) the heroine is exhibiting serious bouts of TSTL behaviour both in connection with the aforementioned conflict and in the moments immediately preceding the big reveal.

 

Bob Berman: Earth-Shattering

Neither as “epic” nor as “profound” as the blurb promises, and definitely higher on the “popular” than on the “science” part of “popular science writing”.  Based on his style of writing, I can very well imagine Berman as a personable guide at his local observatory or as a host of popular radio science programs; the problem is that what sounds approachable in dialogue and oral explanation just comes across as chatty in writing.  (This gets better once the book has left the opening chapters behind, but it never goes away entirely, and arguably the Big Bang — which is the subject of the first single-topic chapter, i.e., chapter two — should be the last subject you want to approach with that much of a casual attitude.  For purposes of the audio version, it definitely also does not help that the casualness factor is virtually automatically enhanced in oral performance — which isn’t necessarily down to the narrator; it’s just in the nature of the beast.)

In fairness, astronomy, nuclear and astrophysics will never be my strongest subjects, so as far as the actual depth of topical penetration went, it may have been a blessing in disguise that the book didn’t do much more than give an overview of the various types of cataclysms and in so doing, rarely did more than scratch the surface.  (Then again, I tend to acquire both a quicker and a more profound grasp of any topic presented to me both at greater length and in greater depth than here.)  Eitiher way, this was enjoyable for what it was or turned out to be, but IMHO it’s seriously being oversold in the blurb — the author himself also seems to be quite the efficient self-promoter — and I think it’s at least also fair to wonder what medical and man-made events such as the medieval plague epidemics and WWII are doing in a book explicitly setting out to deal with astrophysical and earth-bound types of physical cataclysms.

 

Fredric Brown: The Dead Ringer

Brown’s second Ed & Am Hunter novel and the book that, thanks to Tigus’s generous gift of last year, has been pencilled in for precisely this square ever since.  I truly enjoyed my return to the Chicago and Midwest of the Classic Noir era — Brown’s writing and plot construction easily stands up to that of the likes of Chandler and Hammett, and despite their less-than-bed-of-roses life experience both of his heroes are decidedly less cynical than Messrs. Marlowe and Spade, which makes for an interesting change from the classic noir approach.  (Though now that Ed has had his first bruises from a prolonged encounter with a blonde bombshell gold-digger, I hope his views on women in general aren’t going to end up being overly skewed too fast.)

In this particular book, it also plays out to great effect that Brown knew the mid-20th century carney world from the inside — from the start, the setting with all of its bizarre characters and attractions and its very own language (carney talk) comes alive in a way it only can if described by someone who once used to walk the walk himself.

 

Michael Gilbert: Smallbone Deceased

In my travels in the world of classic crime fiction, one of my truly overdue reads — a book rightly renowned for its dry sense of humor and truly unique way of disposing of a body.  If you ever thought a crime novel set in a law office specializing on wills, trusts and property law is bound to get mired in the dust of legal lingo and technical details, think again.  Given this mystery’s setting and the murdered man’s position, the motive for the murder isn’t hard to guess (though not all of the details are equally obvious), but thanks to the understated irony of Gilbert’s writing, this is deservedly one of the novels that have endured and can still be enjoyed in an era when lawyers’ deed boxes are long since a thing of the past.

Side note: Treat yourself to the print edition, not the Michael Mcstay audio — Mcstay’s preferred style of narration consists of hurling rapidly mumbled bursts of speech at the reader, which makes following his performance decidedly more of a chore than it reasonably ought to be.

 

Anthony Rolls: Scarweather

Quite a change of pace compared to the author’s Family Matters, the first book by Rolls that I read — but if the two books have one thing in common, it’s a sense of the unusual and extraordinary, and an incurable urge to pour the acid of satire on experts (self-appointed and otherwise) and on society’s habit of treating them, and each one of their pronouncements, as holy cows — as sages whose every word must be weighed in gold and not under any circumstances be questioned.  In Family Matters, it’s doctors, chemists and forensic experts (who are bamboozled by an onslaught of unlikely medical coincidences in connection with a death occurring in the context of a breakdown of a marriage); here it’s archeologists.  There is no way this book can be fairly summed up without spoiling half the plot, but if you should decide to tag along with the narrator and his Holmesean scientist friend, you’re in for quite a ride … even if somewhere between the 50% and the 75% mark you’ll probably have quite a good idea of what will be waiting for you at the end of the journey.

