Thursday, 1 December 2016

November 2016 - Reading Summary

Oh yes, that's the spot.. right there.. ahhhhhh!
I can't believe it's already December. Yesterday, the puppies had their end year grooming. Not sure if you can see from Bonnie's pose as she decided, just before I took the shot to roll over to scratch her back. It's definitely one of the things she enjoys most, besides eating... and barking at the neighbours... and eating Clyde's toys..

Aren't I adorable? It won't last, trust me.
Maybe you can see it better with Clyde, who is much more reposed in the morning, pretending butter wouldn't melt.. He can be cute, but he did manage to bark at our neighbour this morning when he surprised us on our morning walk, as he was starting his morning run.. the neighbour that is, not Clyde. Clyde just barked at him..

The missus cooked an excellent dinner last night; pork Marsala; tender pork chops, great sauce. I definitely needed my morning run today. So I guess I should get into books now. I've had an excellent year, reading-wise; achieved my goals, read some excellent books and am spending the last month reading books without worrying about challenges, just freebies. My November summary follows -

November Reading Summary

                                     Nov           Sub-total         Total
Books Read                   11                 125                136
Pages Read                  2900             38,475           41,375

Pages Breakdown
    < 250                            6                  53                  59
250 - 350                          4                  34                  38
351 - 450                          0                  19                  19
     > 450                           1                  19                  20

Author Gender
Female                             5                  38                  43
Male                                6                  87                  93

Ratings
5 - star                             1                  17                  18
4 - star                             7                  64                  71
3 - star                             3                  44                  47

Genres
Fiction                             1                  20                  21
Mystery                           8                  55                  63
SciFi                                1                  33                  34
Non-Fict                          1                   8                     9
Humour                                                3                     3
Classics                                                6                     6

Top Three Books
Two mysteries and my one fiction entry make up my top three.

1. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert. This is the second book by Gilbert I read this past year and both were excellent, both 5 star reads.

"I've read a couple of other books by Michael    Gilbert and have enjoyed them all so far. Smallbone Deceased ranks up there with Petrella at Q as my favourites of his, so far. Smallbone is a perfect little mystery. It's billed as an Inspector Hazelrigg mystery and, indeed, the good Inspector does play a prominent role.
But the supporting cast also adds very much to the story, especially poor Sgt Plumptree who has to wander around London interviewing possible witnesses. He is an inexhaustible man, a credit to the London Police Force. As well, there is Henry Bohun, the newest member of the offices of Horniman, Birley and Craine, who finds himself helping Inspector Hazelrigg with his investigation to a great extent.
The basic story is that a body, that of Mr. Smallbone, a client of the firm, is found in one of the firm's deed boxes, having resided there for a few weeks. This starts up the investigation, which I enjoyed following very much. There was an interesting steadiness to the investigation; I've mentioned Sgt Plumbtree already, but the rest of the team of investigators are all excellent. I'll highlight Mr. Hoffman who works through the paperwork, checking the firm's finances to try and find reasons for the murder.
The investigation moves at a nice, steady pace, allowing all of the characters time to inculcate themselves into your memory. They all are enjoyable; there is a nice humour at times that keeps the story light. All in all, the book was so very enjoyable, even the ending was satisfying. I will definitely continue to find more books by Gilbert to enjoy. (5 stars)"

2. The Man Within by Graham Greene. I've really taken to Greene's writing the past few years; been searching for all of his books and reading one or two a year.

"The Man Within was Graham Greene's first published work, published in 1929 when he was 25 years old. Over the past couple of years, I've begun to explore his writing more and more; both his fiction and non-fiction. It was interesting to finally get a copy of his first book and see how it all started.
The story revolves around an English smuggler who, wanting to get out of the 'business', turns in his crew mates with an anonymous letter to the police. In the struggle to arrest the smugglers, one of the police is killed. Andrews, who was the person who turned in the smugglers, goes on the run to escape from the others. He is a self-professed coward who, in his escape, comes across a hut on the Sussex moors and meets a woman who will change his life. He is encouraged to give evidence against his comrades, an act that might have disastrous consequences.
I quite liked this story. It took a few pages to get into the flow, but it became a story I couldn't put down. Unlike Greene's later work, which acquired a finesse in his writing style, this story was very raw, emotional. Andrews is an introspective person, filled with self-loathing for his life style, his cowardice, but who falls in love deeply with Elizabeth and who wants to change for her. The story moves quickly, building in tension; it's definitely difficult to put down as you get into the flow. Excellent first story. I've got a number of Greene's other books still on my bookshelves and look forward to continuing my exploration with his writing. (4 stars)

3. The Dragon Man by Garry Disher. This is the first book in Australian writer Disher's Inspector Challis mysteries and I know I'll continue to read and enjoy the series.

