One of my favourite bloggers is once again challenging people to play Reading Bingo and another blogging pal has already played the game. Feeling a little left out I thought I would see how many of the 25 squares I could mark off with my favourite reads of the year. As well as being a bit of fun I realised this is a sneaky way to produce a list that is legitimately much longer than the usual 10. See what I did there?
A book with more than 500 pages
I read two of these (though I suspect some of my audio books would equate to more than 500 pages). I enjoyed C.J. Sansom’s DARK FIRE (595p) very much but I have to highlight Hideo Yokoyama’s SIX FOUR which clocks in at 604 pages. We read this for my face-to-face book club and while we all gently(?) chided the person who selected it I am glad to have read the book. There is a bit too much detail in parts but this story of a missing persons case that tortures one policeman in particular also offers a fascinating exploration of the Japanese media landscape and its office politics. Worth persevering with.
A forgotten classic
I’m not sure if this counts. It’s definitely forgotten and old but is that enough to qualify as a classic? For me, yes. I adored E.M. Channon’s THE CHIMNEY MURDER which was originally published in 1929 and was recently re-issued by a wonderful UK publisher that has as its aim the publication of “Well-Mannered Books by Ladies Long Gone“. I want to hug them for that alone but this book is hug-worthy too. Funny and oddly subversive for its time this one also falls into my women who rock category which should be a bingo square all of its own.
A book that became a movie
I re-read Ruth Rendell’s ROAD RAGE this year. I’m not a huge fan of this series but have always had a soft spot for this one because of its environmental plot line (thereby appealing to my inner greenie). What I noticed this time is that it is amongst that rare breed of crime novel that isn’t primarily concerned with murder (there is a murder but it’s not the main focus of the story). Also I found its exploration of Inspector Wexford’s personal life, brought about because his wife Dora is amongst a small group kidnapped by environmentalists, unexpectedly touching. Must be getting soft in my old age. The book was adapted into a 3.5 hour episode of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries featuring George Baker as Wexford that first aired in the UK in 1998.
A book published
this last year
I read 41 books published in 2016 and a lot of them were jolly good. I have however snuck a few into other categories so will use this opportunity to mention Melina Marchetta’s TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL which I have been pressing upon anyone in my company for longer than a nanosecond since I finished reading it. It is a proper modern thriller full of action, suspense, humour and sadness yet with enough hope to ensure the reader is not left feeling suicidal at the end. It has a very ‘of the moment’ sensibility in that it tackles very topical issues such as the role of social media in the modern world and the complex way we collectively deal with horrendous crimes such as terrorism, but all of this is done intelligently so that the book won’t feel out of date in a year’s time.
A book with a number in the title
I am very happy to have read David Owen’s 13-POINT PLAN FOR THE PERFECT MURDER and not only because it allows me to mark off a particularly pesky square of my bingo card. As I wrote in my review it “is funny, fast and has a fiendishly good plot. You should read it immediately.” I was chuffed to see these words and some more of my gushing included in the praise received pages of the second David Owen novel to be published this year (it’s called ROMEO’S GUN and arrived in my post box on December 23 to prove once and for all that there is indeed a Santa).
A book written by someone under 30
I may have read multiple books in this category but I don’t know it. As someone who goes out of her way not to find out much about the authors who write for my entertainment I have no bloody clue how old most of them are and I was disinclined to spend time asking Google. Especially after it told me that even Hannah Kent, whose second book THE GOOD PEOPLE I read this year and who looks so very young to me, is 31 now! Time does indeed fly. So the only way I can officially check this box on my bingo card is to use Mickey Spillane’s I, THE JURY which was published when the author was 29 (in 1947). However this is by way of a negative recommendation. Do. Not. Read. This. Book. If you see a copy in your travels do the world a favour and slip it into the nearest shredder.
A book with non-human characters
Not being one for books involving talking cats or paranormal beings this category is a bit of a struggle for me. I could of course mention Ellery Adams’ delightful LETHAL LETTERS, the sixth of her novels to feature a North Carolina writing group, the murders they encounter and a standard poodle called Haviland who, though he doesn’t actually talk, manages to communicate more effectively than many who have the power of speech. But I’m going to take a bit of leeway and highlight Doug Johnstone’s THE JUMP. The bridge you can see on the cover is the most influential character in this fantastic book about finding a way back from the abyss of a child’s suicide.
