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.

 

2020 Mid-Year Reading Review and Statistics

What with the pandemic still very much ongoing, BL acting up again, MR’s and Char’s resulting posts re: BookLikes, the BL experience, and moving back to Goodreads, this feels like a somewhat odd moment to post my half-yearly reading stats.  I hope it won’t be the last time on this site, but I fear that the community to which I’ve belonged for almost a decade — longer than to any other online community — and which, most recently, has played a pivotal role in making the Corona pandemic more bearable to me, is on the point of breaking up.  And frankly, this is making me incredibly sad.

Book-wise, too, the pandemic has had a huge impact on my reading; for three out of the past six months, I pretty much exclusively withdrew into Golden Age mystery comfort reads, because I just didn’t have it in me to tackle anything else.  Though I suppose in comparison with others, who went into more or less full-fledged reading slumps, I can still color myself lucky.

That said, the past six months’ reading highlights definitely included all of the buddy reads, both for the shared reading experience and for the books themselves — as well as a number of books that I read either before the pandemic began or in the very recent couple of weeks … though I’m tempted to list every single favorite Golden Age mystery that I reread during the pandemic, too; in addition to a whole number of new discoveries.  So, without further ado (and roughly in reverse chronological order):

 

Highlights:

The Buddy Reads:

Jean-François Parot: L’énigme des blancs-manteaux (The Châtelet Apprentice)
The first of Parot’s Nicolas le Floch historical mysteries set in 18th century Paris.  Nicolas is a Breton by birth and, on the recommendation of his godfather, a Breton nobleman, joins the Paris police force under the command of its (real) Lieutenant General Antoine de Sartine, one of the late 18th century’s most influential statesmen and administrators. —  Parot was an expert on the period and a native Parisian, both of which elements clearly show in his writing, and I’m already looking forward to reading more books from the series.

French-language buddy read with Tannat and onnurtilraun — we’re now also looking into the possibly of “buddy-watching” the (French) TV adaptation starring Jérôme Robart.


The pandemic buddy reads; including and in particular:
Josephine Tey: A Daughter of Time (with BT’s and my individual add-on, Tey’s play Dickon, written under the name Gordon Daviot, which likewise aims at setting the record straight vis-à-vis Shakespeare’s Richard III) — A Daughter of Time was a reread; Dickon was new to me.
* Georgette Heyer: No Wind of Blame (the first of the Inspector Hemingway mysteries — also a reread);
* Agatha Christie: Towards Zero and Cat Among the Pigeons (both likewise rereads);
* Ngaio Marsh: Scales of Justice (also a reread; one of my favorite Inspector Alleyn mysteries);
* Cyril Hare: Tenant for Death (the first Inspector Mallett mystery — new to me);
* Patricia Wentworth: The Case Is Closed (Miss Sliver book #2 — also new to me; this isn’t a series I am reading in publication order).

Dorothy Dunnett: The Game of Kings (book 1 of the Lymond Chronicles)
16th century Scotland; the adventures of a main character somewhere between Rob Roy, Robin Hood and Scaramouche (mostly Scaramouche), but it also features a range of strong and altogether amazing female characters.  Another series I’m looking forward to continuing.

The first buddy read of the year, together with Moonlight Reader, BrokenTune, and Lillelara.

 

My Individual Highlights:

Bernardine Evaristo: Girl, Woman, Other
Heaven knows the Booker jury doesn’t always get it right IMHO, but wow, this time for once they absolutely did.  If you haven’t already read this, run, don’t walk to get it.  And though initially I was going to say “especially if you’re a woman (and from a minority)” — no, I’m actually going to make that, “especially if you’re a white man”.

Saša Stanišić: Herkunft (Origin) and Gaël Faye: Petit pays (Small Country)
Two autobiographical books dealing with the authors’ genocide experience, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Burundi, respectively. Stanišić’s account — an odd mix of fact on fiction, which does lean pretty strongly towards the factual, however — asks, as the title indicates, how precisely our geographical, ethnic and cultural origin / sense of “belonging” defines our identity; and it focuses chiefly on the refugee experience and the experience of creating a new place for oneself in a new (and substantially different) country and culture.  Faye’s short novel (barely longer than a novella) packs an equal amount of punch, but approaches the topic from the other end — it’s a coming of age tale looking at the way our cultural identity is first drummed into us … and how ethnic stereotypes and hostilities, when fanned and exploited, will almost invariably lead to war and genocide.

 

Josephine Tey: The Inspector Grant series, Dickon, and Miss Pym Disposes
Having already read two books from Tey’s Alan Grant series (The Daughter of Time and The Franchise Affair) as well as her nonseries novel Brat Farrar in past years, and Miss Pym Disposes at the beginning of this year, I took the combined (re)read of The Daughter of Time and the play Dickon during the pandemic buddy reads (see above) as my cue to finally also read the rest of the Inspector Grant mysteries.  And I’m glad I finally did; Tey’s work as a whole is a paean to her much-beloved England — and though she was Scottish by birth, to a somewhat lesser degree also to Scotland –; a love that would eventually cause her to bequeath her entire estate to the National Trust. — Though the books are ostensibly mysteries, the actual “mystery” element almost takes a back seat to the land … and to its people, or rather to people like those who formed Tey’s personal circle of friends and acquaintances.  And it is in creating characters that her writing shines as much as in the description of England’s and Scotland’s natural beauty.

Pete Brown: Shakespeare’s Local
Another book that I owned way too long before I finally got around to reading it; the discursive — in the best sense –, rollicking tale of one London (or rather, Southwark) pub from its earliest days in the Middle Ages to the 21st century, telling the history of Southwark, London, public houses, and their patrons along the way.  The title is glorious conjecture and based on little more than the fact that the pub is near the location of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (combined with the equally demonstrable fact that Shakespeare loved a good ale and what today we’d call a pub crawl) … so it’s highly likely that, like many another celebrity over the centuries, he’d have had the occasional pint at this particular inn, the George, as well.

Dorothy L. Sayers: Love All
A delightful drawing room comedy that was, owing to its completion during WWII, only performed twice during Sayers’s own lifetime and never again thereafter, which is utterly unfair to both the material and its author — topically, this is the firmly tongue in cheek stage companion to such works as Gaudy Night and the two speeches republished under the title Are Women Human?  (I’d call it feminist if Sayers hadn’t hated that term, but whatever label you want to stick on it, its message comes through loud and clear and with plenty of laughs.)

Christianna Brand: Green for Danger
One of the discoveries of my foray into the realm of Golden Age mysteries; an eerie, claustrophobic, psychological drama revolving around several suspicious deaths (and near-deaths) at a wartime hospital in Kent during WWII.  None of Brand’s other mysteries that I’ve read so far is quite up to this level, but she excelled in closed-circle settings featuring a small group of people who all genuinely like each other (and really are, for the most part, likeable from the reader’s — and the investigating policeman’s — perspective, too), and in this particular book, the backdrop of the added danger arising from the wartime setting adds even more to the tension.  It’s also fairly obvious that Brand was writing from personal experience, which greatly enhances every single aspect of the book, from the setting and the atmosphere to the individual characters.

