Halloween Bingo Update #1

The State of the Card:

I switched up my markers a bit. The owl is the marker for “read” squares, and the moon/cat is the marker for “called + read.” There is also a marker for “called but not read,” but I don’t have any of those yet. The only call that has been on my card so far is Ghost Stories.

I have finished three books so far:

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik: I read this for the Dark Academia. It came pretty close to a DNF, because I wasn’t crazy about it at the beginning. I didn’t find any of the characters very engaging until about 40%, when it hooked me. I ended up really liking it, and I will definitely continue with the series.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie: I read this for Country House Mystery. This is a beloved Christie, and it will get the full review treatment sometime this month.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: This is another take on Dark Academia, although I read it for Ghost Stories. It was another slow starter, but I really loved the second half. It’s a twisty tale set at Yale, in New Haven. It is pretty much begging for a television adaptation.

I started a fourth book, The Quincunx by Charles Palliser, but I’m just not feeling it right now, so I’m going to set it aside. It’s definitely the sort of thing that I like, so I’ll come back to it eventually.

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie

Publication information: this is Agatha Christie’s 11th full-length mystery, published in the UK by Collins Crime Club on September 7, 1931. It was published in the U.S. that same year by Dodd, Mead & Company under the title Murder at Hazelmoor.

The Sittaford Mystery is a stand-alone, with only a single character who appears in more than one Christie – Inspector Narracott also makes an appearance in a radio play called Personal Call, which is part of an audio anthology called Agatha Christie: the Lost Plays. If you are interested, you can find it on Audible here.

I have read The Sittaford Mystery several times – four at least. I always enormously enjoy it, and this was no exception to that rule. Agatha is at her most playful here, incorporating a number of Sherlock Holmes-ish elements, including a seance, an escaped convict and the Dartmoor landscape.

She sets the book during a notable snow-storm – the book opens on a snowy evening party at Sittaford House, which is being rented by a mother-daughter pair of Australians. This makes The Sittaford Mystery a perfect winter reading escape – I was actually reading it at the wrong time of year altogether. I do remember that my last reading of the book occurred as part of a family winter holiday. My daughter & I listened to it on a drive between our home in the Portland area and the Bend area of Oregon, which was sheer perfection. The roadsides were white and piled with snow, and we drove in a very light snow, so that there weren’t safety issues, but there was added atmosphere for the Hugh Fraser audiobook.

Snow on the Tors

Back to the beginning of The Sittaford Mystery, though. Looking for entertainment, the party, which introduces many of the characters, decide to indulge in a spot of table-turning. The “spirit” who contacts them claims to be Captain Trevelyan, the owner of Sittaford House, where the party is taking place. Captain Trevelyan is spending the winter in a nearby town, because he wanted the money offered by Mrs. Willett to take Sittaford House for the winter. He is supposed to be very much alive at the moment of the table turning. The spirit’s announcement becomes even more dramatic – with a claim that he, Captain Trevelyan, has been murdered.

This all happens very early in the book, so it’s not a spoiler. It’s a cracking opening, though, and is immediately intriguing.

The announcement that Captain Trevelyan has been murdered has quite an effect on the table-turners. His best friend, Major Burnaby, who was reluctantly drawn into the table-turning enterprise, is shaken against his will. He decides that he needs to get to Exhampton to make sure that Trevelyan is all right. The conditions are terrible, deep snow and more snow falling with a blizzard expected. The roads are impassable so driving to Exhampton is out of the question. Nonetheless, Major Burnaby is the sporty type, so he takes off on foot, for the two and a half hour walk through the snow. He finds Captain Trevelyan murdered.

I’m not going to spoil this book because Agatha’s puzzle mysteries are such fun. I almost never figured them out the first time through. I don’t remember if I figured this one out or if it was wholly baffling.

I want to talk about bit about two of my favorite characters in the book, though. First, a mention of Inspector Narracott, our Inspector du Livre, who is very well-drawn and likeable. He is no bumbler – he comes to Sittaford to solve the mystery, and is quite capable. It’s a bit of a pity that Agatha never really used him again.