"I enjoyed The Dragon Man, the first DI Hal Challis mystery, by Garry Disher very much. It's an Australian police procedural that moves along very nicely, is populated with many interesting characters and has many nice little twists and turns as the police team investigate the various cases that make up the story.
The basic story is the abduction, rape and murder of local women, but there are also other cases that may or may not be related; the woman from New Zealand who is living in the area under witness protection; a spate of arson attacks, break-ins, etc. The police investigation is lead by DI Challis, who also deals with regular calls from his wife who is in prison after trying to murder him; his current girl-friend, the local newspaper reporter; all the while working on rebuilding a damaged aeroplane.
The other members of the police team are all interesting personalities, with their own foibles and issues but are also an effective investigating team. The cases, as well, were very interesting and they were tied together very satisfyingly. An entertaining page turner that I finished in a day once I started it; excellent introduction to this series. (4 stars)"

Other Reads
4. The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. This was a 3-star read, one of the Albert Campion mysteries
5. Under the Dome by Stephen King. This was a two month read. I started it in October and it was a book I could put down easily and then pick up again. But like any King book, it moved along, had lots of characters and action. Interesting concept and was also a successful TV series. (3 stars)
6. The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern by Lilian Jackson Braun. The second book in the Cat Who... mysteries. As was the first in the series, this was also nicely entertaining and light. Another series I'll continue to enjoy. (4 stars)
7. Parkinson's Lore by Michael Parkinson. Michael Parkinson is a household name in the UK and this book was a tribute to his growing up, his love of cricket and footie. Many funny stories and touching remembrances. (3 stars)
8. Slow Curve on the Coquihalla by R.E. Donald. This was the first book in the Hunter Rayne mystery series, a copy which was provided by the author for my perusal. Most enjoyable, great familiar setting (British Columbia) and interesting characters and plot. (4 stars)
9. Fountain of Death by Jane Haddam. This was the 12th book in the Gregor Demarkian mystery series. I've read 4 or 5 now, one of those series that I know I can pick up and enjoy the story. (4 stars)
10. Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh. Another of my favourite mystery series, featuring Inspector Alleyn, intrepid detective inspector from Scotland Yard. this was most enjoyable, the 8th book in the series. Like Haddam, I know I can rely on Marsh to produce an excellent, entertaining story.
11. In the Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. This was the first thriller by English writer, Ruth Ware. It was definitely a thriller, very tense, and mysterious. (4 stars)

So there you go, my November reading highlights. I'm currently working through my first 4 December books and, so far, enjoying them all -

1. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte;
2. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (I can guarantee that this will be finished very soon);
3. Fractured by Karin Slaughter;
4. Wycliffe and the Death in Stanley Street by W.J. Burley.

So there you go. Have a great December!!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Book Purchases - November 2016

I was pretty darn good when it came to buying books in November. Considering I took an annual trip to North Bay and visited Allison the Bookman, I only bought 9 books this month. I think the fact that I was trying to travel very light this trip, that I only bought 3 books at Allison's. Three of the books purchased have already been highlighted as parts of my 2017 Reading Challenges, so I'll only mention them in passing and provide a link to the write-up on the applicable pages.

1. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. I bought this at Nearly New Books in Comox and plan to make it one of my first two Classic reads in 2017. This the link to the synopsis. You can find it under the Classics heading.

2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. This is one of two books I bought in November that I plan to read in my New Fiction group. I purchased it at 2nd Page Books in Courtenay.

3. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. I purchased this at Nearly New Books. This is the link for the synopses of this book and Fingersmith.

4. Anathem by Neil Stephenson. - I found this at Nearly New Books. I had been looking for a book by Stephenson as I'd seen his name listed in various other Science Fiction books I've read.

"For ten years Fraa Erasmas, a young avout, has lived in a cloistered sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside world. But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change - and Erasmas will become a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world, as he follows his destiny to the most inhospitable corners of the planet... and beyond."

5. Gently By the Shore by Alan Hunter. This is the 2nd book in the George Gently mystery series. I've read the first and have been looking for the 2nd book for awhile. I finally ordered it from Goldstone Books.

"In a British seaside holiday resort at the height of the season, you would expect to find a promenade and a pier, maybe some donkeys, kiss-me-quick hats, candyfloss, and kids building sandcastles. You would not expect to find a  naked corpse, punctured with stab wounds, lying on the sand.
Chief Inspector George Gently is called in to investigate the disturbing murder. The case needs to be wrapped up quickly to calm the nerves of concerned holidaymakers. No one wants to think there is a maniac on the loose in the town but with no clothes or identifying marks on the body, Gently has a tough time establishing who the victim is, let alone finding the killer.
In the meantime, who knows where or when the murderer might strike again?"

6. It's a Battlefield by Graham Greene. In the past few years, I've enjoyed reacquainting myself with Greene's writing. I've slowly been finding his earliest works. It's a Battlefield is his 3rd published work, originally published in 1934. I purchased this from Goldstone Books as well.

"Drover, a Communist bus-driver, has been sentenced to death for killing a policeman in a political riot because he thought the policeman was going to strike his wife.
A bitter irony hovers over the ensuing battles to save Drover: the Assistant Commissioner overworked and afraid of retirement; a paranoid Chief Clerk; Conder, a pathetic journalist living off his fantasies; a haunted Fabian economist; and pretty, promiscuous Kay - all have a part to play in his fate."

7. The Human Factor by Graham Greene. This is the 2nd Greene book I purchased in November, this one from Nearly New Books. It was one of his last works and sounds like an excellent spy novel.