 

Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The week’s longest read and, perhaps surprisingly, not its best one.  To start with the plus side, this novel’s most interesting characters (and its single most outstanding feature) are the cats — not merely Rowl, the feline protagonist, but all of them; not least also Naun, the giant black tomcat leader of a tribe of street (or rather, tunnel) cats whose character constituted my reason for attributing this book to the “black cat” bingo square.  (Rowl is a ginger.)  Butcher really “gets” cats, and their scenes come across as both laugh-out-loud funny and entirely authentic.  Needless to say, almost all of the cats in this book are completely badass — Rowl first and foremost.  If the rest of the book had lived up to the cats, unquestionably this would have ended up straight on my “favorites” shelf.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.  And it’s not the fault of the human characters, either — particularly the three young women, Bridget, Gwen(dolyn) and Folly, as well as Captain Grimm (the eponymous aeronaut) and Gwen’s cousin Benedict — but Butcher’s own approach to storytelling.  (Which, incidentally, also makes me even more wary about his Dresden Files series than I had been before reading this book.)  The main characters in The Aeronaut’s Windlass are fine, and if Butcher had given them (and me) different stuff to work with, I’d be eager to follow them on their future adventures.  As it is … well, let’s just say the jury is still out on that one.

For one thing, the world building here is not anywhere near as innovative as blurb writers and five-star reviews want to make you believe: Heaven knows I’m not the most ardent reader of speculative fiction, and if even I recognize some the stuff cribbed from elsewhere, there’s bound to be a lot more that I didn’t see.  (Seriously, Mr. Butcher — Habble Landing as a place name and The House of Lancaster as one of the ruling families?  Geez, I thought George R.R. Martin was derivative, but are we into the derivative of a derivative now?  And a Discworld style guild system (only minus the satire)??  Be glad you’re not being sued by the estate of Terry Pratchett.)

Similarly, Captain Grimm and the whole aeronautics thing — warfare, tactical battle  manoeuvers, ship construction and equipment, even down to the details of (aero)nautical language included — are straight out of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander and C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series: Replace aeronautics (obviously, with the sole exception of aerial ascents and descents) by early 19th century / Napoleonic Wars seafaring craft, ships, and language, and that is precisely what you get.  Grimm himself, too, is so obviously a cousin to Hornblower in his more mature years and to his former Captain Pellew — and Grimm’s Predator a near-identical twin of Jack Aubrey’s HMS Surprise (plus the whole “privateer” subplot / past so obviously built on O’Brian’s Letter of Marque, as well as, incidentally, Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood) — that Forester’s and O’Brian’s (and Sabatini’s) estates should, by rights, be asking for a share of the royalties as well.  To be fair, from the book’s descriptions this was the one aspect I had expected — just don’t please anybody tell me that this is anything even close to original.

Finally, while I did appreciate the whole “cinder spire” idea, and I seriously also appreciate the absence of any sort of infodumps, I would have liked to find out a lot more, over the course of the book, what happened to make Earth’s “surface” world an uninhabitable wilderness and caused “the Builders” generation to construct the spires to begin with — and I’m also not entirely clear how you get to square an alleged “democracy” (this is the exact term actually used) with a de-facto king (called Spirearch) who is quite obviously much more than merely a representative figure and wields true power.

My other gripes tie into those that I have with a lot of speculative fiction (especially sci-fi, as well as George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series), so this may be an instance of “it’s not you, book, it’s me” — but anyway, the book’s plot essentially consists of an incessant series of incidents of armed combat (aeronautic and on terra firma / the spires alike), every single one of which incidents goes down according to the tried and true formular of “hero(es) drawn into fight by overwhelming enemy force — hero(es) bravely stand their ground in the face of impossible odds — after a while enemies seem to get the upper hand after all — and a millisecond before it all goes pear-shaped for good salvation for hero(es) comes from unexpected quarters”.  Sorry, but this sort of stuff flat-out bores me every time it’s served up more than once to begin with (preferably only at a book’s point of climax), and that is true even more if the entire plot of a 700+ page book consists of little else.  (And it is even more true if I can anticipate the precise person or group providing the last-minute rescue — even if not also the precise manner — at least a chapter or two in advance, as was invariably the case here.)

On a related note, “surviving impossible odds in battle” also seems to be the only thing accounting for whatever character growth we seem to be seeing in this book; especially with regard to the younger main characters, particularly the young women, all of whom are inexperienced recruits and barely out of their teens.  OK, so Gwen has her moment of “how do I go back from all this warfare and combat to ordinary everyday civilian life” at the end of the book, and that was another moment I truly appreciated.  I just would have wished there had been more of this, instead of our protagonists incessantly rushing from one fight to the next — and I would also have wished there had been some experiences for them to grow on outside the fighting stuff, as there are (aplenty) in the Hornblower and Aubrey / Maturin books.

Long story short, it’s a miracle this book hasn’t been made into a movie yet — there’s plenty of things going “boom” with a vengeance, the CGI department would have a field day, and there are also plenty of great characters to root for, both feline and human.  And who knows, I might even watch that movie.  But the whole thing is also so similar to the movies that made me essentially stop caring about any new blockbuster releases years (nay, decades) ago that I’m not sure whether I ultimately would go and see it.  And I’m not sure I’m going to be reading the sequel to this book, either … even though Rowl (and Naun) might eventually tempt me to do so after all.