Sonia Sotomayor: My Beloved World
Sotomayor’s memoirs up to her first appointment to the Federal Bench.  What a courageous woman!  A trailblazer in every sense of the word — a passionate advocate for women, Latinos/-as (not just Puerto Ricans), those hindered in their career path by a pre-existing medical condition (in her case: diabetes), and more generally, everybody up against unequal odds.  Fiercely intelligent and never satisfied with second best (for herself and others alike), she nevertheless comes across as eminently likeable and open-minded — on the list of people I’d like to meet one day (however unlikely), she shot right up to a top spot after I’d read this book; in close vicinity with Michelle Obama.

John Bercow: Unspeakable
Bercow’s time as Speaker of the House of Commons was doubtlessly among the more remarkable periods in the history of the British Parliament, both on account of his personality and of the momentous decisions taken during those years; and his unmistakeable style jumps out from every page of his memoir — as well as every minute of the audio edition, which he narrates himself.  The last chapter (his attempt at outlining the odds for Britain post-Brexit) was already obsolete before the Corona pandemic hit; this is even more true now.  However, the vast majority of the book makes for a fascinating read, not least of course because of his insight into the politics — and politicians — of his time (he is neither sparing with the carrot nor with the stick, and some of his reflections, e.g., on the qualities of a “good” politician / member of parliament, would constitute ample food for thought for politicians anywhere).

 

Statistics:

As I said above, the one thing that definitely had the biggest impact on my reading in the first six months of 2020 was my three-month long “comfort reading” retreat into the world of Golden Age mysteries.  So guess what:

Of the 129 books I read in the first six months of 2020, a whopping 63% were Golden Age and contemporary mysteries — add in the 10 historical mysteries that also form the single biggest chunk of my historical fiction reading, you even get to 91 books or 70.5%.

I am rather pleased, though, that — comfort and escape reading aside and largely thanks to a number of truly interesting memoirs and biographies — the number of nonfiction books is roughly equivalent to the sum of “high brow” fiction (classics and litfic).

Another thing that makes me happy is that my extended foray into Golden Age mysteries was not overwhelmingly limited to rereads; these accounted for only 28% of all books read (36 in absolute figures), a percentage which is not substantially higher than my average in the last two years.  At the same time, as a comparatively large number of Golden Age mysteries are not (yet?) available as audiobooks — not even all of those that have been republished in print in recent years –, and as I have spent considerably less time driving to and from meetings and conferences than in the past two years, the share of print books consumed is higher than it was in 2018 and 2019.

 

Given the high percentage of comfort reading, it’s no surprise that my star ratings are on the high side for the first half of 2020 — the vast majority of the books were decent, if not good or even great reads.

Overall average: 3.7 stars 

However, my Golden Age mystery binge also had a noticeable effect on the two statistics I’m tracking particularly: gender and ethnicity.

As far as gender is concerned things still look very good if you just focus on the authors: 88 books by women (plus 5 mixed anthologies / author teams) vs. 36 books by male authors; hooray!  However, inspired by onnurtilraun, I decided to add another layer this time and also track protagonists … and of course, if there is one genre where women authors have created a plethora of iconic male protagonists, it is Golden Age mystery fiction; and all the Miss Marples, Miss Silvers, Mrs. Bradleys and other female sleuths out there can’t totally wipe out the number of books starring the likes of Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey, Roderick Alleyn, and other male detectives of note.  Then again, the Golden Age mystery novelists actually were ahead of their time in not only creating women sleuths acting independently but also in endowing their male detectives with equally strong female partners and friends, so the likes of Ariadne Oliver, Agatha “Troy” Alleyn, and of course the inimitable Harriet Vane, also make for a significantly higher number of books with both male and female protagonists.  Still, the gender shift is impossible to miss.

 

(For those wondering about the “N / A” protagonist, that’s Martha Wells’s Murderbot, who of course is an AI and deliberately created as gender-neutral.)

And of course, since there isn’t a non-white author to be found among the Golden Age mystery writers (or at least, none that I’m aware of and whose books figured as part of my reading during the past couple of months), the ethnicity chart goes completely out of the window.  Again, as long as you just look at the number of countries visited as part of my Around the World reading challenge (and if you ignore the number of books written by authors from / set in the UK and the U.S.), the figures actually still look pretty good — and yes, the relatively high number of European countries is deliberate; I mostly focused on authors from / settings in the Southern Hemisphere last year, so I figured since tracking ethnicity was substantially impacted by the mystery binge this year anyway, I might as well make a bit of headway with the European countries, too.

Yet, there is one interesting wrinkle even in the comparison of author vs. protagonist ethnicity; namely, where it comes to the non-Caucasian part of the table: It turns out that the number of non-white protagonists is slightly higher than that of non-white authors, because I managed to pick a few books at least which, though written by white authors, did feature non-white protagonists.  Make of that one what you will …

   

Nevertheless, for the rest of the year, the aim is clear … catch up on my Around the World reading challenge and build in as many books by non-Caucasian authors as possible!

Addendum
In a discussion on the BookLikes version of this post, the question came up whether the author’s gender and ethnicity matters at all, or whether the only thing that really matters is the quality of the writing to begin with.  Here’s what I wrote there:

I used to think it [= gender and ethnicity] didn’t / shouldn’t matter, too. Since I started to put greater weight on women’s writing and books by non-white authors, I’ve come to change my mind.

1) It’s not about “chromosomes”, but about life experience. Women, even in today’s society, experience life differently from men. That is true even for women who (like me) were raised — not necessarily deliberately, but as it were “by default” — in such a way as to embrace roles traditionally reserved for men from early childhood on (which incidentally frequently put me at odds with the boys in the playground), and who work in an industry that, even when I was in university, was still substantially dominated by (white) men, and to a certain extent still is even today (not in terms of access to the profession as such, but in terms of what is achievable and who calls the shots). And similarly, it is obvious that blacks, Latinos/-as, Asians, and members of other ethnicities experience society differently from whites — it didn’t take George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement to convince me of that.

So it is only natural that women — and non-white authors — also tell stories differently from men, and from white people, respectively. Not necessarily, perhaps not even overwhelmingly, the way that Bernadine Evaristo does — a book like “Girl, Women, Other” could of course never have been written by a man or by a white person to begin with. (And that’s precisely the reason why I said these are the people who most need to read this book — because it reflects a perspective that they / we will only ever be able to understand, if at all, intellectually; never instinctively and from personal experience.) Nor do I necessarily mean that male writing is more “testosterone-soaked” than women’s writing (though bad male writing almost invariably is), or that “men can’t write women characters” (and vice versa). — In most cases, the differences between men’s and women’s writing are so subtle that, as long as you don’t pay any attention, you don’t notice them at all. But if you come from reading a lot of books written by men (as I had, when I set out on this course a few years ago) and then you switch to reading books written mostly by women, you start noticing them after a while — in details of writerly focus, in little things like a detail of an individual characters’ response to a particular situation (or to somebody else’s comment), in the way dialogue is framed, in what matters to a character in a given situation, etc. Again, none of this rises to the level of “good / bad” “realistic / unrealistic” writing, or to “men writing women as men with XX.chromosomes” (or women writing men as women with XY-chromosomes, or whites writing other ethniticities as black-faced whites, etc.), but it’s there; and interestingly, it’s there as much in, say, Golden Age mystery fiction and other 19th and early 20th century classics as it is in contemporary writing.

