New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. So, let’s begin! I’m almost frightened to look…

The 2020 Results

I planned much of my reading at the beginning of the year, but events soon drove me into the mother of all slumps, so my good intentions were thrown by the wayside as I retreated into the comforting worlds of vintage and classics. That won’t stop me from planning ahead again this year, though! Failure is merely a state of mind…

1) Reading Resolutions

I planned to read:

a) 88 books that I already owned as at 1st Jan 2020. 

The Result: I read 52. This is bad. Very bad. Even worse than last year when I managed 60. Oh well, never mind! Might as well start off the way I mean to go on…

b) 8 books for the Around the World challenge.

The Result: Yay! I did it! I finally finished this challenge and loved doing it, so I count this one as a major success! 

c) 22 books from my Classics Club list. 

The Result: I read 12. This one all went horribly wrong! Not that I didn’t read classics – I did – tons of them. Just not the ones on my Classics Club list. I find as I get near the end of this challenge the books that looked so shiny when I put them on the list five years ago are now looking somewhat dull and tarnished. Must do better!

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series.

The Result: Ooh, so close! I read 5, mostly in audiobook format, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. So I don’t care that I…

e) 7 books for my Spanish Civil War challenge

The Result: I read a measly miserly 2! I have no excuses – I hang my head in shame.

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge.

The result: I read 6. Despite reading a zillion vintage crime books, I failed to fit these in. I blame the British Library for sending me all the review copies…

g) 24 books first published in 2020 (minimum).

The Result: I only read (to the end) 20 new releases this year. Admittedly I also abandoned an astonishing 15 – mostly for being too woke or for sending me to sleep. Sometimes both. So my failure was not for want of trying! (Am I sounding defensive now? I think I am… 😂)

2) Reduce the TBR

I aimed for an overall reduction of 40 books last year. So…

Target for TBR (i.e., books I own): 165

Result: 193

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 282.

Result: 280

WOOHOO!!! For the second year in a row I’ve met the combined target reduction! This is because I’ve continued to acquire loads that were already on my wishlist, while practising iron self-control to limit additions to the wishlist, with the result that it’s steadily decreasing.

Overall I read 112 books, which is the lowest number since I started recording my reading on Goodreads in 2013, and a lot of them were quite short! My page count was also down but this figure on Goodreads is never accurate since it assumes 100% of the pages in abandoned books and often assumes zero pages for audiobooks, so I tend to ignore it.

I didn’t set a specific target for review copies, but I took a total of 63 which is considerably down on the last few years, though still a bit too high. I’ve cut right down on NetGalley since I’ve found I’ve been abandoning so many new releases, but my favourite publishers have all been super generous with paper copies again this year, despite lockdowns! The number of unread review books at the end of the year has risen slightly from 24 last year to 26 this year.

Despite my see-sawing slumpiness throughout the year, and despite having failed at nearly every target I set myself, overall I feel good about my *ahem* achievements. 

* * * * * * * * *

Resolutions for 2021

After this year’s dire failure to meet almost any of my targets I’m going to try to be a bit more realistic this year. There’s a lot of crossover in these targets…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 72 books that I already own as at today. Although I’m reducing the target, this is still higher than I’ve achieved in the last few years. Lots of the books in the targets below are included in this figure, so it’s not as bad as it seems…

b) 12 books from the People’s Choice Polls, where I reveal a few of the oldest books on my TBR and you, the People, choose which one I should read. I already have the last three you picked lined up to be read in the first three months of the year.

c) 18 books from my Classics Club list. I only have 18 left to go but I’m supposed to finish by mid-summer. I think that’s highly unlikely, so I’m extending the deadline to the end of the year. Doable.

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. These get chunkier as the series goes along, so this might be ambitious, but I’m enjoying them, so we’ll see… 

e) 8 books for the Spanish Civil War challenge. This is the year when finally I intend to get into this challenge properly. If not now, never!

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. I’m sticking with 12 even though I failed so dismally this year. Not sure that I’ll succeed next year either!

g) 36 books first published in 2021 (minimum). I’m really losing touch with contemporary crime and fiction, so am upping this target considerably and am going to make a determined effort to find books that appeal to me. They must be out there, hiding! I’m sure I can do this…

2) Reduce the TBR

Again I’m going for an overall reduction of 40 books this year. So…

Target for TBR: 153

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 240.

If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy… 

Wish me luck!

* * * * *

A GUID NEW YEAR
TAE YIN AND A’!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. So, let’s begin!

The 2019 Results

Last year I did something I’d never tried before. Here’s what I said:

“Basically, I’ve planned my whole year’s reading in advance, leaving just 30 spaces for new releases, re-reads and random temptations. The idea is this will stop me adding gazillions of books I’ll never find time to read, and ensure I’m reading loads of the books I already own. It should also mean I’ll make progress on my challenges. So my resolutions this year are strictly a numbers game and there’s lots of crossover among the categories…”

While of course I didn’t absolutely stick to the plan, overall it did help me to think more about which books to take for review or buy on a passing whim. But did it help me achieve my targets? Let’s find out!

1) Reading Resolutions

I planned to read:

a) 88 books that I already owned as at 1st Jan 2019. 

