Thursday, 7 November 2019

A Thursday Reading Update

As the week winds down, I finished my 2nd book in November. I started it in September but it was a slow go for awhile. I really have to limit how many books I read at one time as it's easy to set some of the longer ones aside and just focus on the short ones.

I've started one new book as well, by a new author for me. I'm looking forward to getting into it.

Almost the whole family
What else has been going on? My wonderful sister sent me some pictures she took during my recent visit back home. The picture above features my Dad, me, my two brothers and my nephew. Unfortunately, it doesn't include my sister because she was the nice person taking the photo. I feel somewhat naked being the only person without a moustache, but, then again I've nothing to hide.. 😜

So anyway, in this BLog entry, I'll update the book I've completed, the one I've since started and also continue with my look at the Mystery genre, American Cops.

Just Finished

1. The Last Temptation by Val McDermid (Carol Jordan & Tony Hill #3). This is the 3rd book in the series that started with Wire in the Blood.











"The Last Temptation is the 3rd book in Val McDermid's Tony Hill / Carol Jordan thriller series. I will say that this was one heck of a long story but once I got into it, it kept me interested.

So the plot? Tony has retired from criminal profiling and has sort of hidden himself off in Scotland as a psychology professor and is dating another woman. Carol has moved up in the police force and is hoping for an assignment with Europol (a Europe version of Interpol). She is offered a special assignment. She looks like the girlfriend of a German drug dealer / human smuggler. She is to portray an English criminal who wants to do a deal with Radecki so that the German police and English police can end his operation.

Another story line involves a German police officer, Petra and a Dutch police officer, Marijke. They are friends who met online in a chat group for lesbian police officers. Marijke is involved in a murder case of a psychologist and Petra feels there has been a similar case in Germany. By somewhat convoluted machinations, Carol is involved with Petra in the Radecki case and introduces the two cops to Tony Hill who wants to get back into the profiling fame.

Make sense? Well, it actually does. The story moves to Berlin, where Carol is working undercover. Oddly enough, Tony goes to Berlin as well, both to help Petra with her case and to be a sounding board for Carol. Petra gets him accommodation in the same building as Carol. Do you see a potential problem there? Well, I can't say... you'll have to read it.

So the story moves along, with Carol inculcating (this is my new favorite word) herself into Radeckis operation and Tony investigating the murders. Both are interesting cases and it's also interesting how the stories come together at times.

It takes awhile to get there but the tension builds quite dramatically. I think I could foresee some of the problems.. it turns out I was right in some ways. I've always liked Carol and Tony and their friendship / relationship, but I have to say I really liked the two European cops. Marijke and Petra were excellent.

All in all a very entertaining, tense story. I look forward to finding the next book in the series. I hope it'll be a bit shorter. :0) (3.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. The German Agent by J. Sydney Jones.

"A ruthless German spy is torn between love and duty in this powerful espionage thriller"
February, 1917. A lone German agent is despatched to Washington to prevent the British delivering a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson by any means possible. For this is the Zimmermann telegram: it contains a devastating piece of news which is sure to bring the USA into the war on the side of Britain and her allies. 


Having fought in the trenches himself, Max Volkman knows that America s involvement will only prolong the slaughter of innocents and is implacable in his determination to kill the British envoy carrying the telegram. But when his pursuit of the Englishman leads him to the home of American heiress Catherine Fitzgerald, wife to one of Washington s most powerful politicians, he is presented with a terrible choice: loyalty to his comrades in the trenches or the loss of the one woman he has ever truly loved. 


His decision will determine the outcome of the First World War."


My Ongoing Look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops
In my last entry on this topic I looked at Julia Keller's Belfa Elkins mystery series.

Archer Mayor
1. Archer Mayor - Joe Gunther. The Belfa Elkins series is set in West Virginia. The Joe Gunther series is set in Vermont, currently Mayor's home state. Since 1988, he has written 30 books in the series. I've read two so far and have a couple of others on my bookshelves.

a. Open Season (Joe Gunther #1 / 1988).









"Open Season by Archer Mayor is the first book in the Lt Joe Gunther crime series. It was initially published in 1988. Gunther is a police lieutenant in Vermont. He quickly gets involved in a number of strange incidents, including the murder or a house intruder. They seem to relate back to a murder case that occurred 3 years previously. The people involved were, so far, jurors in the case.

Gunther takes on the case and has difficulties persuading his superiors that the case is related to the trial, that possibly the suspect wasn't guilty. If this is found to be true, it will make the investigators look very bad as they were very quick with their conviction.

I found the story confusing at times, as Gunther grasps at threads to try and find out what actually happened and who the person is in the ski mask that seems to be orchestrating the whole investigation. I did find it somewhat frustrating at times but, at the same time, I enjoyed Mayor's style of writing. It is very accessible and clear. The characters are interesting and the following the course of the investigation draws you in.

Ultimately, I was very satisfied with the overall story and the resolution. For an introduction to a series, it was nicely presented and held my attention throughout and made me want to continue reading. Now that I've broke the ice with Mayor and his Lt Gunther, I'll definitely be searching the rest of the series. (4 stars)"

b. Occam's Razor (Joe Gunther #10 / 1999).

"Occam's Razor is the 10th book in the Joe Gunther mystery by Archer Mayor and the 2nd book in the series that I've read (I have only managed to find a few books in the series so far).

Gunther is a police lieutenant based out of Brattleboro, Vermont and head of the detective department. This story starts off with Gunther and his team called out in the middle of the night to attend to a body discovered on the train tracks. It appears like murder as the body was placed strategically on the tracks; with head and hands on the tracks so that the body couldn't easily be identified. As they investigate the case another murder is discovered; that of a prostitute who has been stabbed to death and also of her baby, who has died of exposure in the house.