"A leak is traced to a small sub-section of SIS, sparking off the inevitable security checks, tensions and suspicions. The sort of atmosphere, perhaps, where mistakes could be made?
For Maurice Castle - dull, but brilliant with files - it is the end of the line anyway, and it is time to retire to live peacefully with his African wife, Sarah.
To the lonely, isolated world of the Secret Service graham Greene brings his brilliance and perception, laying bare a machine that sometimes overlooks the subtle and secret motivations that impel us all."

8. Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser. This is the 2nd book in the Flashman series. I purchased it from Goldstone Books.

"In this second volume of The Flashman Papers, Flashman, the arch-cad and toady, matches his wits, his talents for deceit and malice, and above all his speed in evasion against the most brilliant European statesman and against the most beautiful and unscrupulous adventuress of the era. From London gaming-halls and English hunting-fields to European dungeons and throne-rooms, he is involved in a desperate succession of escapes, disguises, amours, and (when he cannot avoid them) hand-to-hand combats while the destiny of a continent rests on his broad and failing shoulders. Courtesans and prize-fighters, assassins and duellists, crowned heads and chambermaids crowd the pages of his memoirs, while old Flashy scuttles nimbly from cover to cover."

9. The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters. Walters is probably my favourite writer of standalone mysteries. She can create interesting characters and develops excellent stories. I've read about six of her books so far. This book is one of her latest efforts, published in 2007. I found it at Nearly New Books.

"It wasn't feat he was feeling. It as anger. Incredible anger. It ripped through his body like a tide, urging him to put his hands around her slender neck and squeeze the life out of her...
Having received severe head injuries in Iraq, Lieutenant Charles Acland cuts all ties with is former life and moves to London. Disfigured, alone and unmonitored, he sinks into a private world of guilt and paranoia. When a customer annoys in a Bermondsey pub, he attracts the attention of the police, who are investigating three murders that seem to have been motivated by extreme rage...
Under suspicion, Acland is forced to confront the real issues behind his isolation. How much control does he have over the dark side of his personality? Do his crippling migraines contribute to his rage? Has he always been the duplicitous chameleon that his ex-fiancée claims?
And why - if he hates women - does he look to a woman for help?"

So there you go. Any interest you?

Monday, 28 November 2016

2017 Reading Challenges - Modern Fiction

After our torrential downpour last night (just for a little while mind you), this morning has started off fresh, frosty and clear. It was a little slick in spots when I went out for my morning run, but I just took it easy. It was also nice to use my new head lamp that my lovely wife got for me. My previous one had problems with the on/off switch - it wouldn't turn off; so I needed a replacement. Perfect timing too as it's nice and dark now for my morning runs.

Now to move on to the purpose of this Blog, the final selection of books for my 2017 Reading Challenge. The genre is Fiction, modern fiction (post - 1900). I hope to read at least 15 books in this genre and the books below will probably be the first 8.

Fiction (Post - 1900)

1. Walking on Glass by Iain Banks (1985) - I've read quite a few of Iain Banks's work, from his Culture Science Fiction series to The Wasp Factory. He was a very unique, talented writer.

"Graham Park is in love. But Sara ffitch is an enigma to him, a creature of almost perverse mystery.
Steven Grant is paranoid - and with justice. He knows that They are out to get him. They are.
Quiss, insecure in his fabulous if ramshackle castle, is forced to play interminable impossible games. The solution to the oldest of all paradoxical riddles will release him. But he must find an answer before he knows the question.
Park, Grant, Quiss - no trio could be further apart. But their separate courses are set for collision..."

2. Nothing Like the Sun by Anthony Burgess (1964) - Like many people I've read A Clockwork Orange, probably Burgess' most famous work, especially after the movie by Stanley Kubrick. But he's an author that I've never considered reading more of. I saw this book and thought maybe I should check out his other literary achievements.

"A Story of Shakespeare's Love - Life.
Was his relationship with the Earl of Southampton strictly platonic?
Did he really love his wife, Anne Hathaway?
Who was the Dark Lady?
Why did he suddenly cease to be 'sweet Master Shakespeare' and become instead the purveyor of a dark and nasty vision of the world?
And what was all that business about a second-best bed?
This is a brilliant, extraordinary novel - full of richness, plague, traitors, plays, bawdiness... and very real people."

3. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl (2003) - Okay, I may be playing a bit loosey-goosy here and this might also fall under the category of Mystery, but I prefer to categorise as historical fiction. I've had this for quite a while now and have really wanted to read it. 2017 will finally be the year.

"A series of grisly murders is rocking the streets of nineteenth-century Boston. But these are no ordinary killings. Each is inspired by the hellish visions of Dante's Inferno. To end the bizarre and bloody spree, no ordinary detective will suffice. Enter the unlikely sleuths of the Dante Club: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and J.T. Fields - renowned scholars with the skills to decipher the devilish clues. But can this band of bookish gentlemen outwit a crafty killer? A terror-stricken city -  and their own lives - depend on it."

4. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers (1946) - One of my favourite all-time books is McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. When I saw this book, I had to get it to see if she could create the same type of story with her other writings.

"With infinite delicacy of perception and memory, with a warmth of humour and pathos, Carson McCullers spreads before us the three phases of a weekend crisis in the life of a motherless twelve-year-old girl. Within the span of a few hours the irresistible, hoydenish Frankie - twin sister, surely, of Mick Kelly in the Heart is a Lonely Hunter - passionately plays out her fantasies upon her elder brother's wedding. Through a perilous skylight we look right into the mind of a child torn between the yearning to belong and the urge to run away."

5. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951) - For the longest time, The House on the Strand was the only book of du Maurier's that I'd read, one I'd read three or four times. I finally tried Rebecca and loved it so much. Such a fantastic story. Well, now it's time to continue to explore du Maurier's works.

"Ambrose married Rachel, Countess Sangalletti in Italy and never returned home. His letters to his cousin Philip hinted that he was being poisoned, and when Philip arrived in Italy, Ambrose was dead.
Rachel comes to England, and soon Philip is torn between love and suspicion. Is she the angel she seems .. or a scheming murderess?"

6. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002) - One of the newer purchases to grace my bookshelves, I heard about the book from one of my Goodreads' acquaintances and decided to keep an eye out for it.

"London 1862. Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, grows up among petty thieves - fingersmiths - under the rough but loving care of Mrs. Sucksby and her 'family'. But from the moment she draws breath, Sues' fate is linked to that of another orphan growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away."

7. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938) - Waugh is one of those writers whose works I've enjoyed very much; for his drollness, his story-telling and the variety of his work.

"Lord Copper, the newspaper magnate, prided himself on his flair for discovering ace reporters. But owing to a slight case of mistaken identity the man he picked to 'cover' the civil war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia was less than a novice in the business. Scoop, then, is an irreverent novel about Fleet Street and its hectic pursuit of hot news, narrated with all Evelyn Waugh's exuberant sense of satire."

8. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925) - Woolf is one of those authors I've wanted to try but at the same time, for some reason, have been kind of leery about making the effort. Mrs. Dalloway has been on my shelf for a couple of years now. Time to see what Virginia is all about.

"With this book Virginia Woolf broke finally with the traditional form of the English novel. Although she had not yet pushed the process as far as she later did in To the Lighthouse and The waves, the life of the mind was already ousting in importance the tangible reality of the external world. the reader is shown Clarissa Dalloway, the fashionable wife of a Member of Parliament - 'like a nun withdrawing' - largely through the impressions and memories within her mind and the minds of other characters. Moreover the action is contained within the limits of a single day - the day on which she is to hold an important party."

So there you go for now. My initial list of books to start of 2017. I'll provide updates, of course, as I get to the middle of the challenges and start new books. Next in line, back to the normal end month reviews and book purchases for November.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

2017 Reading Challenges - The Spy, War, Thriller and Catchall Category

I've two more posts on my 2017 Reading Challenges (I think, anyway). Today will be a bit of a catch-all, with books from various genres, or maybe more accurately, sub-genres, such as War, Thriller, Adventure, Spy, even standalone mysteries. I've only earmarked 10 books for this category but there is always the chance if I meet my quotas before the end of the year, I'll be able to squeeze a few more books in. Too many books, too few days. Anyway, these are the probable 5 first books.

Spy / War / Thriller / etc

1. Last Laugh, Mr. Moto by John P. Marquand (Mr. Moto #5, 1942) - I've read three of the Mr. Moto spy novels in the past. This is the last one I currently have on my bookshelves. I will have to try and find the remaining two to complete my collection.

"A trouble-making, hard-drinking drifter, accidentally caught up in the ruthless, winner-takes-all game of international espionage, ex-Navy officer Bob Boiles has one last chance to serve his country and clear his name. Unfortunately, his goals run counter to those of Mr. Moto, master spy, whose devotion to Japan continues unabated. It's World War II - hot in the tropics - and no one will have the last laugh until the last shot is fired."

2. The Three Hostages by John Buchan (John Hannay #4, 1924) - This is the fourth book in the John Hannay thriller series by John Buchan, the series which started with The Thirty-Nine Steps, one of my favourite thrillers. One more book remains after I finish this one.

"The first World War is over, England is at peace, and Hannay has returned to a quiet country life at Fosse Manor. But there are other crimes than war, other and perhaps more dangerous villains than the Germans he battled with in Greenmantle and The Thirty-Nine Steps. A vast criminal combine, which has been making itself rich out of the aftermath of 1914-18, has kidnapped a young man, a girl, and a small boy - all of them children of important national figures - and is holding them as hostages against the future. The police know of the gang and must close in on them before Midsummer. The hostages, therefore, are doomed unless by some miracle they can be found before then. Hannay reluctantly agrees to help, and in his search for them comes up against the strongest enemy of his career - a man of great ability and charm who deals in an ugly brand of hypnotism."

3. The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva (1995) - Silva is a new writer for me but I've heard good things about his stories. The Unlikely Spy was his first book and is a standalone. Remaining in the wings for me is his Michael Osbourne series, if I like this one.

"Handpicked by Churchill himself, history professor Alfred Vicary is the least likely agent in England's arsenal, and that makes him the perfect man to stop an unknown spy from uncovering the Allied plans for D-Day. But the Nazis have also chosen their operative carefully. And she has direct orders from Hitler to ensure German victory - no matter what."

4. Gunner Asch Goes to War by H.H. Kirst (1956) - I've read a couple of Kirst's other books, the most noteworthy probably being The Night of the Generals, which was made into an excellent movie starring Omar Sharif. Kirst is an interesting writer who provides a very different perspective of the war.