The life and soul of this book, though, is Emily Trefusis, whose fiance, James Pearson, is one of Captain Trevelyan’s heirs. It seems that the good Captain is quite well-off, and, as well, is a woman-hater so he has no wife or children to stand in the way of his siblings – and their children, inheriting a packet. Each of the four heirs are quite hard up, and they all stand to gain approximately 20K pounds.

This is a tidy sum – according to a calculator I just used, 20K pounds in 1931 had the equivalent purchasing power of 1.4M pounds today. For American readers, that’s almost 2M dollars.

Motives everywhere! Anyway, back to Emily Trefusis, who is delightful. Over the many years that I have read Christie’s books I have found that some of her best characters are young women, and Emily Trefusis is a firecracker. She is resourceful and, at times, manipulative. She is a very capable young lady who is determined to clear her boyfriend’s good name, as he has been arrested for the murder. He’s a weak, albeit attractive, young man and is but clay in her hands – her plan is to marry him and make him into a success.

I have no doubt that she will prevail in any endeavor she undertakes. Because Emily Trefusis is a force of nature. Not everyone will connect with her character, but I absolutely do. There was a time in my life, before I raised kids, had a career for 30 years, and was worn down by life, when I, too, was a force of nature. I didn’t need to manipulate a man to fulfill my ambitions, because I have the good fortune of having been born in 1966 instead of 1911 and could do for myself. I don’t hold Emily’s fierceness against her, even when she uses it to manipulate the men around her. Which she does, very effectively.

This being a Christie, there is a love triangle between Emily and her two suitors: the afore-mentioned, somewhat wet, James Pearson and the not-at-all-wet Charles Enderby, a journalist who comes to town to deliver a prize to Captain Trevelyan for winning some sort of a puzzle competition and stays for the murder investigation. Emily very openly uses Enderby to accomplish tasks that she isn’t able to manage by dint of her status as a young woman. Also this being a Christie, Emily chooses between them by the end, and will go off and be married, never to be seen or heard from again (which is really too bad. A mid-career visit from a mature Emily Trefusis would have been a sight to behold).

The Sittaford Mystery isn’t Christie’s best work – but it’s an enjoyable mystery with a great setting and some wonderful characters.

Reading plans for 2021

It’s that time of year again – I start thinking ahead to next year’s reading plans and goals. I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I had hoped in this year of reading, although I read a lot. I started with a goal of 150 books, and have increased it to 200 books. I am sitting at 187 right now, having just finished rereading Gaudy Night.

I’m really excited about my plans for 2021. My favorite Goodreads Group is trying something new with some selected quarterly “authors-in-residence.” The schedule is:

First Quarter: Alexandre Dumas & Stella Gibbons
Second Quarter: John Steinbeck & Ursula LeGuin
Third Quarter: Virginia Woolf & Philip Roth
Fourth Quarter: Mrs. Oliphant & Isaac Asimov

In addition to the authors-in-residence, I will be reading a number of books by John Steinbeck, since I have adopted him as my next author study. I am still not quite finished with Willa Cather, but I’m so close that it’s time to pick a new one. Fortunately, he managed to make it into the second quarter author-in-residence slot, so I can do double duty.

I will also be continuing with my Agatha Christie monthly reads:

January: 1924 The Man in the Brown Suit
February: 1925 The Secret of Chimneys
March: 1926 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
April: 1927 The Big Four
May: 1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train
June: 1929 The Seven Dials Mystery
July: 1930 The Murder at the Vicarage
August: 1931 The Sittaford Mystery
September: 1932 Peril at End House
October: 1933 Lord Edgware Dies
November: 1934 Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
December: Murder on the Orient Express

On the Agatha Christie Centenary Celebration group on Goodreads.

I am not sure if I will be doing any blog challenges or not. For years, I did the Back to the Classics challenge on my blog, and I’ve sort of gotten out of the habit. I’m not even sure if the challenge will continue in 2021, but I’ll try to track down the information when it gets a little bit closer.