2) It’s about industry access and noticeability. The publishing industry is, for all I can see, still way too much dominated by “pale stale males”. Like in my own industry (the law), it’s not so much a matter of a lack of women (or non-white) writers (and columnists, critics, journalists, etc.) But in the corporate structures, the old hierarchies die hard — not only at the top (= the tip of the iceberg) — and though I don’t know a lot of writers personally, I know enough to realize how much harder it is for women — and for writers of color — to obtain the same amount of exposure that a white male author would be able to obtain in their situation. (Again, this isn’t as simple as “good / bad writing” or a matter of talent — it’s about what it takes *in addition* to talent and good writing.) So if I can do my tiny little bit to help by actually buying and reading their books — and by occasionally even talking about those books, whenever I feel motivated enough to write a review, or by deliberately tracking my reading and talking about that, I’m more than happy to do that.

// TA steps off soap box.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/2804666/2020-mid-year-reading-statistics

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

January 2020 Reading

January turned out a bit of a roller coaster in RL, continuing the course things had already taken in December: not quite whiplash-inducing, but with several sickness-prone twists and turns (for however much I’d expected them to materialize) surrounding one major glorious event (which was, however, truly glorious; even if this, too, was something I’d had every reason to expect).

So my January books mostly were comfort reading in one form or another.  Other than the three Golden Age mysteries (or in one case, a mystery radio play collection) that I (re)visited — Agatha Christie’s 12 Radio Mysteries, Ngaio Marsh’s Scales of Justice, and my carryover from 2019, Gladys Mitchell’s Death Comes at Christmas — and two contemporary mystery short story collections I read / listened to, I burned through all four volumes of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet in the space of a week (well, they are fairly short books), read four books of historical fiction (two of which also qualify as historical mysteries), and more books falling into the sci-fi / fantasy / speculative fiction subset, with classics and nonfiction bringing up the rear, with one book each.

For all that, 14 of those 18 books were by women (and one an anthology, Mystery Writers of America Presents: Vengeance, featuring both male and female authors), and I’ve added two new countries to my “Around the World” challenge — Antigua and Iceland –; even if, with two of my first three books of February (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists and Mia Alvar’s short story collection In the Country), I’m already doing more for the Caucasian / non-Caucasian balance in my reading than in all of January.

 


Looking at my January books individually, clearly last month’s reading highlight was the buddy read with Moonlight Reader, BrokenTune and Lillelara of the first volume of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings; a tour de force piece of historical fiction set in the mid-16th century, during the reign of England’s boy king Edward VI (the son of Henry VIII) — or rather, his guardian Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, who goverend England in his stead — and Marie de Guise, the widow of Scottish king James V, who ruled Scotland in lieu of her infant daughter Mary (Stuart).

Francis Crawford of Lymond, ostensibly the book’s (and the series’s) central character, is essentially Rob Roy and Robin Hood rolled into one, with a bit of Edmond Dantes thrown in for good measure, as well as just about every other hero of historical fiction seeking to recapture the position and estate taken from him by the connivance of his enemies. For the longest time, he wasn’t even my favorite character in the book — those honors clearly went to virtually every major female character, all of whom are fully rounded, three-dimensional and very much their own women; strong, intelligent, and more than capable of holding their own in a society dominated by men.  Yet, I have to say that Lymond considerably grew on me in the final episode of the novel.

In terms of pacing, although the book took its sweet time establishing the characters and their place in the era and events of the history of Scotland during which it is set (while assuming its readers to either be familiar with that period in history or treating them as adult enough to read up on it themselves, without having to be taught by the author in setting up the novel), once it took off … it really took off, and I whizzed through the last big chunk in almost a single sitting (pausing once more only before the final episode), all of which literally left me breathless by the time I was done.  I can absolutely see myself continuing the series, though as a first read, these aren’t the kinds of books I can seamlessly tie together one right after the other; so it may be a while before I’ll start the next book.

 

Among the month’s other highlights was the second book of Tony Riches’s Tudor Trilogy, Jasper — the volume I’d been looking forward to the least, as it essentially covers the War of the Roses from the Lancastrian POV, which is a tale of many woes and few moments of glory, even if it culminates in Henry of Richmond’s (Henry VII-to-be) victory at Bosworth. But I still enjoyed the narrative voice, empathy for all the characters, and the obviously painstaking historical research going into the writing.

 

After the disappointment that virtually every bit of YA fantasy I read last year had turned out to be, a somewhat unexpected third highlight was Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet.  But I was won over by Alanna (the main character)’s personality and by the fact that Pierce’s approach to creating a fantasy world where it is possible for a woman to beat the odds and assert herself without actually glorying in violence (looking at you, Jennifer Estep); in fact, Alanna learns to use her magical powers as a healer more than as a fighter, and to employ them in order to offset some of the damage and pain she causes as a knight.

Obviously, the idea of a girl masquerading as a boy in order to be trained as a knight, and surviving years of training without ever being discovered by the vast majority of the people at court (except for a select few trusted friends), takes a bit of suspension of disbelief; particularly in the second book, where Alanna and her friends are in puberty and, if nothing else, her voice should be breaking if she were a boy (so the lack of change there, if nothing else, should unmask her — bound chest or not).  This, and the equally unlikely notion of a pseudo-Arab tribe of desert nomads firmly rooted in pseudo-Muslim principles of society being swiftly brought around to accepting women as self-determined agents of their own fate solely by their encounter with Alanna in book 3 of the series, were a bit much to take without reducing my rating somewhat.

But overall I still enjoyed the series quite a bit more than I had expected.  (Indeed, I hadn’t even really expected to progress beyond book 1 to begin with.)  I also truly enjoyed Pierce’s no-nonsense approach to not in out-Tolkien-ing Tolkien — proper names are almost without exception from our world (John, Gary, Alan(na), Tom, etc.), and there are no attempts at giving dodgy half-baked names to animals and inanimate things, either, which is something that hugely annoys me in many a fantasy series I’ve come across lately (particularly, again, YA).

 

Radio Girls, the book I began this year with (as picked by the bibliomancy dreidel in 24 Festive Tasks) started out strong, and I truly enjoyed the author’s exploration of the early days of the BBC.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t resist the temptation of bringing in the (real life) spy background of one of the book’s characters (Hilda Matheson, director of BBC Talks), as a result of which it felt like the book couldn’t really make up its mind whether it wanted to be about the BBC, about pre-WWII Nazi activities in Britain, or about women’s rights (especially general suffrage and women’s (in)equality in the workplace).  Less would definitely have been more here.  Still, overall the book was enjoyable enough.

 

Another pleasant surprise, in terms of the book itself at least, was Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s The Legacy, the first book of a series of mysteries / crime novels focusing on the so-called “Children’s House”, the (real) institution that processes children involved in Icelandic court cases (murder trials, custody suits, prosecutions for child abuse, etc.).  I liked Sigurðardóttir’s assured writing and well-informed approach to child (and child witness) psychology, and — mostly — also the characters she created.  After having finished the book, however, I listened to the interview she gave in the Audible Sessions series, where (somewhat to my surprise) she comes across as a bit condescending, which in turn rather dampened my enthusiasm for quickly  following up with another book by her.  But I do think I’ll give her books another try eventually.

 

Most of the remainder of my reading this past month was an exercise in Mt. TBR reduction:

By far the best (audio)book of this bunch was the first installment of the BBC’s McLevy series, which is based on the real life diaries of Victorian Edinburgh police inspector named, you guessed it, James McLevy.  It features a great cast (with Brian Cox starring in the title role), great atmosphere, and several intelligently-plotted episode-length cases, and I can already see myself coming back for more again and again.