"Gunner Asch's wartime adventures take place on the Russian front early in 1942. He is serving with the artillery-troop whose peace-time escapades were described in The Revolt of Gunner Asch. It is winter and, because the weather makes campaigning impossible, the anti-militarist old soldiers like Asch have established friendly relations with the Russians, male and female. The new Troop Commander, a former staff officer with no front-line experience, makes rash and ludicrous attempts to alter this situation, and the story rises to a climax when he is finally faced with the realities of war."

5. The Third Option by Vince Flynn (Mitch Rapp #2) - I've read the first in the Mitch Rapp thriller series and it was definitely action-packed. Hoping this one is the same.

"CIA counter terrorism operative Mitch Rapp falls prey to government forces with an agenda of their own after Dr. Irene Kennedy is named the successor to dying CIA Director Thomas Stansfield - a choice that enrages many inside the world's most powerful intelligence agency. Her detractors will resort to extreme measures to prevent her from taking the reins - which makes Rapp an expendable asset. But Mitch Rapp is no one's pawn, and he will stop at nothing to find out who has set him up."

So there you go, my picks to start off the War/ Thriller section. My last Blog on this will be tomorrow, I hope, with Fiction the genre of choice. Have a great day!!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

2017 Reading Challenges - Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror

I've spent my Saturday morning relaxing in bed, reading (I finished In a Dark, Dark Wood and started Before I Go to Sleep) and watching footie. The dogs have had a couple of walks; no rain for the moment and it's nice and cool, and now I'm ready for the next instalment of my 2017 Reading Group Challenge list.

Today I'll highlight books from the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror genres. I know I've already got one specific Science Fiction challenge but that was to remove some of the earliest written books from my shelf. In my Individual Challenge, I hope to read 5 of each of the above genres. I do have some difficulty at times ascertaining if a specific book might fit in better as Fantasy or Science Fiction so you may have to bear with me. Anyway, starting with Science Fiction, here are three possibles as my first reads.

1. Science Fiction

I hope to read at least five more and will start with the following three.

1. Metro 2033 by Dmitri Glukhovsky (2007) - I just bought this book in 2016 but I've wanted to try it almost immediately. It does sound interesting. This is one of those books that might fit into the Fantasy and, maybe even Horror. I guess I'll know when I've read it.

"The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. A few thousand live on, not knowing if they are the only survivors on the planet. They live in the Moscow Metro - the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. It is humanity's last refuge. It is a world without a tomorrow, with no room for dreams, plans, hopes. Feelings have given way to instinct - the most important of which is survival. Survival at any price.
VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line and still remains secure. But now a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro, to the legendary Polis, to alert everyone to the awful danger and to get help. He holds the future of his native station in his hands, the future of the Metro - and maybe the whole of humanity."

2. The Beginning Place by Ursula K. Le Guin (1980) - Two of my favourite Science Fiction stories, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, were written by Le Guin. I've wanted to try more of her stories for quite a long time.

"Two young people meet in a strange and wonderful place across the creek and over the threshold of the real world. To them it does not matter how or why they got to Tembreabrezi, because the town on the mountain offers them what they so desperately need: escape from their dreary daily lives. But when their place of peace becomes a realm of horror, they suddenly face a terrible and chilling choice that could cost them everything, including their lives."

3. The Martian by Andy Weir (2011) - I've had the book for a couple of years now and still haven't seen the movie. What's wrong with me!! I'll at least lay to rest the book in 2017.

"Six days ago astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars's surface, with no way to signal Earth that he's alive. and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, Mark won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old 'human error' are much more likely to kill him first.
Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills - and a gallows sense of humour that proves to be his greatest source of strength - Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?"

2. Fantasy

I plan to start out with an oldie, finish a series, and start a new YA Fantasy series as my first three.

1. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912) - The first book in the acclaimed Tarzan series. I've read other series by Burroughs, namely the John Carter of Mars books, and he can spin a great story.

"Deep in the savage African jungle, the baby Tarzan was raised by a fierce she-ape of the tribe of Kerchak. There he had to learn the secrets of the wild to survive - how to talk with animals, swing through the trees, and fight against the great predators. He grew to the strength and courage of his fellow apes. And in time, his human intelligence promised him the kingship of the tribe. He became truly Lord of the Jungle.
Then men entered his jungle, bringing with them the wanton savagery of civilised greed and lust - and bringing also the first white woman Tarzan had ever seen. Now suddenly, Tarzan had to choose between two worlds."

2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (2010) - My wife bought me this for Xmas a few years back and I've finished the first two books of this enjoyable series. I almost regret finishing the series but I do want to see how this will all turn out.

"Katniss Everdeen, Girl on Fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.
It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 really does exist, and now it has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans - except Katniss.
The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay - no matter what the personal cost."

3. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson #1, 2005) - This is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and it sounds like a fun, entertaining read. We'll see.

"Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school ... again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. and worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus's master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.
Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus's stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves."

3. Horror

My first three selections in this category include one by Ira Levin, a classic that has been movies and musicals and a good new-fashioned zombie thriller.

1. Sliver by Ira Levin (1991) - I read Levin's Rosemary's Baby this past year and enjoyed very much. He has had great success producing stories that have translated well the big screen. Sliver was no exception.