I will update my plans as I develop them further!

Throwback Thursday: 2013

I have started migrating a lot of posts and other bookish stuff over here from other places, including my challenge lists for the last 7 years, starting with 2013. They are currently in one of two places: Booklikes or Goodreads. With the Booklikes instability, I feel like I need to get whatever I want to save over here before it is too late.

So, over on the sidebar of the blog, you can see a widget that will ultimately house the more or less complete record of my reading since 2013 – it’s currently a work in progress. I say “more or less” because I’ve never been all that diligent about making sure that I keep my challenge completely up to date. But even a good record is better than no record at all.

So, for Throwback Thursday, I’ll be selecting some older posts or book updates to repost over here. Today, I’m going all the way back to 2013!

Title: Burial Rites
Author: Hannah Kent
Published on September 10, 2013
Read: November 2013

What I wrote then: This was my favorite book of November. I really recommend it. It is a historical fiction set in Iceland in the 1800’s, and is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, a woman who has been convicted of murder and is scheduled for execution. There is no place to house her, so she is sent out to a farm to live out her final days before execution.

Hannah Kent based the book on the true story of the last woman who was executed in Iceland in 1830. There is no happy ending, of course, but the book is well-worth reading. It is a bleak tale, but is well-written and compelling.

What I think now: I stand by this recommendation and I still remember this book. It has stayed with me.

Title: Death and the Girl Next Door
Author: Darynda Jones
Published October 2, 2012
Read July, 2013
What I wrote then
: A decent beginning to a new series.

Stronger at the start than at the end. I enjoyed the characters a lot, I really liked Brooklyn and Glitch. The family dynamic with the grandparents was delightful. No DLT.

I am not, however, a huge fan of angel stories so I’m not sure if this will be sustainable for me. The ending, with the reveal of the Sanctuary, which is a bit too cultish, and the whole demon possession thing didn’t really work for me.

I snagged this one for 2.99 during a sale period. It was definitely worth the $3.00 I paid for it, and I will read the sequel. I hear really good things about Darynda Jones’s adult series, so maybe I’ll try that one next and see how they compare.

What I think now: I have never read another book by Jones, so I guess I wasn’t that interested.

Title: How To Lead A Life of Crime
Author: Kirsten Miller
Published on February 21, 2013
Read June, 2013

What I wrote then: A stand-alone! This is an Oliver Twist’esque tale with a snappy and brilliant protagonist named Flick. The grownups are all venal hypocrites, the students manipulated jackasses. Over all, though, it was an entertaining read.

Surprise ending. Nice.

What I think now: I barely remember this book, but I do remember that it was a fun read.

Title: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Published April 2, 2013
Read June, 2013

What I wrote then: Are there really people like this in the world? Because I may be from a small town, but frankly, there wasn’t a single character in this book who wasn’t a self-absorbed, materialistic, pain in the ass. It’s a fantastic read, very involving, but they all suck. Except the detective. He actually seemed pretty nice.

What I think now: This was one book in a long trend of authors writing about awful people with no redeeming characteristics, started by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl. I’m over the trend and have forgotten everything about this book except that I hated nearly everyone in it.

Re-Joining the Classics Club!

I previously joined The Classics Club back in September of 2012, with a list of 50 books to read by December, 2017. I easily hit that goal, back on August 30, 2015. At that point, I was blogging on a different blog, which was self-hosted. I recently shut down that one after republishing everything onto a free blog. You can find my challenge list here, as well as my finish line post, which identifies all of the books, and a short recap of the project.

When I was considering projects for this blog, I decided to rejoin the Classics Club, with another 50 classics to read in 5 years. The project officially commences on 12/1/2018 and will finish on 11/30/2024. You can find the list of classics under the tab at the top of the blog, which you can also find here. In keeping with this blog theme, they were all written by women.

Back to the Classics 2019

Karen @ Karen’s Books and Chocolate has decided to host the Back to the Classics Challenge again next year! You can find her announcement post, with the newest round of categories, here.