The Result: I read 60. Although this is way below the target, it’s significantly up on the previous year, when I only read 49.

b) 25 books for the Around the World challenge.

The Result: I read 17. I had hoped to finish this challenge this year, but I had a couple that I didn’t like well enough to include and otherwise generally just… didn’t! 

c) 25 books from my Classics Club list. 

The Result: Ooh, so close! I read 22, and in my defence some of them were chunky! However, that means I’m more or less back on track with this five-year challenge, so I’m happy with this result.

d) 10 books from my sadly neglected 5 x 5 challenge.

The Result: I read a dismal 6 but on the upside I’ve decided to banish John Steinbeck from my TBR for ever, so that reduces the books on the challenge by another three! Overall, I’m really not enjoying this challenge, so will read the books I’ve already acquired for it this year, and then quietly abandon the whole thing.

e) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge.

The result: I read 12! I set the target low last year because I anticipated getting lots of vintage crime for review from the British Library, and indeed I did. For the same reason I’m going to set it low again this year – it might take me years to finish it, if ever, but I’m OK with that.

f) 24 books first published in 2019 (minimum). 

The Result: I only read (to the end) 20 new releases this year. Admittedly I also abandoned an astonishing 14 – mostly crime and some from authors I’ve previously enjoyed. I’m completely out of love with contemporary crime at the moment so will be concentrating more on general fiction for new releases this year.

2) Reduce the TBR

I aimed for an overall reduction of 40 books last year. So…

Target for TBR (i.e., books I own): 185

Result: 205

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 324.

Result: 322

WOOHOO!!! You weren’t expecting that, were you?? Although the Books I Own figure is still above target, this is because I’ve acquired loads that were already on my wishlist at the beginning of the year. But I’ve been practicising iron self-control to limit additions to the wishlist, with the result that it’s way down.

Overall I read 126 books, which is the highest for a few years, mainly because vintage crime books don’t include the 100 pages of compulsory padding that every contemporary crime book has. But my page count was also up according to Goodreads, reflecting the fact, I think, that I’ve taken more blogging breaks than usual this year.

I didn’t set a specific target for review copies, but I took a total of 76, which is higher than I intended but lower than the 98 I took last year and, because I was more selective, way more enjoyable! The number of unread review books at the end of the year has dropped from 30 last year to 24 this year.

So despite missing most of the individual targets by a little each, the overall effect of planning the year ahead was a big success, not only in terms of reducing the TBR/wishlist but, more importantly, in my having one of my most enjoyable and varied reading years for ages.

* * * * * * * * *

Resolutions for 2020

So since I found I liked the whole planning ahead thing, that’s what I’m going to do again this year. There’s a lot of crossover in these targets…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 88 books that I already own as at today. Like last year I probably won’t achieve this, but preparing a list of the interesting books I already own will deter me from randomly acquiring new ones, in theory. Lots of the books below are included in this figure, so it’s not as bad as it seems…

b) 8 books for the Around the World challenge. Only eight left to go in this challenge, which I’ve loved. I should finish it by April or May. 

c) 22 books from my Classics Club list. Ambitious, especially since a lot of the books left on my list are chunky, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my classics reading, so I think it’s doable.

d) 6 books in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. I’ve been trying to re-read this series for three years now and have only read five! So setting a target and including them in my plan should concentrate my mind. 

e) 7 books in a brand new mini-challenge to be announced shortly!

f) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge. Going low again in the hopes that I’ll also get lots of other vintage crime for review during the year.

g) 24 books first published in 2020 (minimum). I do feel that I’m losing touch with new releases because of all these classics and vintage books I’m reading, so I’m going to try to read at least two a month.

2) Reduce the TBR

Again I’m going for an overall reduction of 40 books this year. So…

Target for TBR: 165

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 282.

If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy… 

Wish me luck!

* * * * *

A GUID NEW YEAR
TAE YIN AND A’!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

Friday Frippery! The Story of a Year in Books 2019…

The Disappearing Duck…

(At the end of 2016 and again in 2017, I created stories – if they could be dignified by that name – using the titles of all the books I’d reviewed in the year… in the order I reviewed them! I missed last year, but couldn’t resist seeing if I could do it again this year. As you will see, I’ve been reading an awful lot of vintage crime…)

The colour of murder is splendidly scarlet, especially when the crime is committed in cold blood. Let me tell you one of the local horror stories which happened just before my childhood’s end

It all began with the shop window murder. So, at that time I was a boarder at the Katharina Code School for Wayward Girls, a spooky old place where it was rumoured there were ghosts in the house. It was situated on the wild coast of the Western Highlands, just to the east of Belting Hall and the seashaken houses of the village. Far indeed from where I used to watch the glorious game at weekends, the Arsenal Stadium. Mystery was soon to creep out of the Highland mist and engulf us all.