Thus begins a meandering, at times, investigation of the murders, that might somehow be linked and might involve illegal Hazmat disposal, political intrigue, etc. We get an excellent view of the government in Vermont, and of the state itself. The story delves into the lives of the investigators and we get to know more about them.

I like that the case doesn't get resolved in two or three days but that we get a long realistic investigation, as clues dry up and then others come to the forefront so the investigators can move in other directions. As well, there is an interesting look at a move by the government to update the whole policing structure of Vermont.

All in all, even though at times I got somewhat lost in the story, it was so very well written and described that I enjoyed it very much. Mayor is an intelligent writer who keeps the story moving and holds your interest. Most enjoyable and I look forward to continuing to explore Gunther's life and investigations. (4 stars)"

c. Tucker Peak (Joe Gunther #12 / 2001).












"The tony ski town of Tucker Peak, Vermont is experiencing a rash of condo burglaries. Normally this wouldn't be a case for Joe Gunther and the newly-formed VBI, but when high-profile people have their high-value possessions stolen, names get dropped and strings get pulled. Turns out it's just as well they called in Joe, since once they begin investigating the case suddenly develops a body count. Between drug-dealing, burglary, financial shenanigans, ecoterrorism, sabotage and murder, there's something deathly serious going on behind the resort's pristine veneer."

d. St. Alban's Fire (Joe Gunther #16 / 2005).

"With Joe Gunther and his Vermont Bureau of Investigation team spread thin on assignment everywhere, from the remote dairy county of Northwest Vermont to the slums of Newark, NJ, they're pushed to their absolute limit when a string of serial arsons across the Green Mountain State evolve into the most shocking series of murders the bucolic region has ever known."

e. Chat (Joe Gunther #18 / 2007).












"Intriguing plots, complex characters, and a vivid landscape are the foundation of Archer Mayor's award-winning New England thrillers. Now in this suspenseful new novel two investigations will lead Mayor's popular hero Joe Gunther to the shady realm of Internet chat rooms, where relationships are formed and broken, and nothing is as it seems. 

News travels fast in the small state of Vermont. In this tight-knit society, police officers and investigators proudly maintain a kinship that transcends the boundaries of their jurisdictions. When an unidentified body is found in the peaceful town of Brattleboro, local police and the Vermont Bureau of Investigation both appear at the scene. 


But before investigator Joe Gunther can begin to gather evidence of murder, a family emergency sends him to his hometown, where the lives of his mother and brother have suddenly been threatened. Gunther reaches out to a network of police officers who know him only by name and reputation as he attempts to discover the source of this imminent danger. 


Meanwhile, his investigative team chases an elusive murderer who has no apparent ties to the victim. In a state that is more like a neighborhood community, secrets are difficult to keep, and it's sometimes impossible to know who can be trusted. Gunther soon finds himself opposing criminals more menacing than any he has ever encountered in order to save those he holds closest to his heart."


The complete list of Mayor's Gunther series is available at this link.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

A Reading Update - My First of November

November is off to a bit of a slow start. I've only finished one book but am making steady progress on the others. I'll update that and also provide an update on a few new books.

Before I get into my update, I've got a small complaint. I normally open my BLog Firefox. But for the past couple of days it's not accepted my password, instead saying that a code would be sent to my email. Of course that made me somewhat suspicious so I decided to try and open it in Internet Explorer. That worked. Strange, anyways.

OK, enough of that, now on to my review.

New Books

1. The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer #16).












"As a mysterious fire rages through an affluent community in Southern California, Lew Archer tracks a missing--and possibly kidnapped--child and uncovers and entire secret history of wayward parents, wounded offspring, and murder. Along with its merciless suspense, The Underground Man possesses a moral vision as complex as that of a classic Greek tragedy."

2. The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway #1). This is a new series for me.

"The Crossing Places Forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is called upon to date a child's bones found in the Norfolk marshes, thought to be the bones of a missing girl about whom the police having been getting strange letters. Then another girl goes missing and Ruth is in danger..."

3. The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill (Dr. Siri Paiboun #6). I've enjoyed the first two books in this series very much.











"When the corpse of a rural beauty turns up in Dr. Siri's morgue, his curiosity is piqued. The victim was tied to a tree and strangled, but she had not, as the doctor had expected, been raped. On a trip to the hinterlands, Siri learns that many women have been killed this way, and he soon discovers that not only pretty maidens are at risk. Seventy-three-year-old coroners can be victims, too."

4. Second Life by S.J. Watson. I enjoyed Watson's first book, Before I Go to Sleep very much.

"How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia's quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she's losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life."

5. Converging Parallels by Timothy Williams (Commissario Trotti #1). Another new series.










"Northern Italy, 1978: Commissario Piero Trotti, trusted senior police investigator in an anonymous provincial city off the River Po, has two difficult cases to solve. A dismembered body has been found in the river, and it’s up to Trotti to figure out who the murder victim is. At the same time, an estranged friend approaches Trotti with a desperate personal plea: his six-year-old daughter—Trotti’s own goddaughter—has been kidnapped. In the wake of the high-profile kidnapping of Aldo Moro, president of Italy’s majority party, faith in law enforcement is at an all-time low, and it’s no surprise the distraught father isn’t willing to take this matter to the police."

6. The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby (Athenian Mysteries #1).

"Nicolaos walks the mean streets of Classical Athens as an agent for the promising young politician Pericles. His mission is to find the assassin of the statesman Ephialtes, the man who brought democracy to Athens and whose murder has thrown the city into uproar. It's a job not made any easier by the depressingly increasing number of dead witnesses.

But murder and mayhem don't bother Nico; what's really on his mind is how to get closer (much closer) to Diotima, the intelligent and annoyingly virgin priestess of Artemis, and how to shake off his irritating twelve year-old brother Socrates."



Just Finished

1. The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson.











"The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson was definitely interesting. I had previously read another of his Sci-Fi books, The Space Vampires, which was another intriguing story. What to say about The Mind Parasites???