"Thirteen hundred Madison Avenue, an elegant 'sliver' building, soars high and narrow over Manhattan's smart Upper East Side. Kay Norris, a successful, single woman, moves on to the twentieth floor of the building, high on hopes of a fresh start and the glorious Indian summer outside.
But she doesn't know that someone is listening to her. Someone is watching her."

2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1911) - I've seen the musical based on the book. I don't think I've ever seen the whole movie. I found this book at a local store and decided it was time to read it.

"The Opera Ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants, or the concierge. No, he existed in flesh and blood, thought he assumed all the outward characteristics of a real phantom, that is to say, a shade."

3. Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry (2009) - I have read one book by Jonathan Maberry and enjoyed very much. He can turn out a scary book. This is the first book in his Joe Ledger series.

"'When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there's either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there is nothing wrong with my skills.'
Joe Ledger, Baltimore Police Department detective, ex-army, martial arts expert, a man who has killed often, is scared. He's just had to kill the same man for the second time.
And the top secret government agency who have just co-opted him onto their strength are scared too.
The Department of Military Sciences are desperately trying to counter a new terrorist plot. Anti-terrorist operations have been thrown into confusion by the appearance of re-animated corpses.
Corpses that are almost impossible to stop, corpses with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.
The race is onto destroy the cell, to crack the science behind the outbreak, find out who is responsible and stop the apocalypse. But somehow the terrorists are always one step ahead and hell beckons..."

There you go, my next group of challenges. Next Blog will focus on Fiction.

Friday, 25 November 2016

2017 Reading Challenges - Can Con/ Classics/ Non-Fiction

I've been going through possible books for my various Reading Challenges for 2017 the past few Blogs. Today I'm combing some of my shorter challenges; Canadian Content, Classics and Non-fiction. Let's start with Canadian content (Can Con)

1. Can Con

Over the past couple of years I've begun to get back into Canadian authors. Last year I did two Reading Group challenges focused strictly on Canadian authors; a 12 + 4 and a 12 + 0. It's been most enjoyable discovering new authors and also getting back to authors I was already familiar with. This year, I hope to read at least 5 books by Canadian authors. The books below will probably be my first 3. A number of the new authors for me were suggested in a book I received for Xmas a couple of years ago; T.F. Rigelhof, Hooked on Canadian Books; The Good, the Better and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984.

1. Rousseau's Garden by Ann Charney (Fiction / 2001) - I found this book recently at a local book seller. It was one of the books listed in the Rigelhof book.

"A crisp March morning in the Buttes-Chaumont park in Paris. Claire, waiting to meet her husband, Adrian, has more than a tourist's passing interest in the place. She has come to France to be with Adrian while he researches a book on French gardens, but Claire's real mission is to find out what happened to her mother, Dolly, during her last stay in Paris. A promising sculptor and ardent admirer of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dolly suffered a mysterious decline following her return home. Now severe panic attacks are forcing Claire to abandon her own work as a photographer. Is she repeating her mother's pattern? The answer, Claire believes, lies in the past.
Claire retraces Dolly's footsteps in Paris and in the nearby countryside, where Rousseau's spirit is still discernible. Claire's quest in France is filled with more than one startling discovery as she, Adrian, and their friends, navigate the tricky terrain of marriage, parenthood, friendship, and love."

2. Seaweed on Ice by Stanley Evans (Seaweed #2 / 2006) - I found this mystery series by chance in my local used book store and read the first one in 2016. I loved everything about it, the location (Victoria, BC), the characters (lead by Victoria cop Silas Seaweed), the native heritage and just the mystery itself. I'm looking forward to getting into the 2nd book and, who knows, may try another before end 2017.

"Coast Salish street cop Silas Seaweed has his hands full. An elderly Jewish immigrant has disappeared. A mysterious old woman has been murdered. Valuable art stolen from German Jews during the Second World War has begun to show up in local auction houses, and the word on the street is that someone is planning to loot a priceless Coast Salish archaeological site.
As he investigates, Seaweed comes to believe that these seemingly disparate causes are interconnected. But how? In the second of the Silas Seaweed series, much is not what it appears to be, and unravelling the mysteries becomes a life-and-death quest."

3.The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe (Historical Fiction / 2002) - I think I may have heard of this first in the Rigelhof book, but, at the very least, when I saw it, the story looked very interesting.

"Set in the second half of the nineteenth century, this is a sweeping tale of interwoven lives, at the centre of which is a search for a missing brother and an unusual and moving love story. Two Englishmen find themselves on a journey across the treacherous and unknown landscape of the American and Canadian West in an attempt to trace their brother's path. With them is their half-Blackfoot, half-Scottish guide. Later their party grows to include a Civil War veteran searching for salvation, a young woman determined to avenge her sister's brutal murder, a sycophantic journalist, and a God-fearing saloon-keeper. This unlikely posse becomes entangled in an unfolding drama that forces each person to come to terms with his own demons. Rich with haunting scenes - a bear hunt at dawn, the meeting of a Metis caravan, the discovery of an Indian village decimated by smallpox, a man's visit to the pleasure houses of Victorian London, a young boy's last memory of his mother - and filled with unforgettable characters, The Last Crossing is an epic novel of power, event, and redemption."