My cousin Rachel lived in the nearby village. She was engaged to a zookeeper Tarzan, of the Apes House, who was heir to the Belting inheritance. But old Mr Belting’s lawyer and his gang had a dastardly plot to keep the inheritance for themselves. The plotters crept like spiders out of the dark, spinning false rumours to blacken Tarzan’s name. Soon the lost man was being accused of having broken the window of the local bookshop, killed the owner’s pet duck and stolen some festive stationery – the newspapers luridly referred to it as the Christmas Card Crime. And other stories, even darker, circulated about him and a scantily-clad woman named Jane. But love is blind and Rachel was true. The break-through came when they decided to flee to Europe, hoping that one day Tarzan’s reputation would be restored.

But once the police are involved it’s inevitable that the dead shall be raised from their tomb for a post-mortem. For the local constabulary, investigating the murder of a quacking duck provided a welcome break from their only other case – trying to track down the night tiger that, locals claimed, roamed the shore, leaving strange-looking pawprints on the beach. But enough of the riddle of the sands! We shall leave that mystery for another day.

The murder in the bookshop became more baffling when the police dug up the spot where the duck was rumoured to be buried, and found nothing! Now they had no body and no idea what their suspect looked like, since Tarzan wasn’t one for selfies. The police knew nothing about the man with no face except that during his time in America he had survived even the Dakota winters in only a loincloth, suggesting he had either superhuman endurance or really bad fashion sense.

With malice aforethought, the lawyer Humphry Clinker, the adversary of Tarzan, had arranged to meet his gang at the Friday night theatre show in the nearby spa town to divvy up the proceeds of the burglary. Each gave the sign of the four – their secret signal – then went into the theatre bar. Old Roger Ackroyd, always a bletherer, began to tell the others how to pick up a maid in Statue Square, but little Dorrit Smallbone, deceased, (or at least so the feckless police believed), turned a song of Solomon Burke up loud on the juke box to drown him out.

The fourth man, Dunstan Redmayne, was mostly known for the cruel acts he had carried out against the American heiress who once inexplicably loved him. But she had screamed blue murder and threatened to spearhead the clouds of witnesses against him when she learned of his part in the affair of the fair maid of Perth, a well known communist heroine. Following these critical incidents, Dunstan had trapped the heiress in a disused kiln and left her to die. But a brave young airman found her in time and rescued her, sadly then tumbling down into the kiln himself and breaking his neck. The death of an airman has never been more tragic.

But I digress! The spa town of Wakenhyrst was a poor shadow of its grander English rival, Bath. Tangled up in these tales of the death in captivity of the fair maid, or perhaps we should say the death of a red heroine, we mustn’t lose sight of the secret adversary of Tarzan. The man who made this town a dead land was the lawyer himself – a true criminal mastermind. The expedition of Humphry Clinker into his life of crime began when he defended the killers of the Flower Moon Dance Troupe and learned how much he could earn if he just left his morals behind. He became twisted and this led him to mistrust everyone. “Go set a watchman,” he ordered Dunstan now and Dunstan quickly obeyed. He didn’t want his name to be added to the blotting book where Clinker listed those who had crossed him – case histories showed that Clinker’s enemies did not fare well. Johnnie the Elephant’s journey to prison began when he ignored an order of Clinker’s. (Poor Johnnie – no one who saw his nose ever forgot it.)

Dunstan Redmayne’s bank balance was, as usual, in the red. Redmayne’s last attempt to burgle a house had fallen foul of one of the adventures of Maud West, lady detective, who held him at bay for several hours, shooting three bullets at him every 10 minutes 38 seconds. In this strange world where odd coincidences happen, he was saved by a group of UN Peacemakers who chanced to be passing, but he required a pinch of snuff to calm his nerves after those furious hours!

“The tree of death has deep roots” was always a proverb of the Highlanders, especially the women. Of the moon, they said that when it was full in midsummer one could see spectres converging on the shore from left, right and middle, marching from the caves in the heat of the night straight out until they were twenty thousand leagues under the seas. Mister Pip, the famous Scotland Yard detective, thought the Highlanders were a right superstitious bunch! He looked anxiously at his phone, always victim to the menace of the machine, and as he read the story about the mystery of the missing duck the conviction stole over him that the village policeman, Constable Sanditon, had a surfeit of suspects and very few resources to solve the crime. Sanditon had been helpful to him last winter when the famous spy Nada the Lily had nearly evaded capture by hiding out in the mountains. One good turn deserved another, Pip thought, remembering how the observations of the constable had trapped the spy, who came in from the cold rather gratefully in the end.

The town had three churches and Pip arranged to meet Sanditon outside the middle temple. Murder on the beach was what he feared had happened to the poor little duck – a mercy if it had been quick and painless. He shuddered as he remembered the case of Miss Elliot who had been brutally killed during a robbery at her home. Seven men of less than average stature had given the pearl they stole to the leader of their gang, an albino whose skin was snow white. And other tales came back to him too, all showing the infinite variety in the art of murder. In the mill-race at the edge of the village, the water frothed and churned. Too turbulent for ducks, Pip thought as he passed by.