It's a story that moves between horror and Sci-Fi and there are many influences (unless it's more that he has influenced others) or themes explored within the story. It moves from an archeological horror story with HP Lovecraft aspects, both intrinsic and explicit and ends with a spacey type story. As I read through it I was reminded of the aforementioned Lovecraft theme, John Wyndham's hive mind children of The Village of the Damned, Robert Heinlein's Puppet Masters and E.E. Doc Smith's Lensman Sci-Fi books.

Let's take a quick look at the story itself. Professor Gilbert Austin makes a discovery while exploring an archeological dig in Turkey. As well, a close friend of his commits suicide and leaves his papers for Austin. The two events become related. What has he found in Turkey? Why are the incidents of suicide in the world increasing so dramatically? What is this presence that he senses when he explores his friend's documents and what is hampering his efforts in Turkey? Along with his friend, fellow scientist, Prof Reich, they begin both an archeological and psychological exploration of these invaders, the Mind Parasites of the book's title. It's an intriguing story of this threat to mankind and also interesting how these two scientists, along with an increasing group of fellow scientists, increase their mental capabilities to enable themselves to combat these 'aliens'.

The story is written almost in a documentary fashion and develops slowly. It takes awhile before the enemies that are affecting mankind so much are recognized as they are secretive and have inserted themselves within the mental framework of mankind and have basically taken over. These few scientists may be the only hope to save mankind. As a twist of sorts, maybe these selfsame scientists don't really feel the need to do so as their powers increase and they also sort of look down on the normal people of the world.

Funnily I did find myself getting irritated by Mr. Austin. As his mental powers increased, his interest in the 'average' human decreased. There were some funny lines, one in particular caught me... As part of the effort to destroy the 'mind parasites' they had to remove the moon. This was the line; 'The earth lost its moon, to the accompaniment of violent protests from sentimentalists, which we ignored'... I number myself as one of those sentimentalists.. ;0).. Anyway, all in all it was an interesting, unique story. Worth trying. (4 stars)"

Currently Reading
I started two books at the beginning of November.

1. The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean. For some strange reason, this is one of the few Alistair MacLean books I haven't read.










"Twelve hundred British soldiers isolated on the small island of Kheros off the Turkish coast, waiting to die. Twelve hundred lives in jeopardy, lives that could be saved if only the guns could be silenced. The guns of Navarone, vigilant, savage and catastrophic-book."

2. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper. So far this seems like one of those perfect fantasies to settle down and read with your kids. So far.

"'I DID NOT KNOW THAT YOU CHILDREN WOULD BE THE ONES TO FIND IT. OR WHAT DANGER YOU WOULD BE PUTTING YOURSELVES IN.'

Throughout time, the forces of good and evil have battled continuously, maintaining the balance. Whenever evil forces grow too powerful, a champion of good is called to drive them back. Now, with evil's power rising and a champion yet to be found, three siblings find themselves at the center of a mystical war.

Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew have discovered an ancient text that reads of a legendary grail lost centuries ago. The grail is an object of great power, buried with a vital secret. As the Drews race against the forces of evil, they must piece together the text's clues to find the grail -- and keep its secret safe until a new champion rises."


I'll get back to my look at the Mystery genre - American Cops next entry.

Friday, 1 November 2019

My October 2019 Reading Update

So here we are with the start of a new month. 2019 is winding down pretty quickly. Last night was Hallowe'en and we had a few kids, somewhere between 15 and 20, one of our busier Hallowe'en nights. And it was nice that it was pretty all little kids; they were very cute. The puppies sure enjoyed it; I think anyway, considering the howling when the doorbell rang.

Well, since we're into November, it's time for my monthly reading update. October wasn't as productive as previous months. Maybe because I had a fair number of bigger books that have carried over to November. Or maybe I was just a bit lazier. I think I'll choose the former. :0)

Anyway, below is my statistical summary and a look at the books I've read and challenges I've been working on.

Oct 2019

General Info               Oct                    Total
Books Read -                 8                       120
Pages Read -               2,300                 34,400

Pages Breakdown
    < 250                         3                         52       
250 - 350                       3                         30
351 - 450                       1                         26
   > 450                          1                         12

Ratings
5 - star                           1                           6
4 - star                           1                         60
3 - star                           5                         50
2 - star                           1                           4

Gender
Female                          3                         49
Male                              5                         71

Genres
Fiction                          3                          17
Mystery                        2                          75
SciFi                             3                          22
Non-Fic                                                      5
Classics                                                      1           
Poetry                           

Top 3 Books

1. The World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason (5 stars)














"The World of Suzie Wong is my first exposure to the work of English writer Richard   Mason. Mason lived from 1919 - 1997 and over the course of his life he wrote six novels. Suzie Wong was his fifth novel and written in 1957. The book was converted to a movie in 1960, starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan. The book had that feel to it, in my mind, you know, a Sunday afternoon matinee on TCM.

Suzie Wong is a Chinese prostitute, a bar girl, who works in Hong Kong. Robert Lomax is an Englishman. The story starts in British Malaya, where Robert works on a plantation. The owner has strict rules about the men are not allowed to fraternize with the native Malaysian girls. So to keep himself occupied Robert begins painting. Eventually, he decides to move to Hong Kong and paint there. Being limited in his funds and wanting to live in the real Chinese part of Hong Kong, he rents room in a hotel in Wanchai. The hotel is frequented by bar girls, Chinese prostitutes, who stay in the bar and pick up British and American sailors who frequent the place. They then use the rooms in the hotel with their pickups.

Robert loves the atmosphere of the hotel, uses his balcony to paint. He loves the girls, becomes a confidante of theirs. He meets Suzie Wong and they develop a close friendship with her. He loves her personality, her attitudes, her humour, everything about her. Theirs is not a sexual relationship,, in fact, he has no sexual relationships with any of the girls. He just likes the atmosphere, is inspired by the area... and it does suit his limited finances.

