Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A Look towards the Future - 2017 Reading Challenges?

I took a look at my BLog the other day and realised that I have sorely neglected my Reminiscences section. I'm not sure why, maybe because I haven't many photos of that particular time, maybe partly because my time in Ottawa, from 1981 - 1989, wasn't necessarily the happiest time I spent in the military. I will try to get back to that thread in the near future, I hope. :).. I also will get back to my update of the shelving we have in our house, updating how I've moved around and changed the book portions. I know you can't wait, eh?

I did find myself, the other day, starting to think of possible 2017 Reading Challenges. I guess that's because I've had such success this past year with them. I am almost finished my overall Goodreads' challenge of reading 100 books this year. As of today, I have completed 95 books, so should finish that by early September. I'm also almost finished my various Individual Reading Challenges and my 2nd 12 + 0 challenge, so I think for October through December, I will, for the most part, just read 'freebies'. So, that's what got me thinking a bit about 2017. These are some of my initial ideas.

2017 Reading Group Challenge - 12 + 4 (I'm basing this on the assumption that my Book Addicts group will continue with this challenge, as it's been going on for a long time, at least as long as I've been there). So I'm thinking that my 12 + 4 will be focused on Science Fiction and its permutations; Fantasy, Horror, Dystopic Future, Alternate History, that sort of thing. I started making up a list of Authors/ Books I have on my bookshelf in those categories, and just reaching the 'H's, I have 27 authors, plus more books by them. Of course, I will read some of them by years' end, but here are a few possible books....

1. Concrete Island by J.G. Ballard. I have three unread J.G. Ballard books on my shelves, Concrete Island, Running Wild and Vermilion Sands. Ballard is one of the most unique, strange writers that I've experienced. Take the synopsis of Concrete Island, for example.

"On a day in April, just after three o'clock in the afternoon, Robert Maitland's car crashes over the concrete parapet of a high-speed highway onto the island below, where he is injured and, finally, trapped. What begins as an almost ludicrous predicament in Concrete Island soon turns into horror as Maitland - a wickedly modern Robinson Crusoe - realises that, despite evidence of other inhabitants, this doomed terrain has become a mirror of his own mind. Seeking the dark outer rim of the everyday, Ballard weaves private catastrophe into an intensely specular allegory."

Ballard can definitely be hit or miss, but he is a unique, interesting writer.

2. Looking to Windward by Iain M. Banks. Iain M. Banks has become one of my favourite writers. An author of both fiction, the strange but fascinating The Wasp Factory, for example and also of some of the best Science Fiction that I've ever read, especially his Culture books, I'm pretty sure that I'll continue with the Culture books as one of my 12 + 4 challenge books. It offers such an interesting world for you to explore. Look to Windward was the 7th book in this series. I may try to find an earlier book in the series, but they can pretty well be read as one-ofs. This is the synopsis of this book.

"It was one of the less glorious incidents of a long-ago war. It led to the destruction of two suns and the billions of lives they supported. Now, eight hundred years later, the light from the first of those ancient mistakes has reached the Culture Orbital, Masaq'. The light from the second may not."

3. Red Rising by Pierce Brown. This is a trilogy that many of my Goodreads' friends have read and liked. I finally found the first two books this past month and look forward to starting it. I may read this first before year's end, but if I do and like it, then the second book will be on my list for 2017. This is the synopsis of Red Rising.

"Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow reds, he spends his days working below ground, believing that the blood and sweat of his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Discovering that humanity colonised the surface generations ago - establishing vast cities and lush wilds - Darrow realises that he and his fellow Reds are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Driven by a longing for justice and the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity's overlords struggle for power., There he will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilisation against the best and most brutal of Society's elite. But he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if he must become one of them to do so."

and a few other ideas...

4. The Fog by James Herbert;
5. The Bad Seed by William March;
6. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz;
7. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson;
8. Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Needless to say, I've got a few to choose from, but I think this might be the perfect challenge for my 12 + 4.

Individual Reading Challenges

I'm thinking that I might just focus on my countless mysteries as my Individual Challenge and leave all my other genres as a catch-all in my Individual Challenge this year. I have so many new and ongoing series on my shelves; I filled up 3 pages of mystery authors as I considered this challenge. I think that what I might do in 2017 is have a Cop vs. Sleuth challenge, with no limit on how many books I complete in this challenge. If I can read 75 or so books, it'll make a little dent in my mysteries, well, maybe a small one anyway. It will give me a chance to read some of my ongoing series and also to try some new books. These are a few possibles in this challenge.

Cops

1. The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison (Inspector Shan). This is the first book in this series. If I manage to read it before year's end, I may try the second, which is already on my bookshelves, that being Water Touching Stone. I do enjoy mysteries set in Asia.

2. Bangkok Haunts by John Burdette (Sonchai Jitpleecheep #3). This is the 3rd book in this excellent series. I enjoyed the first two very much, a mix of mystery and Thai culture and mysticism.

3. Looking Good Dead by Peter James (Inspector Grace #2). This series is set in Brighton, England. It's been awhile since I tried this series and I'm looking forward to delving into Roy Grace's mysteries and life once again.

4. Wycliffe and the Tangled Web by WJ Burley (Wycliffe #15). I've read 5 books in this series and have another 8 or so sitting on the bookshelves in our bathroom upstairs. If I choose this series, I may pick an earlier book in the series, such as Death in Stanley Street. It's an excellent series set on the Southwest coast of England.

And other possibles..

5. Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen series set in Italy;
6. Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond series set in Bath, England;
7. Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series set in Italy;
8. Malla Nunn's Inspector Cooper series set in South Africa
9. Stanley Evan's Seaweed series set in Victoria, Canada;
10. Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series set in the USA.