Pip and Sanditon stopped for a beer at The Jewel in the Crown, and talked of the crimes they’d solved in the past, most of them involving bodies. From the library next door Mrs McGinty the librarian emerged, and locked up with the turn of the key. Pip realised it was late and although he’d napped on the train up, felt a great need for the second sleep. It seemed to him anyway that they needed an extra pair of hands on the case. But who should they get to help – that was the question? Mark Pearl, suggested Sanditon. Pearl was noted for his bravery and strength – while in New York, he had apprehended three bad guys single-handed, and was then seen walking wounded all the way to the last exit to Brooklyn. Sadly he had had a recent tragedy. The mother of Pearl had fallen victim to the hour of peril when the village was experiencing a big freeze – she slipped on the icy pavement outside Mrs McGinty’s. Dead, alas! But Sanditon was sure that Pearl would help them watch the river at night for signs of the duck, putting family matters aside. He phoned Pearl but as he was out, spoke to his wife instead. During the long call Sanditon told her about the mystery of the duck – had it gone missing or was it murder? She said she had never heard of such evil under the sun! Busy Mrs Pearl had to ring off then as her sons and lovers demanded her attention.

Pip asked the barman to put their drinks on the slate, then, payment deferred, made his weary way to his hotel. In the bathroom he gazed at the face in the glass, thinking he looked old and wondering whether he might soon be meeting up with St. Peter. Looking out of his window, he saw that the river was busy despite the hour – as well as the swan, gondolas containing lovesick romantics were punting up and down. He also saw old Mr Tarrant looking curiously around him in the evening light. The curious Mr Tarrant spotted him too and shouted “Hey, Mister Pip! Did I hear you were looking for a duck? One flew over the cuckoo’s nest in the trees there just fifteen minutes ago and landed in the deep waters of the village pond.”

While Pip was still mulling over this piece of hopeful news, a text arrived from Constable Sanditon. “Just received a Christmas card from Roger Ackroyd, signed on behalf of Clinker and the gang. It’s one of the stolen cards!” Suddenly everything was clear! Next day Clinker, Redmayne and Smallbone were arrested and charged with burglary. “Lucky for you” said Pip “that we believe the duck may have escaped so I can’t charge you with the murder.” Of Roger Ackroyd, however, nothing more was heard except a rumour that he had fled to the far north and joined a strange cult led by the notoriously deranged mystic, Enoch Powell.

Pip and Sanditon were congratulated by the Chief Constable, Lord Jim Campbell. Rachel and Tarzan returned to the lovely Belting Hall, leaving a darker domain in the French backstreet where they’d been living under a cloud. However, Rachel never forgets the woman in black who gave them lodgings when they most needed it in the wild harbour of Marseilles, and every year she sends her a bottle of the Christmas eggnog she has specially made. Tarzan and Rachel are so happy together they changed the name of the Hall, and now the school buildings are just east of Eden Place. But in the old deserted wing sometimes things fall apart and strange yodelling noises can be heard. Rachel tries not to listen to the old ghost stories the servants sometimes tell…

Oh yes, the duck! Well, having tasted freedom when it flew out through the broken shop window, it decided never to go back, and now it spends its days dabbling in the village pond. But sometimes, when the moon is full and the tide is out, it walks by night on the beach, leaving strange marks that, to a superstitious villager, might be taken for the pawprints of a tiger…

>>>THE END<<<

New Year’s Resolutions aka…

…The Annual Failure Report…

It has become an annual tradition at this time each year that I look back at the bookish resolutions I made last year, confess just how badly I failed, and then, nothing daunted, set some more targets for me to fail at next year. So, let’s begin!

The 2018 Results

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

The Target: Accept no more than 48 for review, and read at least 48, so my backlog at the end of the year should be no more (and hopefully less) than it was at the end of 2017 – i.e., 32.

The Result: Oh! 48! Oh dear, I must have misread that! I seem to have accepted 98! Well, it’s only one number different, right? On the upside, I read (or abandoned) 100, meaning that the outstanding total at the end of the year is now 30.

2) Reducing the TBR

The Targets:

a) Read at least 72 books that were on the TBR at the end of 2017.

b) Buy no more than 36 books during the year.

c) The TBR target for the end of the year to be 170. And the target for the overall figure, TBR plus wishlist, standing at a ridiculous 415 at the end of 2017, to be 360.

The Results:

a) I fear I only managed to read 49 books that were on my TBR at the end of 2017.

b) Even I thought this this one was hilarious! However, I was as strict as possible and managed to keep the number down to a mere 58. So less than double the target – impressive!

c) The TBR total (that is, books I own) stands at a horrific 225! BUT… the overall figure, including wishlist, is down to 364! The mathematicians among you will realise this is because I acquired lots of books that were on my wishlist. I’ve been brutal at controlling additions to my wishlist this year, and it’s paid off!

3) The Challenges

a) Reading the Russian Revolution – I had 5 books to go at the start of the year. I planned to finish this challenge around April/May.

The Result: I did indeed finish this challenge in the early summer and loved doing it. One day I might do a similar challenge. Maybe the Spanish Civil War. Or Europe between the wars…

b) Great American Novel Quest – I planned to restart this once the Russian challenge finished, with a low target of just 4 books in 2018.

The Result: I’ve not been enjoying the American books I put on my Classics Club list on the whole, so have allowed the GAN Quest to lapse. I might revive it from time to time if I read a book that I think meets the criteria – loads of my original list of contenders are still sitting on my TBR.

c) Classics Club – To stay on track with this, I planned to read 24 books in 2018 (and start tackling at least some of the longer ones).