The two, Suzie and Robert, are like best friends. Suzie has various relationships during the course of the story and Robert is still a close friend and becomes acquaintances with these other men. It's an interesting dynamic, this relationship, Suzie using Robert's room, as a place to hang out, to discuss her life and Robert's life and their attitudes and feelings.

Of course, the feelings between the two do progress and the development of a relationship between them is well-presented. All in all, the story is interesting, emotional, peopled with excellent characters; the other girls, while not crafted in great detail, are still presented as wonderful women and individuals. The story has great emotional content and rises and falls with the various incidents that occur over the course of this excellent story. One thing that struck me, and maybe it's because I'm a man, the somewhat misogynist attitude of Robert that becomes apparent when his relationship with Suzie becomes more and more personal. Suzie doesn't want to be a bar girl if she's going to have a relationship with Robert, but then how will she support her child. Robert's attitude to this is interesting. I won't get into it but I'd be interested to see what a woman would think of it. I think it's pretty clear without me describing it.

Anyway, that little bit does not detract from the excellent story that Mason tells. It's a satisfying character driven story that will leave you feeling excellent. (5 stars)"

2. The Cat Who Saw Red by Lilian Jackson Braun (4 stars)



"The Cat Who Saw Red is the 4th book in the Qwilleran and his Siamese cats mysteries by Lilian Jackson Braun, the 3rd that I've enjoyed and so far I think my favorite. For those unfamiliar with the stories, Qwilleran is a reporter for The Daily Fluxion and in the course of his assignments gets involved with a variety of mysteries. Over the course of the stories he acquires to Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum, both of whom assist him in solving mysteries an also keep him from getting to badly hurt.

In The Cat Who Saw Red, we find Qwilleran with a new assignment with the newspaper, that being the new gastronomical editor, responsible for exploring the foodies of the city. During his first assignment, he meets an old girl friend who has moved to the city, is a potter and is married. They live in the Maus Haus, a residence peopled with a wonderfully quirky cast of characters. It turns out that there is an apartment available in the building, so Qwill decides it's time that he makes a move in his stale life and therefore he and his canine cohorts uproot and move to new digs.

The house has a mysterious history, that being the unexplained deaths, many years before, of two of the residents. And there are mysterious disappearances in the present day as well. His old girlfriend's cat has disappeared. She tells Qwill that she can't live with her husband anymore and wants to get a divorce. Qwill, somewhat living in the past and with romantic feelings for her still, digs into his limited resources and writes a cheque to help her with her divorce proceedings. Then she disappears. And another person disappears later on.

While Qwill and his cats explore these mysterious disappearances, he also makes the rounds of various eating establishment, on the Fluxion's dime of course, bringing various of the residents with him for free dinners. Of course, Qwill gets this new assignment just as he decides to go on a diet because he's feeling somewhat rotund. How do your write articles on food when you don't eat? What a conundrum!

Anyway, the story is an enjoyable ride. The mysteries are interesting enough and fun enough to keep you engrossed in the story and the fun characters. Qwill is a great character in his own right but the addition of his cats, who he clearly adores, add to the quality of the stories. Most enjoyable and I look forward to more adventures of the mystery - solving threesome. (4 stars)"

3. Sharpe's Sword by  Bernard Cornwell (3.5 stars)











"Sharpe's Sword is the 14th book in the Sharpe's adventure / historical series by Bernard Cornwell. This story is set during the period June / July 1812 during Wellington's Salamanca Campaign in Spain. Sharpe is attached to Wellington's spy master Maj Hogan to try and find a master French spy, Colonel Leroux. Leroux is a nasty man and is set on finding El Mirador, one of Hogan's most effective contacts.

Leroux has been captured but disguised himself as another officer and escapes into a French fort near Salamanca, even though having given his parole. He kills Sharpe's company commander and a young lieutenant while making his escape. Sharpe and his men, especially his faithful Sgt Harper, because they can recognize Leroux are assigned the task of finding him when Wellington attacks to take over the three forts held by the French.

There is also a spy within Wellington's camp who warns the French of the attack, with disastrous results. There are many suspects including a Spanish contessa with designs on Sharpe, Lord Spears, one of Hogan's spies who is recovering from an injury and spending much time with the Contessa and Sharpe, and Father Curtis, an Irish priest who seems to show up everywhere.

It all makes for a great action-filled adventure, with battles, intrigue and romance. Sharpe wants Leroux's sword and to capture the French spy. Sharpe's life is threatened many times (it is an adventure, eh?   :0)). All in all, one of the better Sharpe adventures, filled with excellent characters and an interesting plot. I do like how Cornwell ties the actual historical events into Sharpe's storyline and highlights the actual history in the afterword. I've enjoyed this series very much and look forward to getting the next book in the series. (3.5 stars)"


12 + 4  Challenge (completed 16) (Challenge Complete)
-

Papa Bear Challenge (Books I've had the longest on my Goodreads bookshelf)
1. Sharpe's Sword by Bernard Cornwell (3.5 stars)

Mama Bear Challenge (Middle of my Goodreads bookshelf)
-

Baby Bear Challenge (Books most recently added to my Goodreads bookshelf)
-

Goldilocks Challenge (Random Number Generator)
2. The Cat Who Saw Red by Lilian Jackson Braun (4 stars)

Break from Challenges Challenge (Freebees every time I complete 10 books)

3. Tank Girl 2 by Alan C. Martin (3 stars)

Freebies
-

Challenges from Other Groups
4. The World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason (5 stars)
5. French Alley by Matthew Clay (2 stars)

September Individual Genre Challenge - Women Authors
6. Blood Noir by Laurell K. Hamilton (3 stars)
7. The Bee's Kiss by Barbara Cleverly (3.5 stars)

October Individual Genre Challenge - Horror
8. Relic by Preston & Child (3.5 stars)

Nov 2019 Books Currently Reading

1. The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean
2. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
3. The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry
4. Middlemarch by George Eliot
5. The Passage by Justin Cronin
6. The Last Temptation by Val McDermid
7. Nobody True by James Herbert

Next Possibles in line
(My November genre of focus is War, even though I've got to finish off a number of other books first)

1. The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin
2. J. Sidney Jones - The German Agent
3. The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Have a great November!