2. Classics (Books written before 1900)

Over the past two or three years, I've begun to delve into the Classics more, a 'genre' I've avoided for the longest time, and it's been a pleasure to discover the excellent authors who were writing before 1900. Some of my favourite books of the past two years have come out this category; George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, just to name a couple. This year I plan to do as my previous years and read at least 4 of the Classics. My first two will probably be the books below.

1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1854) - I read a collection of Gaskell's short stories earlier this year and it was one of my favourites of the year so far. I'm very much looking forward to trying one of her best novels (so the write-up says, at least).

"As the title suggests, it is primarily a study of the contrast between the values of rural southern England and the industrialised north; but through the medium of its central characters, John Thornton and Margaret Hale, it also become a profound comment on the need for reconciliation among the English classes, on the importance of suffering, and above all on the value of placing the dictates of personal conscience above social respectability. And in Margaret Hale, whose intensity, spiritual isolation and passion electrify the book, Mrs. Gaskell created one of the finest heroines of Victorian literature."

2. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper (1841) - I've moved to North America for my other selection, the first book in the Leatherstocking tales. I remember reading the Classic comic book of the 2nd book, The Last of the Mohicans.

"At Lake Otsego, during the French and Indian Wars, great frontiersman Natty Bumpo forsakes love to come to the aid of Thomas Hutter, a trapper under the attack of Iroquois Indians.
Published in 1841, The Deerslayer is the first of the 'Leatherstocking' tales, which reveal the courageous and perseverant nature of the pioneer. Recognised for his descriptive power, Cooper created in Natty Bumpo a mythical character - one of the most significant in the history of American literature."

3. Non-Fiction

I usually try to read a few histories, biographies and other types of non-fiction over the course of the year. This year I'll try to read at least 5. The three books below will probably be my starters.

1. Shakespeare, The World as Stage - by Bill Bryson (2007) - I've read 3 or 4 of Bryson's books and enjoyed them all. He manages to make travel and history and science enjoyable to read. I've had this book for a few years now and am looking forward to giving it a try.

"William Shakespeare, the most celebrated poet in the English language, left behind nearly a million words of text, but his biography has long been a thicket of wild supposition arranged around scant facts. With a steady hand and his trademark wit, Bill Bryson sorts through this colourful muddle to reveal the man himself. His Shakespeare is like no one else's - the beneficiary of Bryson's genial nature, his engaging scepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivalled in our time."

2. Dear Fatty by Dawn French (2008) - I think this is one of those books I bought the missus as we both think French is one of the funniest ladies around.

"With a sharp eye for comic detail and a wicked ear for the absurdities of life, Dawn French shows just how an RAF girl from the West Country with dreams of becoming a ballerina/ air hostess/ bridesmaid/ thief rose to become one of the best-loved comedy actresses of our time.
Here Dawn French invites us into her most personal relationships with, among others, her mum and dad, her husband, her daughter and her friend Jennifer.
Dawn reveals the people, experiences and obsessions that have influenced her and that helped shape her comedy creations - including kissing, dogs, grandmas, David Cassidy, teenage angst, school, stealing and Madonna. She is as open about her fears and sorrows as she about her delights and joys, and for the first time shares the experience of losing her dad and later finding a top-topmost chap in Lenny Henry."

3. The Elephant to Hollywood, The Autobiography by Michael Caine (2010) - We have acquired various biographies over the past years and it'll be nice to read a couple at least in 2017.

"It's been a long journey for Maurice Micklewhite, -  born with rickets in London's poverty-stricken Elephant & Castle - to the bright lights of Hollywood.
With a glittering career spanning more than five decades and starring roles that have earned him two Oscars, a knighthood, and an iconic place in the Hollywood pantheon, the man now known to us as Michael Caine looks back over it all.
Funny, warm and honest, Caine gives us his insider's view of Hollywood (where there's neither holly nor woods). He recalls the films, the legendary stars, and the off-screen moments with a gift for story-telling only equalled by David Niven.
Hollywood has been his home and his playground. But England is where his heart lies. And where he blames the French for the abundance of snails in his garden.
A plaque now celebrates him at the Elephant in London and his hand print is one of only 200 since 1927 to decorate the hallowed pavement outside that mecca of Hollywood stars, Grauman's Chinese Theatre."

So there you go. Next I'll focus on my Science Fiction /  Fantasy / Horror options.. Take care.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

2017 Reading Challenges - Mystery Series - The Sleuths...

Bonnie displays her normal enthusiasm for my Blogging
As I moved into our den to get ready to take book jacket photos for today's Blog, the puppies followed me in. Bonnie is comfortably ensconced on one of the many pillows we have scattered around the house for them. Next week she will look totally different as she and her companion, Clyde, will be visiting the hair stylists..

No, no, this is my seat, not for stupid books!
Clyde, meanwhile, decided to get into the middle of the action and plopped himself down on the chair that I use to pose my books. He wasn't very happy when I shoved him over to the pillow with Bonnie so I could take my photos, especially when Bonnie absolutely refused to move over to let him share with her. She can be a selfish doggie. Anyway, he is back on his chair and she is on the pillow and I'm ready for my next instalment of my 2017 Reading Challenges.