The Result: I nearly made it, but not quite. I read 20 over the year, but I did tackle a few of the longer ones. Overall, that means I’ve caught up a little, but am still a few books behind schedule. However, I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back to some classics reading after years of concentrating on new releases.

d) Around the World in 80 Books – I was about halfway through this one at the end of 2017 and averaging 20 books a year, so that was the target for 2018 too.

The Result: Again, nearly but not quite – I read 16 this year. I’m loving this challenge, though, and have lots of great books lined up for it next year.

e) Murder, Mystery, Mayhem – Targeted 20 books for 2018, on the grounds that this would make this a five year challenge.

The Result: Not even close! I read just 12 of these, mainly because I started receiving lots of other vintage crime novels for review. But I’m enjoying this challenge too, so I don’t mind if it takes longer than I initially planned.

4) Other stuff

I didn’t set targets for anything else, but hoped to fit in some more re-reads and do a bit more catching up with authors and series I’ve enjoyed.

The Result: I re-read 15 books over the year, and 25 that count as “catch-ups”, so I’m quite happy with those figures.

Overall then, while I failed on almost every single count, I somehow feel as if I did pretty well! I’m sure the psychologists would have fun with that…

* * * * *

Resolutions for 2019

I’ve done something I’ve never tried before and I’m not at all sure how I’ll feel about it or if I’ll stick to it. Basically, I’ve planned my whole year’s reading in advance, leaving just 30 spaces for new releases, re-reads and random temptations. The idea is this will stop me adding gazillions of books I’ll never find time to read, and ensure I’m reading loads of the books I already own. It should also mean I’ll make progress on my challenges. So my resolutions this year are strictly a numbers game and there’s lots of crossover among the categories…

1) Reading Resolutions

I plan to read:

a) 88 books that I already own as at today. Since I read roughly 125 books a year, that gives me around 40 spaces to fill with books I either buy or receive for review this year.

b) 25 books for the Around the World challenge. This should complete it this year. I’ve selected all the remaining books now and have already acquired most of them.

c) 25 books from my Classics Club list. Ambitious, but doable, and would bring me up to schedule and even a tiny bit ahead. I already have all of these.

d) 10 books from my sadly neglected 5 x 5 challenge. Again, I already own most of these and anticipate loving them, so why do I keep putting them off for other books?

e) 12 books for the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge, again all ones I already have. I’m going for a lowish figure this year since I’m hoping I’ll still be getting lots of other vintage crime for review.

f) 24 books first published in 2019 (minimum). The downside of my challenges is that I’m reading far less new crime and literary fiction and am beginning to seriously miss it, so I’m going to ensure I read at least two a month.

2) Reduce the TBR

I’m going for an overall reduction of 40 books this year. So…

Target for TBR: 185

Target for combined TBR/wishlist (which is a truer picture): 324.

If I stick to my reading resolutions, it should be easy…

Wish me luck!

* * * * *

HAPPY NEW YEAR
TO ONE AND ALL!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

Friday Frippery! The Story of a Year in Books 2017…

The Assassins…

(Last year I created a story  – if it could be dignified by that name – using the titles of all the books I’d reviewed in the year… in the order I reviewed them! I couldn’t resist seeing if I could do it again this year. My twin obsessions of the year – the Russian Revolution and vintage crime – meant there could only really be one theme…)

Having prepared her design for murder, she began to plan the selection day when the final victim would be chosen. Shunning poison lest the dead wake, she had concealed a bar of cast iron under the headgear she had stolen from Party HQ, the President’s hat – it would be gory no doubt, but effective. She shuddered as she remembered the disaster of the death on the Riviera when the sandlands seemed full of the beautiful dead radio girls, who in fact came round an hour or so later and took bloody revenge on their would-be assassin. Not the Party’s finest hour! No, her mission would be more like the crime at Black Dudley Animal Farm, brutal but certain.

She jumped on her crimson snowmobile and sped to the Volga, where her colleague Maigret and Commissar Titian’s boatman were waiting. The boatman was singing…

(Some music to set the tone – if this doesn’t make you want to throw a revolution, nothing will!)

Hurriedly checking the traveler’s guide, “To Spacevski Prospekt, quickly!” she cried, aware of the irony that that was where the death of Kingsovovichskipopov had sparked the revolution in the first place.

“Ah, Maigret” she said, spotting an extra traveller. “If it isn’t our mutual friend Lorna, one of the good people!”

Maigret and the tall woman settled in the boat. Maigret said “So, FFskova, is it true you’re planning the massacre of mankind?”

“Shhh!” FFskova hissed, glancing round to make sure no members of the White Guard were within earshot. The dry tone of her voice admonished him. “You’ll find out soon enough – I’ll let the dead speak for themselves.”

As they jumped off the boat at Spacevski Prospekt, the time machine on her wrist warned her that Rebecca would soon be arriving on the 12:30 from Croydon. It would have been a dangerous crossing after the accusation that had been made against her, but hopefully she would have brought with her the legacy that had justified her committing the ABC murders. A siren sounded, sending momentary shivers down FFskova’s spine, but she realised it was simply to warn drivers that the cone-gatherers were clearing the traffic cones left after the recent roadworks.