Monday, 28 October 2019

A Reading Update

It's been a bit since I've provided a reading update. Relatively speaking, October has been a slow month. I managed to catch up a bit on my recent trip back home to Ontario. It's a long flight and I finished a couple of books there and back. Also enjoyed a few movies too; Tolkien, Avengers Endgame... I'm enjoying the books I'm currently reading but they are all relatively long. I do hope I can finish a couple more before end month.

Anyway, since my last reading update I've completed 4 books. I'll update those and also the books I've started since (October has for the most part been Horror month). I'll also try and continue with my look at the Mystery genre - American Cops. Oh, November will focus on War - type books, mainly fictional, in respect for Remembrance Day. I do have one Fantasy book lined up as well, for my UK Reading Group's November Genre challenge.

Anyway, on to reading info.

Just Finished

1. The World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason. I read this for the October genre challenge in my UK Book Club, Romance.

"The World of Suzie Wong is my first exposure to the work of English writer Richard   Mason. Mason lived from 1919 - 1997 and over the course of his life he wrote six novels. Suzie Wong was his fifth novel and written in 1957. The book was converted to a movie in 1960, starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan. The book had that feel to it, in my mind, you know, a Sunday afternoon matinee on TCM.

Suzie Wong is a Chinese prostitute, a bar girl, who works in Hong Kong. Robert Lomax is an Englishman. The story starts in British Malaya, where Robert works on a plantation. The owner has strict rules about the men are not allowed to fraternize with the native Malaysian girls. So to keep himself occupied Robert begins painting. Eventually, he decides to move to Hong Kong and paint there. Being limited in his funds and wanting to live in the real Chinese part of Hong Kong, he rents room in a hotel in Wanchai. The hotel is frequented by bar girls, Chinese prostitutes, who stay in the bar and pick up British and American sailors who frequent the place. They then use the rooms in the hotel with their pickups.

Robert loves the atmosphere of the hotel, uses his balcony to paint. He loves the girls, becomes a confidante of theirs. He meets Suzie Wong and they develop a close friendship with her. He loves her personality, her attitudes, her humour, everything about her. Theirs is not a sexual relationship,, in fact, he has no sexual relationships with any of the girls. He just likes the atmosphere, is inspired by the area... and it does suit his limited finances.

The two, Suzie and Robert, are like best friends. Suzie has various relationships during the course of the story and Robert is still a close friend and becomes acquaintances with these other men. It's an interesting dynamic, this relationship, Suzie using Robert's room, as a place to hang out, to discuss her life and Robert's life and their attitudes and feelings.

Of course, the feelings between the two do progress and the development of a relationship between them is well-presented. All in all, the story is interesting, emotional, peopled with excellent characters; the other girls, while not crafted in great detail, are still presented as wonderful women and individuals. The story has great emotional content and rises and falls with the various incidents that occur over the course of this excellent story. One thing that struck me, and maybe it's because I'm a man, the somewhat misogynist attitude of Robert that becomes apparent when his relationship with Suzie becomes more and more personal. Suzie doesn't want to be a bar girl if she's going to have a relationship with Robert, but then how will she support her child. Robert's attitude to this is interesting. I won't get into it but I'd be interested to see what a woman would think of it. I think it's pretty clear without me describing it.

Anyway, that little bit does not detract from the excellent story that Mason tells. It's a satisfying character driven story that will leave you feeling excellent. (5 stars)"

2. Relic by Preston & Child (Pendergast #1). My first exposure to this writing combo. Quite enjoyable.








"Relic by authors Preston & Child was my first exposure to their writing. I had seen the movie many years ago but couldn't remember much about it. The book was an entertaining thrill ride, most enjoyable.

We move from an expedition in South America where a number of the explorers are killed. The scene moves to Museum of Natural History in New York many years later. They are in the process of preparing for a big exhibit on strange beings and habits and bodies are beginning to crop up. Is there a relationship to materials that were shipped from South America as part of the earlier expedition? You'll have to read the story.

It follows the tradition of such stories / movies as Jaws. Something is killing people and the undermanned investigators must not only try to find the killer(s) but also battle museum executives who want the exhibition to take place no matter what. FBI investigator Pendergast comes up from New Orleans on the trail of a killer who had murdered people there, who were part of the previous expedition. He works with New York cop Lt D'Agosta who is investigating some disappearances and murders at the museum. These may be related. On another avenue you have museum scientist Margo Green and novelist Smithback who are doing research on the expedition and material that was shipped to the museum from South America, as part of that expedition. Are all these investigations related? As I mentioned earlier, you'll have to read the story. :0)

As the story builds, the exhibition comes to fruition, the museum is filled with spectators and police and FBI security and a heavy rainstorm begins. Things begin to accelerate, bodies start cropping up, people get separated, the power goes out and action and tension builds and builds. We follow the various characters throughout the museum as the try either to escape or to find the killer(s). It's definitely a fun ride, lots of action and suspense. The main characters are well-developed and likable and you want the succeed. All in all, I enjoyed this story very much. Suspend disbelief and just enjoy! (3.5 stars)"

3. Sharpe's Sword by Bernard Cornwell (Sharpe #14). This has been a steady favorite of mine, kind of a comfort read.











"Sharpe's Sword is the 14th book in the Sharpe's adventure / historical series by Bernard Cornwell. This story is set during the period June / July 1812 during Wellington's Salamanca Campaign in Spain. Sharpe is attached to Wellington's spy master Maj Hogan to try and find a master French spy, Colonel Leroux. Leroux is a nasty man and is set on finding El Mirador, one of Hogan's most effective contacts.

