…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!
Another year draws to a close, so it must be time for… The Bingo Reading Challenge! I don’t deliberately look for books to read to meet this challenge, but at the end of the year it’s always fun to see how many boxes I can fill. Some of the categories are easy-peasy… others not so much. For some reason I didn’t do it last year, but I’d achieved a full house in each of the four years before that, so the pressure is on…
More than 500 pages
Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. This one is always an easy starter for me because of my habit of reading a Dickens novel over Christmas and the New Year. Barnaby Rudge is the story of a group of people caught up in the Gordon Riots of the 1780s. Not a favourite but still very good.
A forgotten classic
Something to Answer For by PH Newby. Is it a classic? Well, it’s over 50 years old – just – and still in print, so it qualifies by my broad definition. Its main claim to fame is as the winner of the first ever Booker Prize. The story is set at the time of the Suez Crisis of 1956, and I think it’s trying to say something satirical about the effect on the British psyche of the loss of the Empire. I think. Sadly it’s kinda incomprehensible and not very good…
The second book in a series
Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr. The second Bencolin and Marle book, and like the first, a great mix of mystery and horror. Rich financier Jérôme D’Aunay begs Inspector Henri Bencolin to investigate the death of his friend, Myron Alison. Alison died in Castle Skull, last seen running ablaze about the battlements. As the name suggests, the castle is the ultimate in Gothic, and so is much of the story.
With a number in the title
The Man with Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger. Michael Bristowe is a young man with a strange talent – he can sense physical objects even when they are out of sight. But is it a gift or a curse? In this vintage SF novel from 1920, Jaeger seems to be questioning if humanity can continue to evolve at all in a world where difference is shunned.
A book that became a movie
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. As a small band of guerrillas await the order to blow up a bridge, an American volunteer falls in love with a Spanish girl. A brilliant start to my sadly neglected Spanish Civil War challenge.
Published this year
The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd. Six intertwined stories show the effects around the world of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Some of the stories are fully fictional, while others are based on real people, such as Mary Shelley’s fateful trip when she would be inspired to write her masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Written by someone under 30
Braised Pork by An Yu. Following the death of her husband, as Jia Jia follows the steps of his final journey to Tibet, she finds herself drifting into a place where the lines between reality and dreams become blurred. An Yu was just 26 when this beautifully written book came out – makes you sick, doesn’t it? 😉
Checkmate to Murder by ECR Lorac. Spoiled for choice in this category, so I’m going with a five-star book from one of my new favourite authors. A foggy night in wartime London is the setting for this murder mystery which has aspects of an “impossible” crime.
A book with non-human characters
Dracula by Bram Stoker. Not only is Dracula the vampire himself non-human, but frankly the heroine, Mina, is so sickeningly perfect I began to wonder if she were an alien! I listened to the audiobook narrated by Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves, and their excellent performance carried me effortlessly through the
boring bits slower sections.
A science fiction or fantasy book
The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray. When a rogue white dwarf star passes through the solar system, its gravitational pull affects the Earth’s rotation on its axis. Gradually over a period of years it slows, with days and nights lengthening; and then it stops completely, leaving half the earth’s surface in endless burning day and the other half in endless frozen night. Overlong, but well written and with excellent characterisation – a strong début.
A one-word title
Dissolution by CJ Sansom. One of Cromwell’s commissioners has been murdered at a monastery on the Sussex coast, and Cromwell dispatches lawyer Matthew Shardlake to investigate. The first book in this excellent series set in Tudor England, and a very enjoyable re-read.
The Mystery of Cloomber by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since Dickens and Christie are getting mentions, I couldn’t leave out Conan Doyle – he’d have been so hurt! A mystery with a generous dollop of horror, a touch of Empire and some suitably inscrutable, scarily mystical Orientals – what more could you ask?
A funny book
Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse. Jeeves and Bertie, Florence Craye and Stilton Cheesewright, Nobby Hopwood and Boko Fittleworth, Uncle Percy and pestilential young Edwin, all gathered together at Aunt Agatha’s home in Steeple Bumpleigh. Need I say more?