“Sometimes I’d rather be the devil than remember my part in the bloody history of the Russian Revolution,” she thought, “especially the horrific episode of the Cheltenham Square murder. Maybe I should give up being an assassin and run off to the island of Dr Moreau with the tsar of love and techno!” But she knew that if she did she’d be no better than a dead woman walking. Her priest, Father Thomas More, had told her to do penance but she knew it was too late for that. Her face white, tears dropped from her eyes down over her distinctive facial scar. Weather forecasts predicted worsening of the ice which covered the valley. Of fearful thoughts her head was suddenly full.

“Oh, Lorna Doone!” she cried to her old friend. “See what I have done! I feel I should give up the ghost!” “Marriage is the answer,” interrupted the old sexist, Maigret. “We should be able to find you a decent man in that new dating bureau, the House of Names,” he said. She said, as an aside to Lorna, “Metaphorically speaking, Maigret takes a room in the last kingdom, silly old dinosaur! Never mind – I’ve been in England often enough to know how to keep a stiff upper lip.” Jeeves, Maigret’s chauffeur, arrived and, hopping in, Maigret and Lorna drove off.

And then there were none but FFskova herself… and the follower, Lord Fibonacci, who mistakenly thought he hadn’t been spotted. FFskova quickly batted him over the head with the iron bar – a necessary evil but, given his unsavoury reputation as a buddy of Ra-Ra-Rasputin, lover of the Russian Queen, scarcely a people’s tragedy. She knew that she could rely on the Party to provide testimony if she were ever suspected of the murder of the vanishing lord. Perhaps it would go down as one of those miraculous mysteries, or perhaps with luck the tediously annoying Doctor Zhivago would be framed for the murder, the lodger who so annoyed Lenin. The dictator had been saying only yesterday that his lodger better stop spouting depressing Russian poetry or else…

You should have left,” she murmured to the corpse as she shoved it silently into the Volga, “if not for your own sake, then for the comfort of others.” She wasted no further thought on the gowk. Storm clouds were gathering and the river was racing, lessening still further the chances of the police ever finding Fibonacci.

* * * * *

Once the plane had finished the long drop and landed, FFskova saw Harriet disembarking. “Where’s Rebecca?” she asked.

Harriet said with sadness, “Her last job was particularly gruesome, killing all those policemen. After the end of the affair, Rebecca became she who was no more. Her sanity gone, she kept repeating the old nursery rhyme ‘one, two, buckle my shoe‘ till we had to have her incarcerated in the home for Seriously Befuddled Communist Gentlewomen. Now she wanders with her birdcage, walking endlessly around the corridors, murmuring ‘you will know me‘, which is ironic since she doesn’t know herself. I’m afraid it’s the story of classic crime. In 100 books, such is the fate of those destroyed by this job.”

The malice of waves beat against the banks of the Volga. “The word is murder,” FFskova said bitterly. “This Russian Revolution has turned us all into cop haters. A gentleman in Moscow told me it feels like days without end there. One day history will give its verdict. Of twelve of us who were chosen, five are dead, four officially insane, and last I heard, Galina had run off to kill a mockingbird, which makes me think she’s a little doolally too…”

“Indeed, that sounds like a portrait of a murderer. But at least we don’t do it for treasure! Is land worth all this, though? Even the great motherland? I am tired of the unwomanly face of war.” Harriet shook her head despairingly.

“Oh well, never mind!” said FFskova, popping a chocolate truffle into her mouth and cheering up. “We have continental crimes to commit! Put on your disguise – the minister’s black veil and your sword – and let’s get going to Munich. Lenin is a force of nature as you know, and we must carry out his bloody project – Operation Bluebird.” “Bluebird?” said Harriet. “So innocuous sounding! The man is as delusional and conceited as Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows! His visions of empire are as monstrous as anything dreamed up by Frankenstein!” She put on the veil and slung the golden sabre over her shoulder, and they started off on their journey.

(FFskova and the team in basic training)

* * * * *

Some hours later in Munich, the two assassins stuffed four white bodies into the vanishing box which formed part of their kit. The Party would arrange for the corpses to be discovered at the site of the accident on the A35 which they were currently arranging. Meantime, Harriet prepared to go off to commit a murder on the Orient Express, while FFskova got ready to rush back to Moscow to organise a death at the President’s lodging – Lenin had made it clear the pesky Zhivago had to go. Before they parted, FFskova issued some final instructions.

“We shall meet again at Northanger Abbey once this is all over and we have at last reached the end. Of the website for online assassin lessons, there will be no further need. We shall get rid of all copies including the master. Of Ballantrae, we must never speak – that secret foundation was all the idea of Pietr the Latvian, but now all our enemies are eliminated, there will be no need for the genetically modified, man-eating sweet Williams after all.”