 

Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora presents an interesting approach to speculative fiction, somewhere on the borderline between fantasy and steampunk, with an exciting plot and well-rounded characters: enough to make me at least contemplate also reading the next books of the Gentleman Bastard series.  However, this seems to be another series featuring excessive amounts of violence (at least judging by book 1), and its installments aren’t exactly short, either — at the end of this book, I felt similarly drained as after Dunnett’s Game of Kings — so this probably won’t be a high and early priority.  Still, I’m not unhappy that I’ve finally read it.

 

Martha Wells’s All Systems Red is intelligently conceived and redolent with edgy humor, satire, and questions about the nature of consciousness, individuality and, ultimately, the thing that we call a soul: if science fiction is your thing (and if you’ve been living under a rock or for any other reason haven’t read it long before I did), it’s definitely a book — and a series — that I’d recommend.  Personally, though I enjoyed Wells’s exploration of the inner life of a semi-humanoid AI security unit (aka “murderbot”) that has hacked and disabled its own main governor module, and would much rather watch soap operas than look after inept human research teams on alien planets, I won’t be continuing the series.  For one thing, if it comes to tropes, I just prefer those of the mystery genre to those of science fiction (and it seemed like every single sci-fi trope is present here); and then, I also think the pricing of the books in this series is a huge money grab on the part of the publisher (and Audible / Amazon) that I am simply not willing to support; beyond satisfying my curiosity about book 1, that is.

 

E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady was to the 1930s what Bridget Jones’s Diary is to us: Roll up Angela Thirkell’s High Rising, Winifred Holtby’s South Riding, and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary into one, shake thoroughly, season with a pinch or three of Emma Thompson’s character (the Duchess d’Antan) from the movie Impromptu, and with the perpetual financial woes of the landed gentry, and this (albeit largely autobiographical) book is pretty much what you should get as a result.

Delafield, one of those prolific early 20th century writers who thoroughly dropped off the radar after WWII, went on to write several more installments of the Diary: I got curious about her because of Martin Edwards’s speculation, in The Golden Age of Murder, about a possible relationship between her and Anthony Berkeley, but having read this book by her and several books by him, I can’t see more than the friendship between them that is known to actually have existed.  Quite frankly (and quite apart from the fact that they were both married to other people to begin with), judging by her writing, she strikes me as way too shrewdly intelligent to ever have been interested in him as anything other than a friend.

 

Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, finally, is a short, brutal, angry dismanteling of any naive and romantic perceptions that white North American and European conceivably might be holding about her island home of Antigua.  Frankly, since I never held any such perceptions, she was pretty much barking up the wrong tree with me, and though I can empathize with her anger, I wonder whether, skilled writer that she is, she wouldn’t have served her purpose better by exchanging the verbal claymore that she insists on wielding for a foil (or at most an epée) — i.e., keep the razor sharp verbal blade, but allow for a less heavy-handed approach.  Though I’ll readily concede that probably this is a facile position to take for someone who hasn’t had to do battle with the “Caribbean island paradise” cliché all her life to begin with.

 

To round things off, my mystery comfort reading consisted of:

* Agatha Christie: 12 Radio Mysteries (BBC adaptations of 12 of Christie’s short stories, which I loved and which incidentally proved that Christie’s writing has not only stood the test of time but is also easily amenable to being transferred to a modern setting without losing any of its punch);

* Ngaio Marsh: Scales of Justice (one of my all-time favorite entries in the Roderick Alleyn series and, it occurred to me while listening to the new unabridged audio recording published a few years ago, also a good book to start the series with for anyone curious about it — PS: it even features a cat in a pivotal role);

* Gladys Mitchell’s Death Comes at Christmas (aka Dead Men’s Morris) (decidedly not a favorite installment in the Mrs. Bradley series);

* Elizabeth George’s I, Richard (another reread, which I liked a whole lot better than when I had first read it; not only for the final / titular story, which has a contemporary setting but a historic background, namely Richard III’s final hours before the Battle at Bosworth — the true standout here is the story immediately preceding it, Remember I’ll Always Love You, where a young widow confronts the aftermath of her husband’s spontaneous suicide); and finally:

* Mystery Writers of America Presents: Vengeance (the mixed bag that such anthologies usually are, with overall better writing than I had expected, though, some of the best pieces of which were from the pens of the lesser-known contributors rather than the big-name authors).

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/2048220/january-2020-reading

2019 Reading in Review — Nonstandard Edition, Part 1: The “Book Titles” Self-Interview

A few years ago, Olga Godim came up with a fun “reading year in review” version in the form of a self-interview, where the only answers permitted were book titles.  I instantly decided to copy it and add a few more categories of my own.  While I didn’t have time to do this again in the more recent past, as my last “2019 in review” posts, I decided to undust it — with yet more additions of my own –, along with another, similar questionnaire, the Bookish Academy Awards (to be posted separately).

(Note: For the more seriously-minded, my “real” “best new(-to-me) books of 2019” post — with links to my reviews — is HERE.)

 

In 2019, what was / were your …
Most Memorably Good Encounters?

Hard to beat — every single year anew.

 

Most Horrific Encounters?

 

Nicest Relations Met?

 

Most Awful Relations Met?

The husband from hell.

 

Worst Person Met (overall)?

Hard to think of anybody worse than a serial killer (both in real life and in fiction).

 

Best Vacation Spots?

Seriously, the locations were the best things about all of these books.  Though the mystery in Death in Kashmir was at least decent as well (and I’d advise you to give the audio version the widest berth you’re capable of).

 

Most Exciting Adventures?

Well, duh. 🙂

 

Best Guided Tours?

 

Favorite Place to Visit?

 

Least Favorite Place?

I know I’m breaking the rules here because the answer isn’t in the book names as such, but honestly, can you think of a worse place to be trapped in than a theocratic autocracy?

 

Most Embarrassing Memory?

Tie between the chance encounter of an alcoholic psychopath and his future victim on the one hand and the discovery of a murder victim inside his own locked deed box at his lawyer’s office on the other hand …

 

Most Heartbreaking Memory?

This book will slay you — hide and hair.

 

Best Weather?

 

Worst Weather?

Tie between two extremes — the rain-, snow- and-wind-chased Shetlands and tropical, hot and humid Colombia.

 

Scariest Event?

 

Funniest Moment?

Pure slapstick.

 

Saddest Moment?

 

Best Food?

Chocolate, Butter in a Lordly Dish, and two helpings of Christmas Pudding?  I’ll take it …

 

Worst Food?

 

Overstatement of the Year?

Hey, it’s the apocalypse … we’ll be having So. Much. Fun!!!

 

Understatement of the Year?

 

Best Animal Encounters?

 

Scariest Animal Encounters?

 

Most Precious Acquisitions?

 

Favorite Garments?

 

Prettiest Flowers?

 

Favorite Visual Arts?

 

Favorite Music?

 

Best Parties?

If I had reread Gaudy Night this year, it of course would have been included, too.  As it is …

 

Poshest Homes Visited?

 

Coziest Homes Visited?

 

Worst Homes Visited?

 

Most Puzzling Questions?