Leroux has been captured but disguised himself as another officer and escapes into a French fort near Salamanca, even though having given his parole. He kills Sharpe's company commander and a young lieutenant while making his escape. Sharpe and his men, especially his faithful Sgt Harper, because they can recognize Leroux are assigned the task of finding him when Wellington attacks to take over the three forts held by the French.

There is also a spy within Wellington's camp who warns the French of the attack, with disastrous results. There are many suspects including a Spanish contessa with designs on Sharpe, Lord Spears, one of Hogan's spies who is recovering from an injury and spending much time with the Contessa and Sharpe, and Father Curtis, an Irish priest who seems to show up everywhere.

It all makes for a great action-filled adventure, with battles, intrigue and romance. Sharpe wants Leroux's sword and to capture the French spy. Sharpe's life is threatened many times (it is an adventure, eh?   :0)). All in all, one of the better Sharpe adventures, filled with excellent characters and an interesting plot. I do like how Cornwell ties the actual historical events into Sharpe's story line and highlights the actual history in the afterword. I've enjoyed this series very much and look forward to getting the next book in the series. (3.5 stars)"

4. French Alley by Matthew Clay.

"I found French Alley by Matthew Clay in a used book store in Victoria, Canada (Grafton Books; unfortunately now closed). It was one of the books in a glass cabinet, wrapped in clear plastic. I bought it on a whim as it wasn't really all that cheap. I think it is a '50s version of Harlequin romances, with more of a gritty flavor to it.

The story is about 3 women who have found their way to a burlesque club in New Orleans. There is Renee, a Cajun girl from the bayous of Louisiana. Her mother, worn from life in this environment, gives Renee enough money to escape the life and move to the city. Renee starts working in a laundromat but after advances from the owner, escapes. She meets Steve a pianist at the burlesque club who suggests she might want to work there. At the club Renee meets Kim. Kim is everyone's friend. Kim had escaped from her life with Luke whom she had married at 16. Luke took her to New York where he was supposed to be an actor and dancer, but in fact was a drunken wastrel. Kim finds work as a dancer and on discovering Luke with another woman she also moves to New Orleans. There she is in love with Red, another Luke, shifty and living off Kim. The third member of the group, the last roommate is Judy. Judy came from a wealthy family in New York, ignored by her father after her mother died and mistreated by her house keeper. After her father marries the housekeeper he tries to force Judy to marry a wealthy friend's son, but Judy runs away to New Orleans.

The three have issues, are trying to find love and romance and also work at the burlesque club. The story delves into their lives and relationships and there are differing results, some even very tragic. It's not the type of story I usually read, in fact it's sat on my bookshelf for 10 years or so. I dusted it off for a book group October genre challenge of Romance. It's sort of what I expected. It was gritty and moved along nicely, in some ways reminded me of movies of the decade by stars like Ida Lupino and such. (2 stars)"

Currently Reading
I've started 3 books since my last entry.

Part of this series
1. Middlemarch by George Eliot. I've enjoyed both of Eliot's books I've read so far. This is a collection of 4 novellas. (The photo isn't of Middlemarch but my edition is part of this series. I bought three of her books in an antique store in Courtenay, all with similar covers.)

"'We believe in her as in a woman we might providentially meet some fine day when we should find ourselves doubting of the immortality of the soul'

wrote Henry James of Dorothea Brooke, who shares with the young doctor Tertius Lydgate not only a central role in Middlemarch but also a fervent conviction that life should be heroic.

By the time the novel appeared to tremendous popular and critical acclaim in 1871-2, George Eliot was recognized as England's finest living novelist. It was her ambition to create a world and portray a whole community--tradespeople, middle classes, country gentry--in the rising provincial town of Middlemarch, circa 1830. Vast and crowded, rich in narrative irony and suspense, Middlemarch is richer still in character, in its sense of how individual destinies are shaped by and shape the community, and in the great art that enlarges the reader's sympathy and imagination. It is truly, as Virginia Woolf famously remarked, 'one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'."


2. Nobody True by James Herbert. I do like Herbert's brand of horror. This story is off to a bit of a slow start but the premise is interesting.







"Jim True knows. He has returned from an out-of-body experience to find he has been brutally murdered and his body mutilated. No one can see him, no one can hear him, no one, except his killer, knows he still exists. Freed from his body, True embarks on a quest to find his killer and discover why and how he has managed to survive. As he closes in on his murderer, True discovers that even the very people he loved and trusted have betrayed him. He meets his killer, a strange and sinister figure who can also leave his body at will. An epic and deadly battle ensues between True and a seemingly unstoppable and hideous serial killer - a man now intent on even more murders, including True's wife and child . ."

3. The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson. I have previously read Wilson's The Space Vampires and enjoyed very much. This one seems interesting so far.











"Wilson has blended H.P. Lovecraft's dark vision with his own revolutionary philosophy & unique narrative powers to produce a stunning, high-tension story of vaulting imagination. A professor makes a horrifying discovery while excavating an Anatolian archeological site. For over 200 years, mind parasites have been lurking in the deepest layers of the unconsciousness, feeding on human life force & steadily gaining a foothold on the planet. Now they threaten humanity's extinction. They can be fought with one weapon only: the mind, pushed to-& beyond-its limits. Pushed so far that humans can read each other's thoughts, that the moon can be shifted from its orbit by thought alone. Pushed so that humans can at last join battle with the loathsome parasites on equal terms."

My Ongoing Look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops
In my last entry I looked at Craig Johnson's Longmire series.