A book of short stories
A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason. I loved this collection of short stories linked by subject matter and style rather than through the characters, creating a wonderful homage to the science fiction of the late 19th/early 20th century. That’s not to say the stories feel old-fashioned or dated, though. Mason looks at the subjects he chooses with a modern eye, thus ensuring they also resonate with a modern reader.
Set on a different continent
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad. In the harbour town of Sulaco, on the coast of the South American country of Costaguana, the silver mine of San Tomé becomes a bone of contention when yet another political coup is on the cards. Costaguana is fictional, but geographically it is based on Colombia. A wonderful book that looks at the destructive and insidious economic colonisation by capitalist countries of those nations whose resources they exploit and whose cultures they destroy.
Heard about online
A Month in the Country by JL Carr. I had never come across this novella in pre-blogging days, but over the last few years several blog buddies have reviewed it, usually in glowing terms. A young man spends a summer restoring a wall painting in an old church. Badly damaged by his wartime experiences, not physically but mentally, he will find a kind of healing as the long summer passes.
The Brothers York by Thomas Penn. A very readable history of the three sons of Richard, Duke of York, two of whom became Kings of England – Edward IV and Richard III – during the period known as the Wars of the Roses. Plenty of treachery, betrayal and general skulduggery from these monarchs and their supporters – in fact, not unlike the vastly superior “democratic” leaders we have today…
A best-selling book
The Guest List by Lucy Foley. Published just six months ago, nominated for the CWA Gold Dagger and winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Mystery and Thriller, and with 171,660 ratings so far on Goodreads, I think it’s safe to call this book a best-seller! Set on a rugged island off the coast of Ireland during a flashy celebrity wedding, sadly I wasn’t as enthralled by it as many others have been – when will the trend for these formulaic “that day” novels end? Not while they sell in the hundreds of thousands, I suppose…
Based on a true story
The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson. Largely autobiographical and set in Scotland in the 1920s, this tells the story of Janie, a little girl growing up among the women of the Lane, a place where the poor struggle to eke out an existence. Janie doesn’t feel neglected by her prostitute mother, but the Cruelty Man disagrees. A beautiful book, full of empathy for those on the margins, that challenges the reader to be slow to judge.
From the bottom of the TBR pile
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollingsworth. This had been lingering on my TBR since July 2012, and was the inaugural winner of the People’s Choice Poll, where I reveal some of the lingerers and you pick which one I should read. But it really wasn’t your fault that I abandoned it for being disjointed, unrealistic and frankly boring. I’m sure you’ll get better at this with practice… 😉
First book by a favourite author
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. A long overdue re-read of Christie’s first book, and the first appearance of Poirot and the lovely Hastings. A poisoning, a country house, a selection of suspects and a dramatic dénouement – the intricacies of the plotting show the promise of her later skill and the book has the touches of humour that always make her such a pleasure to read.
A book a friend loves
The Go-Between by LP Hartley. This is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read it because a friend loved it – instead, some friends read it with me, and happily we all loved it! Leo Colston, as a middle-aged man, looks back to the year of 1900 when he was a child on the edge of puberty, spending a long golden summer with the family of a school-friend. A wonderful book, which I’m glad to say affected me just as much on this re-reading as when I first read it decades ago.
A book that scared me
The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodsgon. I don’t scare easily with books, but a couple of the stories in this collection had the porpy and me quivering, especially The Derelict, which tells of three
idiots sailors who come across a derelict ship in the middle of the ocean and decide to board her… DON’T DO IT!!!
A book that is more than 10 years old
Lady Susan by Jane Austen. Again spoiled for choice but although not published till 1871 this was probably written around 1794, which makes it the oldest book I read this year. Lady Susan is a deliciously wicked creation who plots and schemes, and manipulates all the men around her who can’t resist her feminine wiles. Lots of humour in this comedy of manners, full of Austen’s trademark observational wit. A joy!
A book with a blue cover
The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. There don’t seem to be as many blue covers around this year, but I like this one. A classic swashbuckling adventure that introduced the world to the fictional country of Ruritania, this spawned so many imitations they became a sub-genre all on their own, of “Ruritarian romances”. Great fun!
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