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/2027801/2019-reading-in-review-nonstandard-edition-part-1-the-book-titles-self-interview

2019 Reading in Review — the Nonstandard Edition, Part 2: The Bookish Academy Awards

The Bookish Academy Awards / Book Oscars is a questionnaire I found a couple of years ago on the Blogger blog of Ashley / Read all the things and decided to steal it for my then-recent and all-time favorites.  Most of my “all-time” answers are still true; however, here’s an edition specifically for my 2019 reading (wherein “nonfiction” will not be limited to the specific “Best Documentary” equivalent category — so expect, for example, my favorite / most respected “real life” people to show up amongst the “best protagonist” listings).

(Note: For the more seriously-minded, my “best new(-to-me) books of 2019” post — with links to my reviews — is HERE.)

 

Best Director(s)
(This Year’s Favorite Writers):

The Memory of Love - Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Aminatta Forna Beloved - Toni Morrison Hag-Seed - Margaret Atwood, R. H. Thomson
Three-way tie between Aminatta Forna, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood.

 

Best Actress
(Best Female Protagonist):

The Raven Tower - Ann Leckie A Woman in Arabia: The Writings of the Queen of the Desert - Gertrude Bell, Georgina Howell, Sian Thomas, Adjoa Andoh Becoming - Michelle Obama Excellent Women - Barbara Pym, Gerry Halligan, Jonathan Keeble, Alexander McCall Smith The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective - Catherine Louisa Pirkis
Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett, Celia Imrie A Caribbean Mystery - Agatha Christie, Emilia Fox Eternity Ring - Patricia Wentworth, Diana Bishop Anna, Where Are You? - Patricia Wentworth, Diana Bishop The Ivory Dagger - Diana Bishop, Patricia Wentworth

Favorite New Encounters:
The (unnamed) goddess / narrator of Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower
Gertrude Bell (Writings: A Woman in Arabia)
Michelle Obama (Becoming)
Mildred Lathbury (Barbary Pym: Excellent Women)
Loveday Brooke (Catherine Louisa Pirkis: The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective)

Favorite Repeat Encounters:
Granny Weatherwax (and Nanny Ogg & Magrat Garlick) (Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters)
Miss Marple (Agatha Christie)
Miss Silver (Patricia Wentworth)

Honorary Mention:
Harriet Vane (Dorothy L. Sayers: Strong Poison / Have His Caracase / Gaudy Night / Busman’s Honeymoon)
Can’t officially include her because I didn’t reread any of the Wimsey books featuring her in 2019, but hey, there is just no way she cannot be part of this list.

 

Best Actor
(Best Male Protagonist):

Tombland - C.J. Sansom, Steven Crossley


 


New Encounters with Long-Time Favorites:
Kofi Annan (Interventions: : A Life in War and Peace)
Matthew Shardlake (C.J. Sansom: Tombland)

Favorite Repeat Encounters:
Hogfather (aka DEATH) (Terry Pratchett: Hogfather)
Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
Lord Peter Wimsey (Dorothy L. Sayers)
Hercule Poirot (Agatha Chistie)
Roderick Alleyn (Ngaio Marsh)
Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peters)

 

Best Supporting Actress
(Best Female Sidekick or Supporting Character):

Three-way tie between Ariadne Oliver (Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot series), Josephine Leonides (the self-appointed kid sleuth in Agatha Christie’s Crooked House) and the wife of Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn, painter Agatha Troy.  (All repeat encounters.)

 

Best Supporting Actor
(Best Male Sidekick or Supporting Character):



 
Tombland - C.J. Sansom, Steven Crossley

Favorite New Encounter:
You Bastard, the mathematical genius in camel clothes (Terry Pratchett: Pyramids)

Favorite Repeat Encounters:

Dr. John Watson (Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes series)
Captain Arthur Hastings (Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot series)
(=> The two original / quintessential sidekicks)
Mervyn Bunter (Dorothy L. Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey series)
Jack Barak (C.J. Sansom: Matthew Shardlake series)
From the Unseen University of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld: Hex and the Librarian

 

Best Ensemble Cast:

I know this isn’t actually an Academy Awards category (only Golden Globes), but I’ve long felt it should be one — and there are some books to which the same thought applies as well.

Three-way tie between Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, and Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens.

 

Best Original Screenplay
(Most Unique Plot or World Building):

The Raven Tower - Ann Leckie
Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett, Celia Imrie

Two-way tie between Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower — far and away the most innovative world-building I’ve come across in a long time — and, of course … Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

In the original version of this questionnaire, “Best Adapted Screenplay” translates into “Best Book-to-Movie Adaptation”.  However, I think in the book world (especially that of recent years) there is another translation which fits the purpose just as well; namely, “Best Pastiche / Series Continuation.”  So I decided to go with both of them:

1 – Best Book-to-Movie Adaptation:

 

(Note: To correspond with all the other categories, this only takes into account the cases where I read the book AND also revisited the movie in 2019.  Which, as it turns out, boils down to not a whole lot more than my yearly Christmas favorites …)

Non-Christmas story:
Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (2015 BBC adaptation)

Christmas stories:
Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1995, ITV David Suchet Poirot series)
Agatha Christie: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (aka The Theft of the Royal Ruby) (1994, ITV David Suchet Poirot series)
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Blue Carbuncle (1987, Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series)
Dorothy L. Sayers: The Nine Tailors (1974, BBC Ian Carmichael Lord Peter Wimsey series)
Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol (1999 TNT adaptation starring Patrick Stewart)
Frances Hodgson Burnett: Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980 adaptation starring Ricky Schroder and Alec Guinness) (note: no specific Christmas connotations in the book)

2 – Best Pastiche:

Ben Schott: Jeeves and the King of Clubs
Perfect pitch — no contest.

 

Best Cinematography
(Best Plot Twist):

 

Dame Agatha still taks the cake when it comes to original plot twists (even upon the umpteenth reread), but I think Joy Ellis has recently given her a fair run for her money — even if the final twists in none of her books that I read in 2019 caught me quite as “from left field” as did my first ever Ellis book, Their Lost Daughters, which I read in late 2018.

 

Best Makeup
(Best Book Cover):

The Raven Tower - Ann Leckie Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett, Celia Imrie

Book’s Contents Lives up to the Cover’s Promise:
Ann Leckie: The Raven Tower
Diarmaid MacCulloch: Thomas Cromwell: A Life

Cover Promises More Than the Contents Delivers:
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Elif Shafak: Three Daughters of Eve
Lorna Nicholl Morgan: Another Little Murder

Best Series Covers:

Discworld “black background” hardback and audiobook covers
Brltish Library Crime Classics series

 

Best Costume Design
(Best Historical or Contemporary Setting):

Beloved - Toni Morrison
Tombland - C.J. Sansom, Steven Crossley

Contemporary:
Ann Cleeves: Raven Black and White Nights (Shetland series)
Peter May: The Lewis Man
Ian Rankin: In a House of Lies
(What can I say … I just love Scotland — and books set there!)
Xinran: The Good Women of China

Historical:
Toni Morrison: Beloved
Delia Owens: Where the Crawdads Sing
Diarmaid MacCulloch: Thomas Cromwell
Tom Reiss: The Black Count
C.j. Sansom: Tombland
Ellis Peters. Brother Cadfael series

 

Best Animated Feature
(A book that would work well in animated format):


Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett, Celia Imrie

Two-way tie between Ladyhawke (Joan D. Vinge’s novelization of the movie starring Rutger Hauer, Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer) and, you guessed it … Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

 

Best Visual Effects
(Best Action in a Book):

Hyeongseo Lee: The Girl With the Seven Names
Seriously, with a real life story like this, who even needs thrillers anymore?