I include any type of law enforcement professional in this category, such as Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon, a US Park Ranger or Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhymes, a forensic scientist contracted to the police, or Kathy Reich's Temperance Brennan, a forensic pathologist.

Sleuths

In this group, you've got the classics, like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot plus others that I've discovered as I've perused the Mystery genre.

1. Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe - I finally read a Nero Wolfe mystery this past year, a collection of 3 short stories and enjoyed them very much. I've got a few others on my bookshelf now, awaiting my attention.

2. Victoria Thompson's Gaslight mysteries - In truth, this series could fit in either the Sleuth or Cop category. The focus is on turn of the century midwife, Sarah Brandt, but she is helped by or helps, however you want to look at it, by New York policeman Frank Molloy as they try to solve murders in New York city. I may read one for both categories.

3. Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy series - I used to watch the TV series any time I went to England on visits. It starred Ian McShane as a shiftyish antique dealer who finds himself involved in various mysteries as he hunts down unique antiques. It didn't hurt that the series also starred Phyllis Logan as the lovely Lady Jane and later on, Caroline Langrishe as Charlotte Cavendish. I only recently realised that the series was based on a series of books by Jonathan Gash. I'm looking forward to seeing how good the books are and hunting down more.

4. Laurie R. King's Mary Russell - I read the first book in this series about 10 year ago, that being The Beekeeper's Apprentice. It features one Mary Russell and her companion, Sherlock Holmes. It was an interesting concept and first book. I started picking up the next books but never actually continued reading them. This is another series I'm looking forward to making a dent in, maybe even this year.

and some others....

5. Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs - I read the first book in this series this past year and enjoyed very much. Maisie Dobbs is a budding Private Investigator just setting out on her own shortly after the end of WWI. She is dealing with experiences from the war as well as solving mysteries. Quite an enjoyable first book.

6. Nicola Upson's Josephine Tey - This will be a new series for me. Nicola Upson features mystery writer, Josephine Tey (whose books I've read) in this series, which might make for an interesting idea.

7. Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher - I've enjoyed the TV series and the first few books in this series set in Australia, lots of fun and adventure.

8. John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee - I've read the first 4 or 5 books in this hard-boiled detective series and it's about time I got back into it.

So there you go, my first look ahead to my 2017 reading challenges. Now to get back to the present..

Enjoy your week!!!


Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Mystery / Thrillers - Canadian Style

I'm currently sitting in the den, enjoying the view and preparing this Blog. Upstairs, the missus and Clyde, one of our pups, is watching Olympic synchronized diving. Bonnie, our other pup, is on the front hall landing, protecting the house against potential invaders. In the family room, just next door, I've got the Canada vs. Germany women's footie match on the tele and every now and then I switch to other events; Canada vs. Czech Republic women's doubles tennis or the diving, maybe even a quickie look at the Women's team gymnastic events. Whew!! My head is spinning. :0)

But, onto the reason for me sitting in the den. Yesterday, I posted a Top Ten list of favourite Canadian novels. I have to reiterate that it is a very limited list, based on my exposure to CanLit. There are so many great Canadian authors that I never even touched on. I'm hoping to find more as I continue with my Goodreads 12 + 0 CanLit reading challenge. For your interest, I'm currently reading and enjoying very much, Mordecai Richler's Solomon Gursky Was Here. Richler is one of Canada's more unique writers. I've previously enjoyed The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which was made into a movie many years ago and starred Richard Dreyfus in the title role. As well, I quite enjoyed St. Urbain's Horseman, a strange, but fascinating book. Richler also wrote children's books, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, which as also turned into a film. Anyway, just to say, there are many excellent Canadian writers I never even touched on. I hope my last Blog gets you interested in exploring the genre.

Now, on to today's Blog, which continues my Canadian author theme, this time focusing on Mystery / Thriller writers. I'll follow a similar method as my last Blog, highlight 10 favourites and mention some others as I finish off.

Canadian Thriller / Mystery Authors

10. Lyn Hamilton (1944 - 2009). Lyn Hamilton was born in Etobicoke, Ontario, just on the outskirts of Toronto and wrote the Lara McClintoch series of archeological mysteries. Lara is an antique dealer with a shop in Toronto and finds herself traveling around the world in search of artifacts and, also, getting involved in various mysteries. She wrote 11 books in the series between 1997 and 2007. It's only from starting the Blog that I realized she had passed away in 2009 from cancer.

I have 7 of the books on my bookshelves and have so far enjoyed 3 of them. I'll continue to read them, treasuring each one, now knowing there will be no more written. The series is made of the following books -

1. The Xibalba Murders (1997)
2. The Maltese Goddess (1998) - 3 stars
3. The Moche Warrior (1999) - 3 stars
4. The Celtic Riddle (2000)
5. The African Quest (2001)
6. The Etruscan Chimera (2002)
7. The Thai Amulet (2003)
8. The Magyar Venus (2004)
9. The Moai Murders (2005)
10. The Orkney Scroll (2006) - (3 stars)
11. The Chinese Alchemist (2007)

9. Linwood Barclay (1955) - Barclay was born in Connecticut and moved with his family in 1959. I've, so far, read only one of his books but it intrigued me enough that I've now started to explore his other works. Never Saw It Coming (2013) was one of his more recent books and it was a pleasant surprise. Below is my review of it.


"This was a pleasantly surprising book. The basic premise from the back cover synopsis is that a woman, Keisha Ceylon, is a con-woman, who pretends to have powers to talk to spirits, and uses her pretense to try and con a man whose wife has gone missing, into paying her for her supposed help. But this activity ends up endangering her life.
So with little expectation I began the book and was nicely surprised at the twists and turns. Every time I thought it would go one way, Barclay would turn it another. For all her conman activities, it's difficult not to like Keisha. I also liked the police detective, Rona Wedmore, for her ability to get to the crux of the situation. It's not a complex story, but the writing style was easy and smooth and the story most enjoyable. A real pleasure to finally try a book by Linwood Barclay."