And so at last they retired from assassining, leaving a string of crimes unsolved. Soon the assassin training program was unplayable. Lies were told to explain the foreign bodies, and the police, being mere fools and mortals, were left baffled, although FFskova ever afterwards found it hard to look a police officer in the eye. “Of Osiris,” she reminded Harriet, “we must never speak – that code name for the mistletoe murder and other stories of horrific deaths must remain forever secret, known only to us and my secret lover, the man they call the Catcher.” In the rye bottle, Harriet found a welcome oblivion in the years to come, but no alcohol was ever strong enough to dull FFskova’s mental anguish. Only chocolate could do that…

The Catcher

>>> THE END <<<

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again…

…aka New Year’s Resolutions…

So! Last year at this time I set myself some reading resolutions for 2016. Time to see just how badly I did! And then to set myself up for another bout of humiliation next year. Still, you know what they say…’tis better to travel hopefully than to arrive. (I’m pretty sure all these cliché writers had massive TBRs too.)

The 2016 Results

OK, there will be no unseemly laughter, catcalling or crowing, is that clear? Anyone who emits so much as a giggle will be sent to stand in the corner, and a guffaw will earn the perpetrator two hours in the public stocks – I have been collecting rotten tomatoes specially…

No, Darcy, not even you!
No, Darcy, not even you!

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Take no more than 18 books during the year, and reduce the total outstanding at year end from 25 to 12.

The Result: Oh, dear! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Well, I suppose it’s best to get the worst one over with first. Ahem! OK, I took 63 books for review over the year, and I have 30 outstanding at year end, of which 17 are overdue. What can I say? I’m weak! This dramatic failure goes a long way to explain the rest of my results…

shame-gif-1

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

The Result: Er… 8. 66%. Two-thirds. OK, OK – failed!

shame-gif-2

3) Reduce the TBR!

a) Reduce the overall total to 130.

The Result: The final total is… 181!

b) Read at least 35 books that have been on the TBR since 2014 or earlier.

The Result: A miserable… 14!

c) Read at least 45 books that went onto the TBR in 2015.

The Result: So near, and yet… so far! 44!

FAILED! FAILED! FAILED!

shame-gif-6

4) New-to-me authors.

a) No more than 20 books by new-to-me authors to be added to the TBR during 2016.

The Result: I really don’t want to tell you this!! Really!! OK, here goes… 53!!

b) Read at least 20 catch-up books from authors I’ve previously enjoyed.

The Result: Lucky for some! But not me… 13!

shame-gif-4

5) Classics

Read at least 10 GAN Quest novels and at least 5 other classics, including Dickens.

The Result: 7 GAN Quest books read in the year (or abandoned, which is much the same thing), 6 other classics read, including Dickens. Ooh, almost a partial success, but overall… a failure!

shame-gif-7

6) Read at least 12 sci-fi/fantasy novels, mixed between classic and new.

The Result: A totally pathetic… 4!!

shame-gif-5

* * * * *

I am now popping outside for a moment to throw those rotten tomatoes at myself… back soon!

* * * * *

Resolutions for 2017

Right! (Does anyone know how to get tomato stains out?) This year I’m completely confident I’ll achieve all my resolutions… maybe even over-achieve! You do believe me… don’t you? I’m going to try to be a little more realistic this time…

I know you've seen this one before, but I just love it so much!
I know you’ve seen this one before, but I just love it so much!

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Take no more than 36 books during the year, averaging 3 a month, and reduce the total outstanding at year end from 30 to 20, none of which are overdue. This means I’ll be reading roughly 4 a month. If I can stick to that, all the other resolutions should be easy…

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

I’m sticking with that – it seems as if it should be easily achievable. Though I thought that last year too…

3) Reduce the TBR!

a) Reduce the overall total from 181 to 150.

Should be possible, though it will depend on how many books move from the wishlist to the TBR…

b) Read at least 35 books that have been on the TBR since 2015 or earlier.

I currently have a ridiculous 103 books that have been on the TBR for more than a year (because of my addiction to review copies). But realistically it’ll be a slow job to reduce this figure, so I’m only aiming to cut them by a third. With luck I might overachieve on this since a lot of them are classics and GAN books.

c) Read at least 50 books that went onto the TBR in 2016.

I have 78 books outstanding from 2016, including nearly all of my review copy backlog. If I can resist adding so many new books this year, then I should be able to read the majority of these.

This one's just 'cos I needed cheering up!
This one’s just ‘cos I needed cheering up!

4) Classics

Read 20 classics. I’m not completely abandoning the GAN Quest – some of the books on my Classics Club list are Great American Novel contenders, and there are still a few of the last batch on my TBR – but I’m not setting a separate target for this year. 

5) Other Stuff

I’m not setting targets for science fiction, the Around the World Challenge, or catch-up books from authors I’ve previously enjoyed, but I’ll still be aiming to read several from each category. I’ll also be setting myself another little challenge – details next week – but otherwise my main concentration this year will be reading stuff I already have, and trying not to add too many new books.

Wish me luck!

fireworks

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!

Wednesday Witterings – A triumph of hope over experience…

New Year’s Bookish Resolutions

 

darcy overcome

The purpose of resolutions is not to achieve them, but to ensure we remain humble through contemplation of our failures each year. And yet still to show the resilience of the human spirit by going on to set ourselves up for the self-same failure in the next year…

In January I made the foolish move of posting some reading resolutions for the coming year. Join me in contemplating my failure…

 

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Last year I had 17 unread review copies as the year ended. This year I have 25. In total, I have reviewed 76 freebies this year as opposed to 66 in 2014. Hmm…

Failed!