While I will likely make changes to this list, I thought I’d put together a first round of ideas for the categories. I am planning to read all women authors for this challenge, to fit into the theme of this blog:

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899. My initial impulse is to read something by Elizabeth Gaskell – possibly Cranford. The other possibility would be to reread Middlemarch by George Eliot.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969: There are so many choices here! I think I’ll read something mid-century British for this one: Dorothy Whipple, Barbara Comyns, E.M. Delafield, etc.

3. Classic by a Female Author. Since everything I am reading will be by a female author, this category is totally open for me! I’ll decide how to fill it down the road a bit!

4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language: I have been meaning to read Sigrid Undset’s Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy for several years. I think I will read the first installment for this category – The Wreath, which was published in 1920.

5. Classic Comedy. Any comedy or humorous work. Humor is very subjective, so if you think Crime and Punishment is hilarious, go ahead and use it, but if it’s a work that’s traditionally not considered humorous, please tell us why in your post. I don’t read very much comedy. I’m thinking of one of the Peter Wimsey mysteries, by Dorothy Sayers, for this category, since I find them frequently quite funny. Or maybe Angela Thirkell. Her Chronicles of Barsetshire are usually witty and satirical.

6. Classic Tragedy. Tragedies traditionally have a sad ending, but just like the comedies, this is up for the reader to interpret. I am definitely reading something by Edith Wharton for this category – possibly a reread of The House of Mirth.

7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes: I love really long, doorstopper style books. I’m considering the Middlemarch reread for this one. Pretty much anything by Eliot would work, except for Silas Marner.

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages: I don’t read shorter works, so I’m going to have to look around for something for this one.

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classic set in either continent or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries: The easy thing to do would be to pick an American classic, but that seems sort of cheaty, so I’m going to look for something from the Caribbean or South America.

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Any classic set in one of those contents or islands, or by an author from these countries: I am planning to read one of Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn mysteries for this category – Ms. Marsh was born in New Zealand. Alternatively, I may read Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career.

11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you’ve lived: I struggled with this one a little bit until I remembered Willa Cather. I was born in Nebraska, which is also the setting for her classic My Antonia. I’ve read it before, but not for many years, and I’ve long been considering a rereard.

12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only. This category is always a struggle for me because I don’t like reading plays. I’m going to try Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and see if I have any more success with a mystery!

Welcome to All The Vintage Ladies

Back in 2012 or so I started a classics club project, which was focused on reading 50 classics in 5 years. I finished that project on August 1, 2015, and did a recap where I noted that 42% of the books read were women authors.

Around the same time, I started seeing posts and discussions and tweets and what not about reading women authors. I’ve always read women authors, but both of these things combined to make me more aware of my reading habits. At around the same time, again, I started seeing publishers taking long out of print books and getting them back into print, at least as e-books.

This is a place to keep track of my now lengthy reading “project” to read vintage women authors. This includes classics – Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Gaskell – but it also includes authors of older popular fiction, suspense and romance – Mary Stewart, Helen Macinnes, Phyllis Whitney – as well as middlebrow, wartime (WWI and WWII) and interwar women writers – D.E. Stevenson, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Fair. And not to forget women who wrote YA and MG fiction, such as Madeleine L’Engle, Eleanor Estes and Edith Nesbit. Finally, women have written some of the best mystery fiction of their various times: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Patricia Wentworth, Anna Katherine Green, and more recently, Ruth Rendell and P.D. James.

We think of the literary canon as including a disproportionate number of dead white guys. As a place to start, I’ve compiled a list of 101 classic (i.e., dead) women authors whom I intend to read over the next five years, which I’m calling the 101 Dead Women project. In addition, I’ve seen other bloggers doing “Century Project” where they read one book from each year of the twentieth century, which I will adapt by only reading women. In order to up the difficulty, I’m not going to overlap the two projects. Each book will only count for one project.

This is a work in progress. I have a lot of content on the blog I am abandoning that I will be migrating over here, so there may be posts that were published on a previous blog.

But, welcome to All The Vintage Ladies!