 

Best Original Score

Originally, “Best Original Score” translated only into “Best Book-to-Movie Adaptation”.  But I think this is another case where an Oscar category is capable of two equally valid different interpretations in the book world, and again I decided to go with both of them:

1 – Best Book / Series Incorporating Music as an Important Element:

Peter Grainger: An Accidental Death

2 – Best Audio Version:

The Memory of Love - Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Aminatta Forna

Aminatta Forna: The Memory of Love
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s narration: Major goosebumps material.

 

Best Short Film
(Best Novella or Short Story):

Arthur Conan Doyle: Danger!

 

Best Documentary
(Best Non-Fiction):

Becoming - Michelle Obama

Four-way tie between Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell, Xinran’s The Good Women of China, Tom Reiss’s The Black Count, and Michelle Obama’s Becoming.  Four outstanding books that are as engaging as they are informative.

 

Honorary / Lifetime Achievement Award
(Overall Favorite Body of Work):

My Lady Ludlow - Elizabeth Gaskell, Susannah York The Casual Vacancy - Tom Hollander, J.K. Rowling Tombland - C.J. Sansom, Steven Crossley

Danger! - Arthur Conan Doyle
 
 

Eternity Ring - Patricia Wentworth, Diana Bishop Anna, Where Are You? - Patricia Wentworth, Diana Bishop The Ivory Dagger - Diana Bishop, Patricia Wentworth

Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett, Celia Imrie

New Encounters with Long-Time Favorites:
Elizabeth Gaskell: My Lady Ludlow
J.K. Rowling: The Casual Vacancy
Ian Rankin: In a House of Lies
C.J. Sansom: Tombland

Favorite Repeat Encounters:
Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time
Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes series, stand-alone story Danger!
Dorothy L. Sayers: Whose Body?, Five Red Herrings, The Nine Tailors
Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy & Tuppence, and Quin & Satterthwaite series, And Then There Were None, Crooked House, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, and various short stories
Ngaio Marsh: Roderick Alleyn series
Patricia Wentworth: Miss Silver series
Ellis Peters: Brother Cadfael series
Terry Pratchett: Discworld series and Good Omens (co-written with Neil Gaiman)

 

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2017 – 2019 Three-Year Reading Stats

Three years ago I took a look at my reading stats for the then-just-finished year (2017) and decided they were off in several respects:

  • Too many rereads
  • Too many mysteries
    — i.e., too much comfort reading —
  • AND way too few books by female authors.

Also, the ratio of books read vs. new, unread additions to my “owned books” TBR was abysmal — in 2017, I added almost as many books to my shelves without ending up reading them than I actually did read.

So, the first thing I did was join a challenge created by Awogfli and put together a Women Writers challenge in response, with the aim of enhancing the percentage of female authors I’m reading.  That project went rather well, all told, so last year I added another challenge level (to be continued in 2020): Use your reading to travel around the world, to as many countries as possible (while still giving preference to female authors).  That project, too, went better than I had expected in 2019.  And, hooray, I even got my “owned TBR” additions under control.  Well, sort of — at least I reduced them by one half …

With three years of reading statistics under my belt — the initial ones from 2017 and those from the two succeeding years — I think it’s time to take a first comprehensive look at the last three years’ developments.

So here we go:

The one statistics that doesn’t look like it has greatly changed is the book format — ever since I really “discovered” audiobooks in 2016, my audiobook consumption has been vastly greater than my print book readings.  However, this is actually in large part the reason why my owned and unread TBR has gone down, because very often I’ll have both the audiobook and the print edition and I’ll switch back and forth between them.  This may mean I’ll eventually find a different way of charting these books, but so far I’ve counted them as “audio”, and for consistency’s sake I may just continue doing that.

Aaaand finally the Genre breakdown: Still plenty of mysteries (even more if you take into account that the majority of my historical fiction reading consists of mysteries and thrillers / crime fiction), but another effect of my Around the World challenge — as well as Moonlight’s 2019 “crowdsourced” project / reading list! — has been to diversify my genre chart (somewhat).  Mysteries (not counting historical mysteries) still account for a solid 50%, and that’s fine — since I’m also planning to continue my foray into the world of Detection Club /Golden Age crime fiction, it’s unlikely that this percentage is going to drop significantly. By and large I’m pretty happy with the way things have turned out so far!

 

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2020 Reading Plans / Expectations & 2019 in Review

24 Festive Tasks: Door 22 – New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day: Tasks 1-3 & Door 18 – Hanukkah: Task 1

2020 Reading Goals

Pretty much the same as this year: Read more books by women writers than by male authors, diversify my reading, and keep on exploring the world of Golden Age mystery fiction.

The Around the World reading challenge — which is also to be continued in 2020 — this year has taken me to places of the world that aren’t exactly part of my normal reading fare, and I think visits to 46 countries (8 in Africa, 10 in the Americas (11 if Puerto Rico were counted separately), 13 in Asia and the Middle East, 2 in Oceania, and 13 again in Europe) is a pretty decent tally for the first year. I hope things are going to continue in a similar vein next year.

My Golden Age mystery reading plans are probably going to cross the “diversifying” aims to a certain extent — they already did this year — for the simple reason that the vast majority of Golden Age mystery writers were Caucasian.  But that just can’t be helped, I suppose.

 

The 2019 Stats

Books begun: 250
Books finished: 247
Average Rating: 3,8

 Genre Breakdown by Subgenres

Mystery: 124
Golden Age: 89
Silver Age: 3
Tartan Noir: 3
Classic Noir: 2
Cozy Mystery: 2
General: 22

Thriller: 8
Espionage: 5
Humor/Satire: 1
General: 2

Historical Fiction: 31
Mystery/Crime/Thriller: 23
Mythology: 2
Magical Realism: 1
Humor/Satire: 1
General: 3

Fantasy: 11
Humor/Satire: 8
YA: 2
General: 1

Supernatural: 5
Short Fiction: 2
Historical Fiction: 2
Humor/Satire: 1

SciFi: 2
Steampunk: 1
Humor/Satire: 1

Horror: 3
Gothic: 1
Short Fiction: 2

Classics: 15
Short Fiction: 6
Anthology: 1
Espionage: 1
General: 7

LitFic: 16
Magical Realism: 1
Mythology: 2
Dystopia: 2
Mystery/Crime/Thriller: 2
ChickLit: 2
General: 7

Nonfiction: 32
Auto(Biography): 20
History: 3
Philosophy: 2
Science: 3
True Crime: 2
Anthology: 1
Cookbook: 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The key, obviously, is in the intersection of genres and ethnicity: 25 of the 27 books by non-Caucasian authors I read were something other than mysteries; or put differently, virtually all of the 124 mysteries were by Caucasian authors (including all of the 92 Golden and Silver Age mysteries, which in themselves account for 2/3 of all my mystery intake).  I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do much about those statistics — nor do I very much want to, as long as I manage to make decent progress with my Around the World challenge and manage to get in a fair amount of non-Caucasian books in all the other genres.

Favorite books of 2019: HERE
Least favorite books of 2019: HERE

Bibliomancy

 My question: Is 2020 going to be a good reading year for me?