A funny book
I’m a bit worried this proved a difficult square to mark off. I’ve got plenty of eligible books on my TBR (Hiassen, Brookmyre, Bateman…) but this year I seem to have been pulled towards books about grief and tragedy and other un-funny topics. However I did laugh out loud more than once when reading Emily Arsenault’s WHAT STRANGE CREATURES. As she tries to get her brother off a murder charge the book’s main character – Theresa Battle – provides a narrative of self-deprecating observations about her life that I found really engaging and quite Austen-like which sits well with the book’s title.
A book by a female author
Sad that this category is probably hard for some readers. A good one for me though as 66 of the 103 books I read this year were by women writers. I’m highlighting Emily Maguire’s AN ISOLATED INCIDENT which I have been unable to shoe-horn into any of the other bingo squares and I have to include it in my list. It ostensibly another story of a murdered pretty girl but quickly turns subversive and is actually about the impact of the death on those left behind. Its heroine is a barmaid and amateur prostitute. She’s fabulous.
A book with a mystery
Officially the easiest of squares for my to mark off my card as I read less than a dozen books that wouldn’t qualify. Blush. Larry D. Sweazy’s SEE ALSO MURDER has truly haunted me. I keep thinking of its heroine – Marjorie Trumaine – and her no nonsense way of dealing with the crappy things life throws at her (these include a paralysed husband who wants to die, her nearest neighbours being brutally murdered and the fact that wintering in North Dakota in 1964 sounds darned cold and miserable). But Marjorie is an indexer and an old-fashioned trooper (another candidate for the missing women who rock category) and the book is wonderfully melancholic without being depressing.
A book with a one-word title
I’ll give an honourable mention to Robert Harris’ CONCLAVE which I had a few lapsed-Catholic related issues with but overall enjoyed (especially the narration of the audio book). But I’m using this square of my bingo card to highlight Karin Fossum’s HELLFIRE. It was one of two of her books I read this year and absolutely cemented her place in my very favourite authors list. Fossum is not one for car chases and axe-wielding psychopaths. Instead she shows us the cruel tricks fate can play on us all and ponders how seemingly tiny decisions can have everlasting consequences.
A book of short stories
Ok I’m going to cheat a bit here because I don’t like short stories much (they’re so short). But on Christmas Eve I did decide to get into the seasonal spirit and read Elly Griffiths’ RUTH’S FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE which is a short story she released as a freebie for fans of her Ruth Galloway series in 2012. It was cute and had plenty of Cathbad though did leave me wanting more. Which is, of course, the problem.
The last square to fill and in some ways the most difficult but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the first book I read in 2016: Emma Viskic’s RESURRECTION BAY. It’s short and funny and genuinely thrilling and its characters – fallible and imperfect all – are truly memorable. I am not alone in my opinion as the book won several awards this year including the Davitt Award for best adult fiction and the Ned Kelly Award for best first fiction.
A book set on a different continent
Again I am spoiled for choice as I read 73 books set somewhere other than Australia this year. But this square is going to Shamini Flint’s A DEADLY CAMBODIAN CRIME SPREE which sees the series’ Singaporean protagonist sent to Cambodia to observe a war crimes tribunal. It is just about my perfect crime novel. It has well developed characters, a strong sense of place and explores interesting – if at times confronting – social and historical themes without making me feel like I’m at a lecture.
A book of non-fiction
I only read one of these this year (blush) but happily it was by Helen Garner who never disappoints. THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF made me equally sad and angry in its description of yet more innocent lives lost to the immature emotions of a saddo bloke (3 children driven into a damn by their father and left to drown while he escaped) and its exposing of some failures of the legal system. At times it required the application of multiple tissues and may have resulted in a couple of real-world rants about injustice but it reminded me what a bloody treasure Garner is.
The first book by a favourite author
I re-read Sulari Gentill’s wonderful first novel A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN when it came out in audio format this year. It was just as good as the first time around with the added bonus of a narration by Rupert Degas. I am in danger of Sulari Gentill taking out a restraining order against me because I gush at and about her so much but I do love this series about friendship and doing what’s right even when…especially when…it’s hard. While I was twitter-stalking her Sulari told me that Rupert Degas has been booked to narrate the whole series so I have many more hours of enjoyment to look forward to.