1. Julia Keller - Belfa Elkins. I've read the first two books in this series set in West Virginia and featuring DA Belfa Elkins. Keller was born in West Virginia and portrays the area excellently. She won a Pulitzer Prize while working at the Chicago Tribune. There are currently 8 books in the Bell Elkins series as well as 4 e-novellas.

a. A Killing in the Hills (2012). 

"A Killing in the Hills is the first Bell Elkins mystery by Julia Keller. The story is set in rural West Virginia and Elkins is the local District Attorney. Something happened to Bell during her childhood in the town of Acker's Gap, which becomes apparent as you progress through the story. She married at a later date and moved to Washington DC with her husband, a new lawyer. Bell also got her law degree but wanted to return to Acker's Gap to help the people of that community; ending up with her going alone with her daughter, Carla.

The story starts with a triple murder in the town, 3 old men sitting having coffee at the local restaurant. Carla is one of the people who sees the shooting. Bell is also working on a case in which a mentally handicapped boy is charged with the murder of his friend. As well, Carla, a typical teenager?, is rebelling, anger issues, suspended driver's license. Bell's best friend, Ruthie, is suffering with cancer, and, oh yes, Bell's sister is coming up for a parole hearing for the murder of their father, many years ago. So, yes a lot is going on.


But Keller is able to tie this all together to make an interesting, tense story. It flows very nicely and there are characters, especially Bell (Belfa) and the sheriff, Nick Fogelsong, with long ties to Bell, who are developed nicely. The past and the present are tied together, the murderer is well-described and interesting/ somewhat scary, and the mysteries are nicely tied up. There are enough loose ends at the end of the book; especially re. Bell's daughter and Bell's sister, to make you want to find out more about this series. I enjoyed very much and look forward to trying the next, Bitter River. (4 stars)" 


2. Bitter River (2013).

"Bitter River is the 2nd book in the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller. I enjoyed the first book, A Killing in the Hills, but this one was even better. Keller is an excellent author spinning a tense mystery and crafting excellent characters.

Bell Elkins is the DA of a small town in West Virginia. She is called out by the sheriff, her friend Nick Fogelsong, when a body is discovered in her car in the Bitter River. The body is that of a young girl, Lucinda Trimble, a high school senior, who is also pregnant. The story basically involves their investigation of the murder of the girl. Complicating the story is the fact that Nick had previously had a relationship with the girl's mother, Maddie many years ago. Both had moved on, Nick marrying someone else and Maddie marrying as well.

Besides this main story, Bell is also dealing with a number of issues, her ongoing relationship with a younger man, Clay; the fact that her daughter has moved to Washington to live with her father and Bell's ex-husband; the absence of Bell's sister after her release (in the last story) from prison. As well, an ex-friend of both Bell moves to Raythune County to get away from things for awhile. He has some issues, it appears. Will these affect anything?

This is more than simply a murder mystery, as things begin to spiral out of control as the story moves along. The tension builds nicely and there are a number of surprise happenings that add to it. Judith Keller is an excellent story - teller. She develops characters very nicely, making them more than words on paper. She presents the locale and events clearly and in a manner that draws you in to the story.

I found the story flowed along smoothly and could feel the tension of the characters and events as they occurred. I enjoyed it very much. Some of the events seemed far-fetched, but in Keller's hands they just made for a more entertaining story. Well worth reading. I look forward to continuing the series. Next in line is Summer of the Dead (4.5 stars)"


The remaining books in the series are -
a. Summer of the Dead (2014)
b. Last Ragged Breath (2015)
c. Sorrow Road (2016)
d. Fast Falls the Night (2017)
e. Bone on Bone (2018)
f. The Cold Way Home (2019)

So there you go, all caught up. Now to get back to reading. Have a great week! 

Sunday, 27 October 2019

A Whole Heap of New Books - Part 2

As I watch the Formula 1 race in Mexico, I'll finish my post from yesterday. Below are the remaining books I purchased this past week.

Just Purchased

1. Borderline by Nevada Barr (Anna Pigeon #15). This has been one of my favorite mystery series and I'm slowly winding down with it.

"To list their spirits, Anna Pigeon and her husband head to Texas for a rafting trip on the Rio Grande. The power of the river works its magic- until the raft is lost in the rapids and someone makes the grisly discovery of a pregnant woman caught between two boulders. Soon Anna will learn that nature isn't the only one who wanted to see the woman and her baby dead."

2. Fire Ice by Clive Cussler & Paul Kemprecos (NUMA Files #3). This is one of the Cussler series I've yet to try. I've enjoyed his Dirk Pitt books and also the Isaac Bell series.










"In the heart of the old Soviet Union, a mining tycoon is determined to overthrow the Russian government-distracting the U.S. with a man-made natural disaster using a notoriously unstable compound known as "fire ice." Detonation of this compound could create a tidal wave big enough to destroy a major city. But Kurt Austin and his Special Assignment Team are about to make a few waves of their own..."

3. The Lost Island by Preston & Child (Gideon Crew #3). I've tried Preston & Child's other series. Looking forward to trying this one as well.











"Gideon Crew--brilliant scientist, master thief--is living on borrowed time. When his mysterious employer, Eli Glinn, gives him an eyebrow-raising mission, he has no reason to refuse. Gideon's task: steal a page from the priceless Book of Kells, now on display in New York City and protected by unbreakable security.

Accomplishing the impossible, Gideon steals the parchment--only to learn that hidden beneath the gorgeously illuminated image is a treasure map dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks. As they ponder the strange map, they realize that the treasure it leads to is no ordinary fortune. It is something far more precious: an amazing discovery that could perhaps even save Gideon's life.

Together with his new partner, Amy, Gideon follows a trail of cryptic clues to an unknown island in a remote corner of the Caribbean Sea. There, off the hostile and desolate Mosquito Coast, the pair realize the extraordinary treasure they are hunting conceals an even greater shock-a revelation so profound that it may benefit the entire human race . . . if Gideon and Amy can survive.
"


4. The Japanese Corpse by Janwillem van de Wetering (Amsterdam Cops #5). I've read two books by van de Wetering and like his unique style.