 

2) Make time for re-reads.

9 re-reads in 2015, which is better than the 5 I re-read in 2014, but still not good. Hmm…

Qualified success!

 

3) Reduce the TBR to no more than 70 by the end of the year.

HahahahahahahaHAHAHA! Was I drunk when I made that one? TBR at end of 2014 – 133. TBR at end of 2015 – 160!

rafa federer laughing

Failed!

 

4) Stop reading so many new-to-me authors and catch up on the back catalogues of authors I know I enjoy. (NB Fiction only, since nearly all factual books I read are by authors new to me.)

In 2014, 44 of the books I read were by new-to-me authors. In 2015, the total was 41. Hmm!

OK, catching up on back catalogues. 2014 – a miserable 6. 2015 – a slight improvement – 9!

Minor success!

 

5) Read more classics, including some Dickens and a book a month for the Great American Novel Quest.

Oh, dear! Only 6 books read for the GAN Quest, I fear. But yay! I also read 6 British classics, including Dickens, Austen, Scott and Stevenson. So 12 classics in total. (More, depending on how you define classics – I read a fair amount of classic crime this year which I haven’t included in the count.)

Better than 2014, when I only read 5 GAN Quest novels and 5 other classics. (And very little classic crime.)

Better but still…

Failed!

6) Read more sci-fi/fantasy.

Well, since I only read 3 sci-fi/fantasy books in 2014, this wasn’t a hard target to beat. And in 2015, I read 13!!

WOOHOO! MAJOR SUCCESS!!!

 

Total – 3 failures, 1 qualified success, 1 minor success and 1 major success! I call that a good year… 😉

 

joey

* * * * * * *

So with the enthusiasm inspired in me by not being a total and complete failure, here are my resolutions for 2016…

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

(Read the 25 outstanding which will take until March/April and then no more than 2 a month on average. And have no more than 12 outstanding at the end of the year.) Achievement of this one is crucial in giving me time to achieve any of the rest, so this year I mean it!! Really!!

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

One a month shouldn’t be hard, should it?

3) Reduce the TBR!

OK, let’s be a bit more realistic this year!

a) Reduce the overall total to 130.

b) There are currently 65 books on it dating back to 2014 or earlier. Target – reduce this to 30.

c) That leaves 95 books added to it during 2015. Target – reduce this to 50.

 

tom cruise

 

4) New-to-me authors.

Well, looking at the existing TBR, there are zillions of them, so setting a limit of a number to read this year seems futile. But why should that stop me? I’ll go with… 25!

And… no more than 20 books by new-to-me authors to be added to the TBR during 2016. *gulps*

Increase the number of catching-up-on-existing-authors to a minimum of 20 books (should be easy – they make up the bulk of the TBR and it’s only because of the constant freebies of new releases that they linger there unread.)

5) Classics

Read at least 10 GAN Quest novels and at least 5 other classics, including Dickens. (Classic lit-fic, that is.)

6) Keep going with sci-fi/fantasy, which has dropped back again over the last few months.

Target – 12 minimum, mixed between classic and new.

* * * * * * *

Given that I read on average 120/130 books a year, about 100 of which are fiction, these targets should be achievable and mean that I have room to be as eclectic in my reading habits as usual.

Wish me luck! And stop laughing!!

 

laughing 1

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HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

.

LANG MAY YER LUM REEK!

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edinburgh fireworks

 

Season’s Greetings!

MMidnight in Peking
EEquilateral
RRobeson: An American Ballad
RRight Ho, Jeeves
YYou Have to Tell

CCharles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World
HHound of the Baskervilles
RRubbernecker
I  – Interventions
SSecret Life of William Shakespeare
TThree Men in a Boat
MMy Second Death
AAnd the Mountains Echoed
SStrays

 

christmas book tree

 

AAbsolution
NNoon
DDeath in a Scarlet Gown

AA Princess of Mars

HHow to Fall
AAn Officer and a Spy
PPilgrim Soul
PPU-239 and Other Stories
Y – You

NNearest Star
EEmpire Falls
WWrite Your Own Mystery

YYes, well, I ran out of Ys…
EEnd of Everything
AA Christmas Carol
RRevolutionary Road

 

edinburgh fireworks

 

SEE YOU ALL IN 2015!

 

Out with the old…

Happy Hogmanay, bloggie people!

 

Don’t forget to open the door at the bells (midnight) to let the old year out and the new one in.

And when you go first-footing tonight, be sure to take some traditional gifts…

Some black bun...
Some black bun…nobody eats it, but it’s traditional…
A lump of coal...
A lump of coal…though if you’re coming to my house, feel free to replace this with a big box of choccies…
A wee dram...
A wee dram…or a big one if you prefer…
A tall, dark stranger... (Last picture of Darcy this year - promise!)
And a tall, dark stranger…
(Last picture of Darcy this year – I promise!)

And be ready for the sing-a-long…

A GUID NEW YEAR TAE ANE AN’ A’!

LANG MAY YOUR LUM REEK!