A book you heard about online
Australian Women Writers Challenge founder Elizabeth Lhuede first brought Olga Lorenzo’s THE LIGHT ON THE WATER to my attention with this review. It is an absolutely riveting book about a life – a seemingly ‘normal’ life – that went horribly wrong without any warning. How did former journalist and suburban mum Anne Baxter end up in a prison cell? It is beautifully written and an absorbing character study. Thanks Elizabeth.
A best-selling book
According to several lists, including this one based on sales figures from Australia’s biggest bookstore chain, Jane Harper’s debut novel THE DRY is right amongst the best sellers for the year. At least in the case of Dymocks’ list that’s not just best-selling Australian books either. For once I am in agreement with the majority opinion: it’s an absolute cracker of a read in which there are no blood-thirsty psychopaths. Only ordinary people with secrets they want to keep hidden. And, of course, there’s the weather.
A book based on a true story
In 2008 an Aboriginal elder was essentially baked to death in the back of a prison transport van in Western Australia after being picked up for drink-driving. Peter Docker’s SWEET ONE takes this horrendous truth as the basis for a riveting, imaginary tale of justifiable vengeance. For a white, city-living woman it is awkward and confronting but should be mandatory reading for all Australians. An honourable mention in this category to Jane Jago’s THE WRONG HAND which sensitively addresses the topic of children who commit unthinkable crimes. I know we’d all like to pretend such things don’t happen but that really isn’t the answer.
A book at the bottom of your TBR pile
Denise Mina’s standalone novel SANCTUM had been sitting at the bottom of my TBR since 2009! It’s a standalone novel and I liked that. Also like that Mina tries different things rather than sticking with a formula. It is the story of a man discovering that his wife is not who he thought she was and I was impressed that even though I didn’t particularly like Lachlan Harriot I was gripped by the exploration of his world.
A book your friend loves
I don’t want to come across as some kind of crazy stalker lady (again) but I’m going to claim author and blogger Angela Savage as a friend. At least of the online variety. It was Angela’s raving about Jock Serong’s THE RULES OF BACKYARD CRICKET that prompted me to go out and buy it. I then recommended it for my book club because you guys told me to. And now it’s vying for the spot at the top of my list of favourite noir novels of all time (Ken Bruen’s THE DRAMATIST has had a chokehold on that spot for years but now…). The book gets everything it tackles just right, including brothers and cricket in all its guises, and it made me feel sympathetic towards a sort of person I would otherwise sneer at (overpaid sports star who can’t control himself).
A book that scares you
Amanda Ortlepp’s RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE is scary on two fronts. Firstly it depicts someone having to move from the city to a very small country town. I am a city girl down to my bones (it’s all about the anonymity for me). The year I spent living in semi-country New South Wales (North Richmond in the late 80’s for those playing at home) is the least favourite year of my life and the prospect of having to make a permanent move to a place everyone knows everyone genuinely terrifies me. Secondly it’s a darned good suspense novel as it depicts things going worryingly wrong for Erin Travers and her family in their new home. Ortlepp does a great job of making everyone appear potentially murderous.
A book that is more than 10 years old
Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE was first published under a less politically correct title in 1939. The book’s premise is, basically, that anyone is capable of committing murder and not just because they need to protect a loved one as might be ‘allowable’. This is one to recommend to people who dismiss Dame Christie as a writer of fluffy logic puzzles. This is about as dark as crime fiction gets.
The second book in a series
Playing catch-up I read the second and third of Hans Olav Lahlum’s Norwegian historical mysteries this year. The second in the series is THE SATELLITE PEOPLE and it’s a treat. It is an homage to the golden age of detective fiction but with deeper characterisation than you might expect and it builds its own series characters up nicely.
A book with a blue cover
There are not as many options for this as I’d have thought but even though its cover is not entirely blue I cannot do a list of the year’s favourite reading without including Lou Berney’s THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE. A book of shared perspectives: two people attempting to deal with, or hide from as the case may be, past tragedies in their lives. Full of humour and heart.
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So in the end and with only a smidgen of rule-bending I am able to declare BINGO on 2016’s reading.
And once again reflect on the fact that I think I’d be in a padded room by now if it wasn’t for all the fabulous people – authors, narrators, translators, editors, people who empty the rubbish bins at publishing companies – who ensure I am supplied with such great reading. A heartfelt thanks to you all.
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What about you? Any favourites for 2016 that you want to share? Things I should be adding to my own 2017 list? How many squares could you mark off your own Reading Bingo card?