 

The Card

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

 

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Patricia Wentworth: Eternity Ring

Another book off to a great start; if for no other reason than the fact that we get to meet Frank Abbott’s family and learn why he didn’t become a lawyer — as had initially been his chosen career path — but a policeman instead.  (Wentworth takes us back to Frank’s family home in a much later installment of the series, The Fingerprint, which I had already read before moving on to this one, but that only made it feel even more of a priority to finally catch up with this story as well.)  It felt good to be back in Miss Silver’s (and Frank Abbott’s) world in one of the final novels from the series that I had / have yet to read, and it was cruising along nicely and could easily have earned a higher rating, too … if it hadn’t been for the fact that (1) the murderer is fairly easily to deduce by process of elimination and by looking at it from the perspective of where Wentworth herself, as a writer, was likely going to want to take this book’s plot; (2) the conflict besetting the married couple at the heart of the novel feels terribly manufactured (first because during 99% of the book it isn’t explained at all, and then because the explanation, when finally offered literally on the very last pages, comes across as ridiculously contrived); and (3) the heroine is exhibiting serious bouts of TSTL behaviour both in connection with the aforementioned conflict and in the moments immediately preceding the big reveal.

Patricia Wentworth: The Gazebo

This is more like it.


(More than The Alington Inheritance, that is.) — Still a bit too much of a whiny heroine, but at least we’re firmly back in true and trusted Maudie territory.  And it has to be said, while the victim is no Mrs. Boynton (cf. Agatha Christie, Appointment With Death), by the time she finally meets her end few would argue that the world is not a better place without her in it.

There are some shades of Grey Mask here (broken off engagement sends the hero to “forn parts”, where he roams the wilderness for a few years until he starts missing the old country and returns, only to be plunged straight into his former / still beloved’s latest messy circumstances: if there’s one trope Wentworth can be said to be overusing, it’s probably this one; e.g., it’s also the premise of Miss Silver Comes to Stay, and with a twist, of The Traveller Returns / aka She Came Back, and a key character’s surprise return also features importantly in The Watersplash, albeit minus broken off engagement) — and although this is emphatically not an inverted mystery, both the whodunnit and the core “why” is pretty obvious from the get-go.  (Or I’ve just read too many stories of that type.  But Wentworth really isn’t exactly subtle about this particular bit.)  Despite a valiant attempt on Wentworth’s part at creating a plausible back story for the “who” and “why”, the motive still feels a bit contrived … or let’s say, it’s the kind of thing that pretty much only Arthur Conan Doyle could get away with (or the creators of mysteries for young readers, where it’s a particular favorite).  But at least Wentworth’s attempt here is not any worse than those of other authors using this particular trope.

Most of all, though, Wentworth’s fine eye for character(s) and human interactions shines once again — in the portrayal of abusive relationships (there are several here) as well as the creation of the comic relief, in this instance, three gossiping old-maidish sisters — who in another book might easily have had a different role (and indeed the local gossip is portrayed extremely negatively in The Alington Inheritance) but here it’s clear that they are essentially harmless and, indeed, ultimately even helpful to the investigation.  And of course, watching Maudie and her most devoted fan (Frank Abbott) is always a joy.

 

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Patricia Wentworth: The Alington Inheritance

If you thought Wentworth couldn’t go any lower than “Grey Mask” …


… don’t go anywhere near this one.

Whiny, immature, TSTL special snowflake heroine.  Insta-love.  Completely implausible, “fortuitous” (*major headdesk moment*) first encounter between hero and heroine.  Weak plotline that is further weakened by an “inverse mystery” structure — it certainly does NOT help that we know whodunnit from the get-go.

One star for Maudie being Maudie.  Half a star for de-facto street urchin Dicke’s occasional comic relief.

So much for the much-needed comfort reading I was hoping for …

Next!!

 

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Patricia Wentworth: The Clock Strikes Twelve

24 Festive Tasks: Door 24 – Epiphany, Book

 

This came with high praise from both Tigus and Moonlight, so I knew I had a lot to look forward to — and I was certainly not disappointed!  This is a New Year’s Eve story and the “family patriarch publicly announces ‘I know someone here has betrayed family interests and you’ve got until midnight to come forward and confess your sins'” classic mystery plot variant … seriously, someone should have told those Golden Age family patriarchs not to do this sort of thing because it’ll invariably get them killed.  Anyway, Wentworth had comfortably settled into her formula by the time she wrote this book, and I agree with Moonlight — this is now my new favorite entry in the series, too.  Though written strictly to Wentworth’s formula (cozy rural setting with bickering family [or village population], lovers to (re)bond, a reasonable but not impenetrable amount of red herrings, a perhaps not entirely unexpected villain, and an investigation by thoroughly competent police inspectors who are, nevertheless, easily “bested” by Miss Silver), the characters and their various conflicts are finely and credibly drawn and jump off the page as real people … and Miss Silver, as always, is a sheer delight.  Well done, Maudie!  And Patricia — and Diana (Bishop), whose reading of the Miss Silver books I’ve thoroughly come to enjoy.

I’m counting this book towards the “Epiphany” square of “24 Festive Tasks” (a book with the word “twelve” in the title).

 

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