Barclay has written non-fiction and a mystery series featuring a newspaper columnist / sleuth, Zack Walker. His big break came with his 2007 thriller, No Time For Good-bye, one I'll have to look for. I currently have his 2011 novel, The Accident on my bookshelves.

8. Rosemary Aubert - Rosemary Aubert was born in Niagara Falls, NY, and has lived in Canada for the past 40 years, currently residing in Toronto, Ontario. She has written 11 novels since 1982, but I am focusing on her excellent Ellis Portal mystery series. Portal is an ex-judge from Toronto who suffered a nervous breakdown and finds himself living on the streets of Toronto. Getting involved in various mysteries is a strain but also helps him gather himself and work to gain acceptance once again in the halls of Justice. I've read the first three books and enjoyed very much. These are the six Ellis Portal mysteries -

1.  Free Reign (1997) - 4 stars
2. The Feast of Stephen (1999) - 3 stars
3. The Ferryman Will Be There (2001) - 4 stars
4. Leave Me By Dying (2003)
5. Red Mass (2005)
6. Don't Forget You Love Me (2014)

Aubert has written other books as well; e.g. Judge of Orphans (2007) and Terminal Grill (2013).

7. Stanley Evans (1931) - I only recently discovered Stanley Evans' works in my local used book store. Evans was born in England but emigrated to Canada in 1954 and he currently lives in Victoria, B.C. His Silas Seaweed mystery series is set in Victoria. Seaweed is a Coast Salish who is an investigator with the Victoria Police Department.

There are currently 6 books in the Seaweed series. I read Seaweed on the Street last month and loved the mix of mystery, local culture, native mysticism and the characterizations. It was an excellent introduction to the series. I have a few others now waiting my attention on my bookshelves. The series is made up of the following books -

1. Seaweed on the Street (2005) - 4 stars
2. Seaweed on the Ice (2006)
3. Seaweed under Water (2007)
4. Seaweed on the Rocks (2008)
5. Seaweed in the Soup (2009)
6. Seaweed in the Mythworld (2011)

6. Louise Penny (1958) - Louise Penny is the author of the Inspector Gamache mystery series, a series set in province of Quebec. Her first book, Still Life, was also made into a television movie, featuring Nathaniel Parker as Chief Inspector Gamache. I have read the first two books in the series and enjoyed immensely. Gamache is an interesting character and the settings, both of the first two centered around the small town of Three Pines, a locale peopled with interesting, complex characters. Everything about the stories catches your attention, even down to the food served in the local restaurant/ B&B. The stories remind me very much of Martin Walker's Bruno mysteries. The books are more than just mysteries, they are experiences. Below is the list of Gamache books -

1. Still Life (2005) - 4 stars
2. Dead Calm (2007) - 4 stars
3. The Cruelest Month (2008)
4. The Murder Stone (2009)
5. The Brutal Telling (2009)
6. Bury Your Dead (2010)
7. A Trick of the Light (2011)
8. The Beautiful Mystery (2012)
9. How the Light Gets In (2013)
10. The Long Way Home (2014)
11. The Nature of the Beast (2015)
12. A Great Reckoning (2016)

5. Karen Irving (1957) - Karen Irving was born in Victoria, BC and now resides in Ottawa, ON, the setting of her Katy Klein mysteries. The series has only 3 books currently, publication of any others is on hold due to a 2005 decision of her Raincoast publishing company. I have mentioned Karen in a previous Blog. The Klein series is interesting; Klein is a former psychologist turned astrologer and finds herself getting involved in mysteries and murders. The characters are all excellent, the illusions to horoscopes and the star signs make the stories even more interesting. I enjoyed all three books and I hope that someday more are written and published. The three books are -

1. Pluto Rising (1999) - 3 stars
2. Jupiter's Daughter (2000) - 4 stars
3. Mars Eclipsed (2001) - 4 stars

4. Giles Blunt (1952) - Blunt grew up in my home town, North Bay, Ontario and his John Cardinal mystery / thriller series is set there, even thought the town is now called Algonquin Bay. That is one reason I first tried the series, Forty Words for Sorrow, as the locale piqued my interest. Luckily, the story made for a tense, exciting, excellent mystery as well and I've since read 5 of the 6 books in the series. The locale is interesting for me and the stories are all well-crafted and the characters interesting. It's a gritty series and maybe reminds me somewhat of Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne series or Ian Rankin's Rebus books. Both Cardinal and his partner, Lise Delorme, have their issues but at the same time, they are excellent cops. The books in the series are listed below. (Blunt has written other books as well. I haven't tried yet, but when I finish the Cardinal books, I may do so)


1. Forty Words for Sorrow (2000) - 4 stars
2. The Delicate Storm (2002) - 4 stars
3. Blackfly Season (2005) - 4 stars
4. By the Time You Read This - 4 stars
5. Crime Machine (2010)
6. Until the Night (2012) - 4 stars

3. L.R. Wright (1939 - 2001). I won't spend too much time on L.R.Wright, except mainly to list her books. (If you click on her highlighted name, you will link to a previous Blog I wrote about her in 2010. I discovered her mystery series featuring RCMP Sgt Karl Alberg when I first came to the Comox Valley. It appealed to me at first because it was set on the Sunshine Coast, mainland British Columbia, just across the Straits of Georgia from where I and my wife now reside. However, it didn't take me long to be hooked on the books. I enjoyed the character, the locale, the stories, which are more than mysteries. Once again, I'll harken to Martin Walker's Bruno mysteries or Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series. The books are about the life of the characters, where they live, what they do. The mystery is important but also used as a window to explore the characters and their lives. L.R. Wright wrote 9 books in the Karl Alberg and then had just started a new series featuring Alberg's replacement, Edwina Henderson, when she passed away. It's odd how an author's death can affect you, but I readily admit that when I heard of her death, it took the wind out of my sails for a little while.  Check out the link for more information on the books and check out the books too. Excellent series.