Miss Austen’s Collected Novels are one of the larger volumes on my shelves, so I decided to seek my answer there.

The answer: “[impor]tance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures.”

That sounds rather promising, doesn’t it?

(And I’m taking it as an additional good sign that the answer is from Mansfield Park, wich was the first novel by Austen that I read — and the book that made me fall in love with her writing in the first place …)

 

Dreidel Spin for First Book of the Year

This is a pick from some of the books that my BFF, Gaby, gave me for Christmas and my birthday this year:

נ (Nun) – Craig Adams: The Six Secrets of Intelligence
ג (Gimel) – Isabel Colegate: The Shooting Party
ה (Hei) – Preet Bharara: Doing Justice
ש (Shin) – Sarah-Jane Stratford: Radio Girls

 

… and the dreidel picked:

 So, Sarah-Jane Stratford’s Radio Girls it is!

Radio Girls - Sarah-Jane Stratford

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

Door 22
Task 1: Tell us: What are your reading goals for the coming year?

Task 2: The reading year in review: How did you fare – what was good, what wasn’t?

Task 3: Bibliomancy: Ask a question related to your reading plans or experience in the coming year, open one of your weightiest tomes on page 485, and find the answer to your question in line 7.

 

Door 18, Task 1: Spin the dreidel to determine which book is going to be the first one you’ll be reading in the new year.

Find a virtual dreidel here:
https://www.activityvillage.co.uk/make-a-dreidel
http://www.jewfaq.org/dreidel/play.htm
http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/chanuka/dreidel.htm

 

 

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2019 Airing of Grievances: Least Favorite Books of the Year

24 Festive Tasks: Door 19 – Festivus: Task 1

Overall, 2019 was a phantastic reading year for me with decidedly more highs than lows.  Of the latter, my worst reading experiences were, in no particular order:

Laura Restrepo, Hot Sur: OK, forget the “in no particular order” bit for a moment.  A main character expecting me to empathize with her for siding with the psychopathic rapist of the woman she calls her best friend … and actually trying to talk her best friend into agreeing her horrific experience was all just a “misunderstanding”?  Sorrynotsorry — just, nope.  A hard DNF, and that main character deserved everything she had coming to her as a consequence.

Renée Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn: Shallow, infantile in tone, and, most importantly, abominably bady researched.  I didn’t DNF quite as quickly as Hot Sur, but I barely made it past the 1/3 mark.  I might have been marginally more understanding if it had come across as YA fantasy (which was frankly what I’d expected), but it’s written as historical fiction — and getting core historical details wrong in a book of historical fiction is just about the worst sin you can commit in my book.

Sam Kean, The Disappearing Spoon: Well, let’s just say Mr. Kean is decidedly not Helen Czerski (which is NOT a good thing), and he also isn’t half as funny as he apparently thinks he is.  What he seems to think is humor, to me comes across as arrogance and unwarranted judgmentalism — and his research / fact checking on everything “non-physics” is plainly abominable.  Almost as importantly, his fractured narrative style and lack of clarity completely failed to translate to me his own professed enthusiasm for his subject.  Another book where I never got past the initial chapters.

Georgette Heyer, A Blunt Instrument: Heyer at her worst — clichéd, biased, snub-nosed, with one-dimensional characters and a mystery whose solution is staring you in the face virtually from page 1.  I only finished it for confirmation that my guess was correct (which, dare I say “of course”, it was), but it was a struggle of the sort I never experienced with Heyer before or since (and I’ve finished all of her mysteries in the interim).

Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star: I know Lispector is highly regarded, but she’s obviously not for me — I detest speech that is so deconstructed to barely make sense (even to mother tongue speakers, as it turns out); combine that with the drab narrative (if that word is even justified) of a drab character living a drab life, and you’ve lost me for good.  It was a blessing that this is a very short book; if it hadn’t been, this would have been another DNF.

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

(Task: The airing of grievances: Which are the five books you liked least this year – and why?)

 

 

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2019: The Books I’ve Been Most Thankful For

24 Festive Tasks: Door 11 – Thanksgiving: Task 2

With another full month to go in the year, it may be a bit early to do this task, but a substantial number of the books I’m going to be reading in December will be Christmas rereads, so here we go.

The books / authors I am most thankful for having (re)discovered are, working backwards in the order in which I’ve read them (and with links to my reviews or status updates, if any, in the titles):

 

Margaret Atwood, The Testaments and The Handmaid’s Tale:
Atwood’s Gilead novels were my final reads of this year’s Halloween Bingo, and the game couldn’t have ended on a bigger exclamation point (though The Handmaid’s Tale was a reread).  The Testaments not only takes us back to Gilead and provides answers to some of the questions remaining open at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, more importantly it is also a timely reminder of what exactly is at stake once a democracy’s foundations are allowed to weaken — as we’re seeing in more than one country around the world at the moment.  One of the hardest reading double bills I ever imposed on myself, but I’m very glad that I did.

As a side note and for something very different, I also truly enjoyed Atwood’s Hag-Seed, a novelization of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which I read earlier this year.

 

Toni Morrison, Beloved:
Another soul-drenching and profoundly devastating reading experience, and yet another one that I’m truly thankful for.  Morrison deserved the Literature Nobel Prize for this book alone, and while her literary legacy has hopefully made her voice immortal, among the many great authors we have lost this year, she stands head and shoulders above all the rest.  Her contributions to the literary and social discourse will well and truly be missed.

 

Guards! Guards! - Terry PratchettTerry Pratchett, Guards, Guards:
One of the Discworld series’s stand-out books and in many ways a perfect companion book for those by Atwood and Morrison as it, too, deals with the undermining of democracy by the forces of evil.  Trust me, this is one dragon you don’t want to encounter … (unless, of course, you happen to be able to bring the perfect antidote).

Reminder for the Discworld group: This is our bimonthly group read for this coming December.  And it’s highly recommended!

 

Danger! - Arthur Conan DoyleArthur Conan Doyle: Danger:
Speaking of timely reads, this was yet another one: Much more than “merely” the author of the Sherlock Holmes books, Conan Doyle was an astute observer of the politics of his time, and he did not shy away from speaking his mind, even if that meant offending the highest in the land.  Danger is a short story that he wrote shortly before WWI to warn the leadership of the Admiralty of the dangers of a submarine war, for which he considered Britain woefully unprepared.  And if Conan Doyle’s words struck a cautionary note a century ago (turns out the Admiralty took his warning seriously, and it was a good thing for Britain that they did), they should do so even more in the context of Brexit, which carries its very own significant risks of cutting off or curtailing Britain’s trade routes.  Alas, I very much doubt that’s the case.

 

Thomas Cromwell: A Life - Diarmaid MacCullochDiarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cromwell
Simply put, the Cromwell biography to end all Cromwell biographies.  In his research for this book, MacCulloch took a fresh look at virtually every single document on which Cromwell’s vast legacy is based, and the resulting biography is a masterpiece of historical analysis which does away with many an often-repeated myth (beginning right at the beginning of Cromwell’s life, with the role of his father), and which shines a light on Cromwell’s many innovations and achievements and on the inner workings of his meteoric rise from humble tradesman’s son to Henry VIII’s chief minister.  In the process, MacCulloch reevaluates everything from the foreign merchant experience that Cromwell gained early in life, to his work as Cardinal Wolsey’s assistant and, finally, his growing preeminence and his seminal policy as the power behind Henry VIII’s throne.  What emerges from MacCulloch’s analysis is the picture of a highly complex and intelligent man, difficult to deal with even for friends, fierce and ruthless as an enemy — but always with England’s well-being and advancement (as well as the advancement of its institutions) at his heart; the one man who, in the space of a single short decade, emerged as the single most important politician of the entire Tudor Age (short of, just possibly, Elizabeth I), whose legacy (and the legacy of his innovations and reforms, far above and beyond the well-known Acts of Parliament which he initiated) reaches down the centuries all the way to the present date.  If you’re even the slightest bit interested in the Tudor Age or in constitutional history, run, don’t walk to acquire this book.