"A beautiful waitress at Amsterdam’s most elegant Japanese restaurant reports that her boyfriend, a Japanese art dealer, is missing. The police search throughout the Netherlands and finally locate a corpse. But to find the killer, the commissaris and de Gier must travel to Japan and match wits with a yakuza chieftain in his lair."

5. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is a new SciFi author for me. I've a couple of his books awaiting my perusal. 










"Only once in a great while does a writer come along who defies comparison -- a writer so original he redefines the way we look at the world. Neal Stephenson is such a writer and Snow Crash is such a novel, weaving virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between with a cool, hip cyber-sensibility to bring us the gigantic thriller of the information age. In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo's Cosa Nostra Inc., but in the Metaverse he's a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that's striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous... you'll recognize it immediately."

6. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith (Precious Ramotswe #8). Back a few years ago I read the first few books in this series one after an other. For one reason or another, I shifted to other books and series. It'll be nice to revisit this wonderful series. 

"As winter turns to spring across Botswana's red earth and slow green rivers, all is not well on Zebra Drive. Mma Ramotswe has plenty of work, ranging from thefts at the printing works to suspicious deaths at the Mochudi hospital. Meanwhile Mma Makutsi's forthcoming marriage appears to threaten a happy working relationship. But when Mr J.L.B. Matekoni - trying to prove himself as a worthy husband - has to go at a little detective work, disaster looms..."

7. Vicious Circle by Mike Carey (Felix Castor #2). This is a new series for me. I think it's somewhat like the Dresden files books.











"Felix Castor has reluctantly returned to exorcism after a successful case convinces him that he really can do some good with his abilities---"good," of course, being a relative term when dealing with the undead. His friend Rafi is still possessed, the succubus Ajulutsikael (Juliet to her friends) still technically has a contract on him, and he's still dirt poor.

Doing some consulting for the local cops helps pay the bills, but Castor needs a big private job to really fill the hole in his bank account. That's what he needs. What he gets is a seemingly insignificant "missing ghost" case that inexorably drags him and his loved ones into the middle of a horrific plot to raise one of hell's fiercest demons.


When satanists, stolen spirits, sacrifice farms, and haunted churches all appear on the same police report, the name Felix Castor can't be too far behind..."


8. Dead Men's Boots by Mike Carey (Felix Castor #3).

"You might think that helping a friend's widow to stop a lawyer from stealing her husband's corpse would be the strangest thing on your To Do list. But life is rarely that simple for Felix Castor.

A brutal murder in King's Cross bears all the hallmarks of a long-dead American serial killer, and it takes more good sense than Castor possesses not to get involved. He's also fighting a legal battle over the body - if not the soul - of his possessed friend, Rafi, and can't shake the feeling that his three problems might be related.

With the help of the succubus Juliet and paranoid zombie data-fence Nicky Heath, Castor just might have a chance of fitting the pieces together before someone drops him down a lift shaft or rips his throat out."


9. Blue City by Ross Macdonald. I have enjoyed Macdonald's Lew Archer books. I'm looking forward to trying this one.











"He was a son who hadn’t known his father very well.  It was a town shaken by a grisly murder—his father’s murder.  Johnny Weatherly was home from a war and wandering.  When he found out that his father had been assassinated on a street corner and that his father’s seductive young wife had inherited a fortune, he started knocking on doors.  The doors came open, and Johnny stepped into a world of gamblers, whores, drug-dealers, and blackmailers, a place in which his father had once moved freely.  Now Johnny Weatherly was going to solve this murder—by pitting his rage, his courage, and his lost illusions against the brutal underworld that has overtaken his hometown."

10. The Burning by M.R. Hall (Jenny Cooper #6). I first heard of this series when I watched the Canadian version based on Hall's books. It was excellent. I hope the books are as well.

"In the depths of a frozen winter, Coroner Jenny Cooper is called to the scene of a devastating house fire that has claimed the lives of Ed Morgan and his two step-daughters in the isolated hamlet of Blackstone Ley.

The police look no further when they discover the message Ed left for his wife, Kelly, telling her that he set the fire as revenge for her infidelity and that she will never find their infant son.

As Jenny digs into Blackstone Ley’s murky past, she uncovers a history that begs more and questions. What provoked Ed’s murderous rage? How might the other, guarded inhabitants of the village have been involved? And what connects the fire with the unsolved disappearance of a four-year-old girl nearly ten years ago?

Finding herself ranged against forces far darker than she could ever have imagined, can Jenny unearth Blackstone Ley’s secrets before more lives are claimed?"


11. Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley. I've read a few of Findley's books. He's got an interesting style.











"Not Wanted on the Voyage is the story of the great flood and the first time the world ended, filed with an extraordinary cast of remarkable characters. With pathos and pageantry, desperation and hope, magic and mythology, this acclaimed novel weaves its unforgettable spell." 

12. The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdette ( Sonchai #4). I've read the first two books in this police series set in Thailand and have enjoyed them very much.










"John Burdett's famed Royal Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is put to the test both as a Buddhist and as a cop as he confronts the most shocking crime of his career.

A rich American film director has been murdered. It is an intriguing case, and solving it could lead to a promotion for Sonchai, but, as always, he is far more concerned with the state of his karma than he is with his status in the earthly realm. To complicate matters his boss, Colonel Vikorn, has decided to make Sonchai his consigliere in a heroin smuggling operation. Sonchai travels to Kathmandu to meet Vikorn's connection Tietsin, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and falls under the sway of this dark and charismatic guru."


So there you go, book purchases all caught up. In my next post I will get back to reviewing books I've completed and in a few days will do my monthly reading update. Have a great week and enjoy the last week of October. Happy Hallowe'en.
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