2. Margaret Millar (1915 - 1994) - I should state that the authors mentioned above and throughout this Blog entry are not only favourite Canadian mystery writers, but also just favourites in general. It doesn't matter if they were Canadian or not, they stories they tell are well-written and worth trying. This is especially the case of the last few I've highlighted. Anyway, back to Margaret Millar. She was born in Kitchener, Ontario and died in California. Her stories are set in both locales. She was a highly respected writer, winning the Edgar Allen Poe award for her novel, Beast in View and also Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Times in 1965. She also was awarded Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1983 in recognition for her lifetime achievements. She was married to Ross MacDonald, another mystery writer, known especially for his Lew Archer books.

I've read 4 of Millar's books thus far and gave 5 star ratings to two of them, The Soft Talkers (1957), which I listed as one of my Top Ten Favourite Canadian books in my previous Blog, and Beast in View (1955), which I read this year. Both highlight Millar's story-telling ability and her character development and strength in crafting an excellent mystery. I included my review of The Soft Talkers in my previous Blog. For your interest, as a way of describing Millar's writing abilities, below is the review of Beast in View.

"Beast In View was a true gem. I've enjoyed a couple of her other books in the past few years, when I've been able to find copies. The Soft Talkers was one of my favourites of last year. Beast in View is another 5-star read. It's such an interesting story. I love how Millar develops her plots. Is the story about Helen Clarvoe, who lives alone in her apartment, isolated from the world about her? Is it about Mr. Blackshear, Helen's financial adviser, bored with his work, who she asks to help her find the woman who made the distressing call to Helen and who begins to conduct an investigation on Helen's behalf? Or is it about Evelyn Merrick, the woman who makes the initial call to Helen and who seems to be making many calls to other people that have upset her? I loved how it moved along, from the one character to the other, how the tension builds, how the story surprisingly makes a turn to the left. Excellent, excellent!! She is such a wonderful writer."

I've also read Rose's Last Summer and Ask Me For Tomorrow and enjoyed very much. On my bookshelf is still How Like an Angel (1962) and I'm looking forward to trying it out. It isn't easy sometimes to find Millar's books. I've managed to locate the odd copies in various used book stores I've wandered through. Find them, especially The Soft Talkers (also published as An Air that Kills) and Beast in View. You'll be impressed.

1. David Rotenberg - I can't find a lot of information online about David Rotenberg except that he has written a series of mysteries set in China and also is artistic director of the Professional Actors Lab (and I think he features in his mysteries in a similar role). However, it is about the mysteries that I want to talk. I found this series by accident and fell in love with it immediately. The books feature Chinese police inspector Zhong Fong and his excellent staff of investigators, who work to solve crime in China while trying, at the same time, to avoid falling into trouble with the Communist Party hacks. Besides gritty, interesting mysteries, there is political intrigue, love, action, everything that makes for an excellent, thrilling, compelling series. There are five books in the series and each was as good as the other. They are page turners and tense, intriguing stories. Try them. Below they are listed for your reading pleasure. (I do hope that David Rotenberg decides to write a few more in this series)

1. The Shanghai Murders (1998) - 4 stars
2. The Lake Ching Murders (2002) - 4 stars
3. The Hua Shan Hospital Murders (2003) - 4 stars
4. The Hamlet Murders (2004) - 4 stars
5. The Golden Mountain Murders (2005) - 4 stars

If you like these authors, check out also:

- Gail Bowen - Joanne Kilbourn mysteries
- Alan Bradley - Flavia de Luce mysteries
- Howard Engel - Benny Cooperman mysteries
- Maureen Jennings - Murdoch mysteries
- John Farrow - Detective Emile Cinq-Mars mysteries
- Deryn Collier  - Ben Fortin mysteries
- Ian Hamilton - Ava Lee thrillers
- Michelle Spring - Laura Principal mysteries.

Enjoy!


Monday, 8 August 2016

Canadian Literature - A Top Ten List

It's been awhile since I've added a Top Ten List. Since the Olympic events currently being televised don't specifically interest me at this moment in time, I think I'll take a break from them and look at some of my favourite Canadian books.


Back in my university days, around 1976 or so, one of the courses I took was a Canadian Fiction course. I liked some of the stories I read for that course very much. W.O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind was a particularly favourite. It dealt with small town life on the prairies, with growing up and was just an excellent book. It was also a very good movie. After that course, I continued to read a few Canadian authors; Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Howard Engel, but my interest in CanLit faded away. I was more interested in Fantasy and Science Fiction at the time and it became all consuming.

This past few years I've explored more Canadian authors; especially Mystery writers, as I've branched more and more into that genre. I love a well-crafted mystery. There are many wonderful and talented Canadian mystery writers. I'll list a few of my favourites in the latter portion of this Blog entry.

This year as one of my Goodreads reading challenges, I decided to explore Canadian writers, so my 12 + 4 Reading challenge was made up only of Canadian authors. I finished that fairly quickly and am now about half way through an add-on 12 + 0 Reading challenge, once again focussing solely on Canadian authors.

So with that as a frame of reference, I've decided to add my Top Ten List of favourite Canadian books. Please recognize that my frame of reference probably isn't all that deep, but I think the list highlights some excellent books and writers. So here we go, from #10 to #1, my Top Ten Canadian books.