 

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo - Tom ReissTom Reiss, The Black Count:
Another highly fascinating biography: We’ve come to think of Alexandre Dumas père and fils as the two writers, but did you know that Dumas père’s father (also called Alexandre) — the son of a black Haitian slave and a French count — was a general in the French revolutionary army and, in his own time, much more important than his son and grandson ever were in theirs?  Reiss’s book not only tells the story of his life; it also places General Dumas’s life into the wider context of his era and examines, inter alia, how equal the budding colonial power’s black sons and daughters actually were in the motherland of “Liberté – Egalité – Fraternité” (spoiler: they weren’t).  The picture emerging from Reiss’s research is that of a man of great personal courage, intelligence and ambition, as well as sheer enormous physical presence, whose life was cut tragically short as a result of the side effects of being caught up in the European and French power struggle of his time — and in case you ever had any doubts, yes, General Dumas was the model for one of his son’s greatest heroes, the Count of Monte Cristo … and D’Artagnan’s famous friendship-building duel with all three Musqueteers at the beginning of their acquaintance does have a basis in reality as well.

 

The Raven Tower - Ann LeckieAnn Leckie, The Raven Tower:
Truly original worldbuilding, a powerful story, evocative writing and a knockout, totally unique narrative perspective: In a literary scene that seems to be dominated more and more by sameness and formula (both in adult and YA fantasy), with barely skin-deep layers of seeming originality, this book was my reading year’s one saving grace that singlehandedly restored my faith in the idea that there are at least a few fantasy writers out there who are still capable of compelling creations that are entirely their own and unlike anything else already out there.

 

The Memory of Love - Aminatta FornaAminatta Forna, The Memory of Love:
Last year, it was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun that provided insight and a new perspective on the history of one particular African country (Nigeria); this year, Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love did the same and then some for Sierra Leone.  A devastating tale of love, loss, and the many ways in which a person can be broken, in a country variously slipping into and emerging out of decades of a devastating civil war.

 

Interventions: A Life in War and Peace - Kofi AnnanKofi Annan, Interventions: A Life in War and Peace:
Mr. Annan was far and away the most influential and important Secretary General of the United Nations in its more recent history; his memoirs set forth with great passion and understanding how the experience of a lifetime, from growing up in post-WWII Ghana all the way to serving as Under-Secretary for Peacekeeping under Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and his first-hand insight into conflicts like those in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Somalia, Israel / Palestine, Iraq, and Somalia, shaped his conviction about the necessity of an “interventionist” United Nations policy; one that does not stay on the sidelines of genocide and war crimes but takes seriously its mandate to act on behalf of the peoples of the world.  A simply riveting read.

 

The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo - Clea KoffClea Koff, The Bone Woman:
This one hit home, because it touched more or less directly on some of my own past work — but even if you don’t have any personal inroads into the investigation of human rights violations, it’s a great introduction to the subject and, more importantly, does great legwork in conveying both the psychological trauma and the physical wounds suffered by the victims of such abuses … as well as the toll that the field work of the subsequent investigation takes from the investigators.  A truly memorable read.

 

An Accidental Death: A DC Smith Investigation Series, Book 1 - Peter Grainger, Gildart JacksonPeter Grainger, An Accidental Death:
One of the year’s early and totally unexpected, great discoveries.  A great location (the Norfolk coast), pithy and insightful writing, an unusual, profoundly contemplative detective — a formerly high-ranking officer who has chosen to be knocked back to the rank of sergeant so as to be able to keep doing hands-on police work instead of being mired in administration and pushing paper … and thanks to the main character’s hobby, there is even a bluesy background note.  Who could ask for more?

 

Becoming - Michelle ObamaMichelle Obama, Becoming:
Mrs. Obama may have chosen to focus on her charity work and on political education instead of seeking a career in party politics now that she and her husband have left the White House (and who could possibly blame her?), but I am very glad she also decided to give us her deeply personal perspective on her own and Barack Obama’s path all the way to the end of 2016.  It’s a spirited narrative that manages to build an immediate connection with the reader, and which made me regret the end of the Obama presidency even more than I had done before.  I can only hope the Obamas are going to continue to seek and find ways to make their mark on the political discourse, in America and beyond — not only Barack but also Michelle Obama, who in her own right is clearly at least as important a voice as her husband.

 

The Girl with Seven Names - Hyeonseo Lee, John David MannHyeonseo Lee, The Girl with Seven Names:
A riveting read and proof positive of the old adage that truth is vastly stranger than fiction: the true story of a young woman who defected from North Korea to China “by accident” right before her 18th birthday and, after ten years of trials and tribulations, eventually ended up in South Korea and, later, in the U.S., where she testified about her experience, and more generally on the topic of dictatorial regimes and human rights abuses, before various bodies of the U.S. government and the United Nations.  At times her story is so heartstoppingly riveting that you want to doubt whether all this truly happened, but apparently it did — and the book is worth a read for her unquestionably personal and in-depth inside perspective on Norh Korea and China alone.

 

The Good Women of China - XinranXinran, The Good Women of China:
My first read of 2019, and with it, the year started well and truly with a bang: the true stories of a number of Chinese women whom Xinran — then a radio presenter in Nanking — encountered as a journalist, but whose stories she was not able to tell while still subject to state censorship.  In equal parts eye-opening and heartbreaking; by no means easy to digest but an absolute must-read, and my reading year couldn’t have begun in a better way.

 

 The Murderer's Son - Richard Armitage, Joy Ellis Their Lost Daughters - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage The Fourth Friend - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage The Guilty Ones: A Jackman and Evans Thriller - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage The Stolen Boys - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage
Beware the Past - Joy Ellis, Antony Ferguson Five Bloody Hearts - Joy Ellis, Matthew Lloyd Davies

Joy Ellis, Jackman & Evans series and Beware the Past:
As a new discovery, this is actually a carry-over from 2018, when Ellis’s Their Lost Daughters completely knocked me sideways during Halloween Bingo.  I’ve since read her entire Jackman & Evans series — my favorite entries still being Their Lost Daughters as well as, coming very close, book 4 of the series, The Guilty Ones — and I have continued my adventures in Ellis’s Fenlands world of detection with an encounter with DCI Matt Ballard in Beware the Past, the conclusion of which managed to knock me sideways yet again (though warning: this is definitely not a tale for the faint of heart).  And the good news is that the second book of the Matt Ballard series (Five Bloody Hearts) is already available as well, so I’m not done with the Fenlands by a long shot …

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

(Task: Tell us: Of the books that you read this year, which are you most thankful for, OR was there one that turned out to be full of “stuffing”? Alternatively, which (one) book that you read anytime at all changed your life for the better?”)

 

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