10. Scar Tissue by Michael Ignatieff (Fiction) - I read this book as one of my recent challenges. I found it in a book about another authors favourite Canadian writers. I was glad to have attempted the book. It tells the story of a man's coping with the mental deterioration of his mother. A very powerful story. Below was my review of the book.

"Scar Tissue, in its simplest form, is the story of a man trying to deal with his mother's descent into mental incapacitation through what I presume is Alzheimer's, although that name isn't specifically used. It's the story of his relationship with his father, mother, brother and wife and family as the disease progresses and of his ability or inability to cope with it and them. In some ways, it's a very straightforward story but at the same time, it can strike many chords with the reader. There were many moments when it reminded me of my own mother's struggles with Alzheimers and it made me respect my father and sister's constant caring for her, while I, who lived across the country, only visited once or twice a year. It's a very short story but an excellent one."

9. Player One: What is to Become of Us by Douglas Coupland (Science Fiction) - This was another of the books mentioned in Hooked on Canadian Books (It's given my many ideas for books to read) and one that I enjoyed very much. Coupland was a new author for me. I may have to check out some other books by him.

"The synopsis of this book compares the style to Kurt Vonnegut and J.G. Ballard. I can see that somewhat, especially JG Ballard. However, I find the characters more sympathetic and easy to relate to than those in the Ballard books I've read up to now. I also can compare the story and feeling somewhat to Emily St Mandel's Station Eleven, without the scope of her story.
In Player One, you have basically 4 people; Rick, Karen, Rachel and Luke and also the narrator, a computer game voice of Player One, all trapped in an airport cocktail lounge by a world-wide crisis. This crisis involves the sudden drastic increase in the price of oil and a series of explosions, etc. The four are in the cocktail lounge for various reasons; Rick as the bartender, Karen, just having flown in to meet an internet companion to see if they can strike up a relationship, Rachel, trying to meet a man to make her feel human and Luke, a parish priest on the run. Player One is the unseen voice, elaborating on the events of the previous hour and expounding on what will happen in the next.
The story is set over 5 hours and in each hour, the four humans and Player One tell what they are thinking and what is occurring. It's an interesting concept and each person is well-crafted for such a short timeframe and the story is engrossing and draws you in. I could easily have given this a 5-star rating, but I think a solid 4 is fair. I enjoyed this story very much and found myself being drawn back to it to see how it would all resolve. Excellent and surprisingly good."
8. Sunburst by Phyllis Gotlieb (Science Fiction) - I bought this in Victoria a few years back. I think I found the book listed at the back of another I was reading. I checked out Gotlieb online as she was a new author for me and was nicely surprised to find out she was Canadian. This book was a lovely surprise and since reading it, I've enjoyed 3 or 4 more of Gotlieb's unique Science Fiction. She is worth checking out. The book's synopsis is below.

"The dumplings were children. They couldn't tell right from wrong, or keep themselves clean; but they could fly or float on the wind, freeze a river or fry a man alive. Hideously mutated reminders of a nuclear explosion, they were kept hidden from an unsuspecting world in a secret electronic 'dump' that even their terrifying Psi powers couldn't penetrate. Until the night they decided to go out and play."

(You might also like to check out; O Master Caliban, A Judgement of Dragons, Emperors, Swords and Pentacles and Son of Morning and Other Stories.)

7. Paris 1919 - Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan (Non-Fiction/ History) - I read this during a deployment to the Middle East in 2005. I had enjoyed Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August a couple of times and the premise of this book sounded very interesting. It didn't let me down. The book covers the Peace conference after World War I and introduces the fascinating group of individuals who made the decisions that still impact the world to this day. MacMillan is an excellent writer and explains historical events in such a manner that make it interesting and informative. A fascinating period of history and an excellent book. I've since read her The War that Ended the Peace - The Road to 1914, which covers the build-up to WWI and the events and personal actions and beliefs that lead the world to War. If you read the 3 books listed above, you will be totally informed about this period.

6. The Soft Talkers by Margaret Millar (Mystery) - Millar is a Canadian - born mystery writer who I discovered a few years ago. She was married to another mystery writer, Ross MacDonald, the author of the Lew Archer mystery books. Millar tended to write standalone mysteries and as I've searched for her books, I quickly discovered how difficult it was to find copies of them. I have managed to find a few of her books and enjoyed the ones I've read so far very much. Beast in View and Rose's Last Summer were both excellent. Beast in View was also a 5-star read, but I chose The Soft Talkers in my list of Top Tens. I think either would have been acceptable. This was my review of the book.

"I've read a couple of Margaret Millar's stories before; they can be hard to find. I enjoyed them quite a bit, as she has a very accessible writing style. The Soft Talkers, also published under the name An Air That Kills, was a pleasure to read. It was a perfect little mystery.
Millar has such a smooth writing style, even little details like "she buttoned up her sweater to the very top", fill the story and make it even better. The story basically deals with the disappearance of Ron Galloway, who is supposed to meet his buddies at a cabin he owns north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He never shows up and the rest of the story deals with the follow-on reactions of his friends and family and the follow-on search for him.
The story is told from the perspective of his various friends and of his wife and there are also even small sub-stories by side characters. Even these sub-stories are interesting and so well-written. It's a story that I just enjoyed reading and the ending had a nice surprise that I actually didn't see coming. Being Canadian, I enjoyed the setting; the city of Toronto and cottage country north of Toronto. The story was written in 1957 and in some ways reminds me of some of the Patricia Highsmith stories I've read, just better. Such a simple but entertaining book; clear, concise and intelligently written. I highly recommend."

5. Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje (Fiction) - Back in my university days, I read The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Ondaatje, a book of poetry that I actually recall enjoying, which says something as I'm not a Poetry person. That was my experience of Ondaatje's work until I saw a copy of Anil's Ghost in one of my local book stores a few year's back. The story follows Anil, a Sri Lankan, who had left her country to study medicine in England and returns to her native land as a forensic pathologist, a Human Rights investigator working for the UN. Sri Lanka is buried under civil war and atrocity. Anil must work in this dangerous, life threatening environment, escorted by a local archeologist, Sareth, in her work. The story mixes a constant ominous, threatening atmosphere with a budding relationship between Anil and Sareth. The story is fascinating, with an exotic locale and environment and containing interesting, well-developed characters. I've since read Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion, set in Toronto and enjoyed it very much as well.

4. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Fiction) - Over the course of three or four years, I read A Fine Balance, Family Matters, Such a Long Journey and Tales from Firozsha Baag by Indian born Canadian, Rohinton Mistry. Either of the first three books could have been in my Top Ten, but I chose A Fine Balance of the three. Mistry spins such interesting stories of his native India, tales dealing with tragedy, poverty, struggles to survive, but also intertwined within the context of the stories are wonderful characters who seem to find positives and hope within their struggles. I've never been to India and knew little of its culture or history, but there are many granules to grab onto within these stories. Mistry has been awarded many prizes for his fiction and having read the above stories, I can clearly see why he has. He is an author who deserves to be read.

3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Science Fiction/ Dystopic Future) - Station Eleven  was a break-thru book for Emily St. John Mandel and I can see why. I loved this story and had difficulty putting it down once I got into it; a challenge when I usually have three or four books on the go at any one time. It reminds me of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but maybe not with such a depressing outlook. The book moves between the past and the present, following mainly a group of actors and musicians as they travel around Ontario in the aftermath of a worldwide cataclysm. Mandel also follows the core individuals in the past, linking their lives slowly as the days move inevitably to the collapse. I loved the characters and the story and I think, in the right hands, it would be a fascinating movie. This was my review.

"I loved Station Eleven. It was one of those books that I wanted to finish to see how it ended, but, at the same time, I wanted to continue exploring the lives of the characters. Does that make sense?
It brought out so many emotions; sadness, anger, tears (in both a good and bad way), happiness, encouragement, etc. In some ways it reminded me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but it wasn't so consistently dour and scary. Probably part of the reason for that may be that Station Eleven had more characters and it also didn't just situate itself solely in the dystopic (am I spelling this right?) future.
I particularly liked how the story moved along, starting in their present (our future), introducing the Travelling Symphony and highlighting the new way of life of people trying to survive, then wandering to other characters, explaining where they were when the Georgia Flu caused this world-wide destruction and following their adjustments to the post-flu life.
I liked how the main characters are slowly linked up, such as how Kirsten came to be in possession of Miranda's comic, Station Eleven, even how this comic may have impacted The Prophet. The Prophet introduced a very scary element into the whole story. Was he not utilized enough? Maybe but, personally, I think his appearances were just sufficient enough to provide a negative counterpoint to those trying to live safe lives. More of him might have put a completely different tone to the overall story. How people coped with this new future is what was most interesting.
There were so many nice touches. I liked Kirsten especially but every character was excellent and their personalities developed just to the right amount. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, it's an excellent story and well worth reading. I think the ending left the story open - ended enough to provide a continuation story to show us how the future continues to unfold, should Emily St. John Mandel so desire. Maybe?? Please.. "

2. The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies (Fiction) - The Lyre of Orpheus is the third book in the Cornish trilogy; the other books being The Rebel Angels and What's Bred in the Bone. I enjoyed the complete trilogy and could have as easily made The Rebel Angels my Number 2 top book, as if I hadn't enjoyed it, then I wouldn't have finally made it to this excellent third book. This is the 2nd trilogy of Davies' books that I've experienced. The first I read back in the mid-70's, that being The Deptford Trilogy, which was also very enjoyable. Like most trilogies, the 2nd book in both was the weakest, at least in my opinion. In the Cornish trilogy, we follow the Cornish family and friends; the stories are both mysteries and historical in nature. Davies has a lovely way of writing, drawing you with intelligent, often humorous and interesting stories. If you like magical stories, try the Deptford trilogy, if you like art and drama, try the Cornish trilogy. For that matter, try them both. You can't lose with either. Here was my review of this book.

"This is the 3rd book in the Cornish trilogy. I enjoyed the first, The Rebel Angels, very much. It had been most enjoyable to get back into Robertson Davies. The second book, What's Bred in the Bone, while interesting, didn't hold the same level of enjoyment that the first did. So The Lyre of Orpheus had sat on my shelf for a couple of years now.
I'm so glad that I finally dusted it off and got back into this trilogy. It was excellent. I loved everything about this; the writing, the characters, the story. The basic story is that the Cornish foundation, run by Arthur Cornish and his lovely wife, Maria, and assisted by a loose collection of directors, agrees to use Cornish foundation money, to fund the doctoral work of a young music student, Hulda Schnakenburg. She is trying to complete an unfinished opera by Hoffman, the Story of Arthur of Britain. A concurrent story has Simon Darcourt, old friend of Francis Cornish and of Arthur and Maria, seeking to complete a biography of Francis Cornish.
The investigation into this biography, to find out the missing middle of Francis' life and the development of the opera, are both fascinating stories. The characters, from the main ones, as well as Schnak and the others brought in to help with the creation of the opera, were lovingly written and so interesting. I won't say I'm an opera fan, but watching the creation and development and the ultimate presentation of this opera, was a joy to read. Throw in asides by ghostly Hoffman, throughout the story, as he watches from Limbo and waits to see what the ultimate result will be, and you've got a wonderfully rich story. Sex, cuckoldry and just downright entertainment, a truly fantastic, wonderful story. A perfect ending to this trilogy."

1. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Science Fiction/ Dystopic future). The Handmaid's Tale has long resided in my overall Top Ten books of all-time list. I've had a fairly long experience with Margaret Atwood's works; reading Surfacing and The Edible Woman back in my university days. I tried a collection of her poetry as well, that being The Circle Game, and for one who doesn't normally like poetry, I think I recall enjoying hers. Since that time, I've also read The Blind Assassin,  a fascinating story and have engrossed myself in her Oryx and Crake trilogy, another excellent collection of dystopic fiction, especially the last book, Maddaddam, which I loved. However, I have to go back to The Handmaid's Tale as my number 1 book of Canadian literature. I've read a few times and enjoyed each and every time. It tells a story of a not-so-distant future, maybe one that strikes a chord as we hear of groups like ISIS and the Tea Party, who want to control everyone's lives, especially those of women. I haven't ever written a review of the book, as I read it before I got involved in Blog's and Goodreads, but below is the synopsis. If you like books of the future, this is well-worth reading.

"First published in 1985, The Handmaid's Tale is a novel of such power that the reader is unable to forget its images and its forecast. With more than two million copies in print, it is Margaret Atwood's most popular and compelling novel. Set in the near future, it describes life in what once was the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead. Reacting to social unrest, and a sharply declining birthrate, the new regime has reverted to -- even gone beyond -- the repressive tolerance of the original Puritans. Offred is a Handmaid who may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant because she is only valued as long as her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now."

So there you go, my Top Ten Canadian books. I was going to continue this thread with my list of favourite Canadian mystery writers, but this has taken longer than planned. Besides, it'll give me something to write tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

July 2016 Reading Summary

Well, here we go, into the first month of the last half of 2016. Summer has definitely arrived, although as I say this, today has started off nice and cool and a bit cloudy. No complaints from me for that as it makes sleeping much more comfortable. Yesterday the missus and I visited the Arts & Crafts festival being held down at the Comox Marina. It's our August long weekend, for us BC residents, the BC Days long weekend. There was a fair bit going on in the valley; besides the festival down at the harbour front, the Filberg Festival was also taking place. We've been a couple of times in the past few years, but the exhibits down at the waterfront are free of charge, a definite selling point. Some very talented crafts-people on display there. We managed to find a few items that we really liked and purchased.

So, now onto my July reading summary. Overall, I had another successful month, with a number of very enjoyable reading selections. Quite a few of my books were under 250 pages, but they were all excellent. So without further ado, here is my summary.

My July 2016 summary -

Books read:                Jul - 13                 Total - 87 out of my Goodreads estimate of 100
Pages read:                 Jul - 3,600            Total - 26,100

Page breakdown:
         > 250                  Jul: 7                     Total: 37
250 - 350                     Jul: 3                     Total: 24
351 - 450                     Jul: 2                     Total: 12
        > 450                   Jul: 1                     Total: 14

Author Gender:
Male:                           Jul: 12                   Total: 60
Female:                        Jul:  1                    Total: 27

Ratings:
5-star                           Jul: 1                      Total: 12
4-star                           Jul: 8                      Total: 45
3-star                           Jul: 4                      Total: 30

Genres:
Fiction                         Jul: 3                     Total: 12
Mystery                       Jul: 7                     Total: 44
SciFi                            Jul: 2                     Total: 17
Non Fic                       Jul: 1                     Total: 7
Humour                       Jul: 0                     Total: 3
Classics                       Jul: 0                     Total: 4

Challenges
Reading Group 12 + 0  (My continuing Canadian Lit Challenge)
In July, I read 3 more books for this challenge, bringing my total to 6 of my planned reading of 12 books. I completed the following books -

- Seaweed on the Street by Stanley Evans (4 stars). This was a new author for me and an excellent start to a new mystery series.
- City of Ice by John Farrow (3 stars) - Another new series for me, set in Montreal. I liked it as well, even though I probably preferred the Seaweed book.
-  Player One: What Is to Become of Us by Douglas Coupland (4 stars). More on this book further along as it was one of my Top Three choices this past month.

I'm currently reading Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler, an author I haven't read for many years. I'm enjoying very much so far.

Decades challenge
In July, I read 3 books in this challenge, for a total, so far of 6 of 12. The books read were;
- 1920 - 29; Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham (4 stars). This was an excellent Spy novel
- 1930 - 39; The General by C.S. Forester (4 stars). An interesting take on World War I.
- 2010 - Present; Helsinki Noir by James Thompson (3 stars). A collection of short story mysteries by Finnish authors.

Currently, I'm reading a book to fill my 2000 - 2009 decade, The Coffee Trader by David Liss, a story of intrigue and danger set during 1659, in Amsterdam.

SciFi/ Fantasy/ Horror 
I read 1 book in this category, bringing my total to 11 of 15. (I may increase the total again, depending how I progress for the rest of the year)

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (5 stars). I'll review this later as it was one of my Top Three for July.

Currently, in this genre, I'm reading the 2nd book in The Strain series by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. The Fall is the 2nd book and it's very enjoyable and readable. A nice twist on the vampire mythology.

Classics  

In July, I didn't read any books in this challenge. My total remains 4 of an attempted 6. I have started another book, however, that being Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I am enjoying it very much so far, being about 1/2 way through it.


Ongoing Series
I finished 5 books in July towards this challenge, bringing my total to 27. I haven't set a maximum total in this challenge, as I have so many new and ongoing series on my book shelves. In July, I finished the following books:
- Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman (4 stars). This is the second book in the Joe Leaphorn series. More below.
Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (4 stars). This is the first book in the Sidney Chambers mystery series. You can also watch the TV version on PBS Masterpiece. They have had 2 seasons thus far.
- Officers And Gentlemen by Evelyn Waugh (3 stars). This is the 2nd book in the satirical Guy Crouchback series. It is a series set during World War II. Quite good. The last book is Unconditional Surrender.
- Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett by Georges Simenon (4 stars). This is the introduction to the Inspector Maigret mystery series, originally published in 1931.
- The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer (3 stars). This is the first book in the Dr. Fu-Manchu series of thrillers, originally written in 1913 and it was an entertaining, thrilling introduction to this collection. I have 3 others on my book shelf awaiting my attention.

I am not currently reading any books in this challenge, but will get back to it in August.

Non-Fiction
I read one book in this challenge in July, bringing my total to 5 of 6;
- Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement by Graham Greene (4 stars). This was an interesting story of Greene's connection with the leader of Panama, a bit of history about which I knew very little. I've been enjoying very much my recent exploration of Greene's books, both fiction and non-fiction. I have a number of his books still sitting on my bookshelves. Maybe next year I will focus on his work for my 12 + 4 challenge.

Top 3 Books
I've alluded to them above. The next three selections were my Top 3 books in July; one mystery, one Canadian Literature/ Dystopic Fiction and one Young Adult Fantasy.

3. Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman (4 stars)

"I'm so very glad that I was introduced to the Joe Leaphorn series. Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman is book 2 in the series and is a joy to read. It's a bit like the Longmire series, but instead told from the perspective of the Native police inspector, rather than the local police chief.

I like how the story was paced, I like Joe Leaphorn very much, he's calm, quiet and thoughtful. I really enjoy the information about the various Native cultures, in this book, the Zuni and Leaphorn's Navajo, etc. I hope as I get more into this series that more and more information is provided.

This story involves the murder of a Zuni boy and the follow-on murder of a Navajo man. It follows the build-up to the annual Zuni festival, to welcome the Shalako season and concerns the desire of a Navajo boy to be introduced to the Zuni tribe and rites. There is so much to like about this mystery; it's difficult to put the book down once you've begun. I'm so looking forward to trying the next book, Listening Woman."

2. Player One: What Is to Become of Us by Douglas Coupland (4 stars)
"The synopsis of this book compares the style to Kurt Vonnegut and J.G. Ballard. I can see that somewhat, especially JG Ballard, as the situation develops. However, I find the characters more sympathetic and easy to relate to than those in the Ballard books I've read up to now. I also can compare the story and feeling somewhat to Emily St Mandel's Station Eleven, without the scope of her story.

In Player One, you have basically 4 people, Rick, Karen, Rachel and Luke and also the narrator, the computer game voice of Player One, all trapped in an airport cocktail lounge by a world-wide crisis. This crisis concerns the sudden drastic increase in the price of oil and a series of explosions, etc. The four are in the cocktail lounge for various reasons; Rick, as the bartender, Karen, just having flown in to meet an internet companion to see if they can strike up a relationship, Rachel, trying to meet a man to make her feel human and Luke, a parish priest on the run. Player One is the unseen voice, elaborating on the events of the previous hour and expounding on what will happen in the next.

The story is set over 5 hours and in each hour, the four humans and Player One tell what they are thinking and what is occurring. It's an interesting concept and each person is well-crafted for such a short timeframe and the story is engrossing and draws you in. I could easily have given this a 5-star rating, but I think a solid 4 is fair. I enjoyed this story very much and found myself being drawn back to it to see how it would all resolve. Excellent and surprisingly good."

1. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (5 stars)
"This was such an excellent story; extremely well-written, a page turner, thoughtful and even emotional. It's a YA fantasy, so I was thinking it was more of The Hunger Games, but it was quite different in some ways.

Each year on Thisby, an island off America, the Scorpio Races take place. The difference between a normal horse race and the Scorpio races is that the horses used come from the sea, and they are meat eaters. They wash ashore during storms and some are captured and kept on land. In November, the races take place. People and horses will die.

Sean Kendricks, a young man who works for the wealthiest landowner on the island, has won 4 of the last 6 races, on a horse named Corr. He competes with the landowner's son and others; there is ill-feeling between him and Mutt Malvern, partly because Mutt's father seems to prefer Sean. Kate (Puck) Connolly needs to enter this year's race, to try and keep her family together and to keep her family home. However, there has never been a girl in the Scorpio Races before and Kate will be riding her land horse, Dove, not a water horse.

This is the premise of this fantastic story. The book is peopled with wonderful characters, Kate and her brothers, Sean, George Holly (the horse trader from the mainland), Peg Gratton, Dory Maud and her sisters, and the story draws you in more and more until you can't put the book down. I want to go the bakery on the island and have November Cakes, they sound delicious. Excellent book and I have to give it 5 stars."

In the Mill (maybe)



- How Like an Angel by Margaret Millar. I think this will be the next book in my 12 + 0 challenge. I have enjoyed her mysteries very much so far. Below is the synopsis.

"Private detective Joe Quinn gambles. That's how he's lost his job, car, clothes, and girlfriend; it's why he's hitchhiking from Reno to California. At The Tower, a back-country compound housing a religious cult, Quinn gambles again, when Sister Blessing asks him to locate one Patrick O'Gorman. It proves to be no easy task: O'Gorman's dead - and, Quinn wagers, not so accidentally as everyone insists."
- The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. This will be fit into my Science Fiction challenge and also work in another group challenge, Award winners. The Demolished Man was the Hugo Prize winner for its year. Below is the synopsis.

"In the year 2301, the wealthiest man in the universe is determined to commit murder in a world in which telepaths are used to detect possible crimes before they can happen."

So there you go, my July reading summary. Any reading ideas for you there?
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