Yesterday, I highlighted the 10 books I plan to start off with of my Mystery series; those that have Cops or other governmental types that are crime solvers. Today, I'm moving into the realm of the Private Eye, the detective for my ten choices. Like yesterday's group, I hope to read at least 25 books in this section. I have started with the first ten that I plan to read. So, here we go, or as the puppies say... 'Get the lead out old man, it's almost time for our walkies and lunch!!'

The Sleuths

1. Trent's Own Case by E.C. Bentley (Trent #2, 1936) - I've read one of the three Trent books written by Bentley and enjoyed it very much. Trent is a similar character to Dorothy L. Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey, another sleuth that I like to read.

"Philip Trent returns! The hero of E.C. Bentley's masterpiece, Trent's Last Case, returns when the murder of a generous but most unpleasant philanthropist brings several of Trent's friends under suspicion. Shocked by the confession and suicide attempt of Bryan Fairman, a research scientist in the victim's employ, Trent investigates. And the first clue he turns up point straight at himself."

2. A Comedian Dies by Simon Brett (Charles Paris #5, 1979) - I've read some of Simon Brett's Fethering mysteries and enjoyed. The reason I started searching for his books was because Jo, my wife, had been listening to the Charles Paris mysteries on BBC Radio, with Paris played by the multi-talented Bill Nighy. I've managed to find a few of the Paris mysteries but was hoping to wait until I found the first book. But, no more waiting, I'll start with Number 5.

"'Oh Charles...so keen, and so wrong!' In the case of the comedian electrocuted in midact, Charles Paris was bombing. From the comely widow to the even comelier ex-girlfriend, from the desperate TV producer to the sleazy agent, all of Charles' suspects averred that he was wrong. But while Charles-the-detective bumbled from clue to clue, a most unlikely thing occurred: Charles-the-sometimes-tipsy-actor got a job playing the straight man to a veteran comedian on the comeback trail. Just as Charles was about to find out what it was like to make people laugh (professionally, that is), his pet murder case began to come clear. And the answer to who really knocked whom dead, and why, would be the most unfunny thing of all..."

3. The Judas Pair by Jonathan Gash (Lovejoy #1, 1977) - Another new series for me, but not unfamiliar as I always enjoyed the TV series starring Ian McShane as the lovable antique collector, Lovejoy. I was happy to discover the books and happier to manage to find the first in the series.

"Not so long ago, like any other antiques dealer worth his salt, if you had asked me to find the Judas Pair, I would have laughed till I fell down. Everybody knew that they simply don't exist.
The antique business is riddled with myths and this supposedly exquisite, unique pair of 18th century duelling pistols was one of the greatest. Even when a thoroughly respectable new client offered me hard cash to track them down, I had to tell him that the pistols were a fantasy.
But he knew different, The Judas Pair, you see, had been used to murder his brother..."

4. The Wrecker by Clive Cussler (Isaac Bell #2, 2009) - I have to admit that I started buying the odd Clive Cussler book so I could start the Dirk Pitt adventure series. But, instead, I find myself turning to the books featuring Van Dorn Detective Agent, Isaac Bell. I will read the other series as well, but for now, I'll read the 2nd book in this series.

"1907: In a year of financial panic and labour unrest, a series of train wrecks, fires, and explosions sabotage the Southern Pacific Railroad's cascades express line. desperate, the railroad hires the fabled Van Dorn Detective Agency, who send in their best man, Agent Isaac Bell.
Bell quickly discovers that the saboteur is known as the Wrecker - a man who recruits poor, down-and-out accomplices to attack the railroad, and then kills them afterwards. The Wrecker traverses the vast American West, striking at will and causing untold damage and loss of human life. But just who is he? And what does he want?
Whoever he is, whatever his motives, the Wrecker knows how to wreak havoc, and Bell senses that he is far from done. In fact, his quarry is building up to a grand act unlike anything ever committed before. And if Bell doesn't stop him in time, more than a railroad could be at risk - it could be the future of the entire country."

5. Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs #2, 2004) - I do like historical mysteries and I also like strong female leads. Maisie Dobbs, budding private eye, fits both of those ideas. I enjoyed the first book very much and have been looking forward to reading Maisie's next case.

"Jacqueline Winspear's marvellous debut, Maisie Dobbs, won her fans from around the world and raised her intuitive, intelligent, and resourceful heroine to the ranks of literature's favourite sleuths. Birds of a Feather, its follow-up, finds psychologist and private investigator Maisie Dobbs on another dangerously intriguing adventure in London ' between the wars.'
It is the spring of 1930, and Maisie has been hired to find a runaway heiress. But what seems a simple case at the outset soon becomes increasingly complicated when three of the heiress's old friends are found dead. Is there a connection between the woman's mysterious disappearance and the murders? Who would want to kill three seemingly respectable young women? As Maisie investigates, she discovers that the answers lie in the unforgettable agony of the Great War."

6. After You With the Pistol by Kyril Bonfiglioli (Charlie Mortdecai #2, 1979) - This is the 2nd book in the Charlie Mortdecai trilogy. The first was a fun, enjoyable read. I hope this is the same.

"Charlie Mortdecai - degenerate aristocrat and victim of his own larceny and licentiousness - has no idea. Until it is made clear to him that he must marry the beautiful, sex-crazed and very, very rich Johanna Krampf. The fly in the ointment is that Johanna thinks nothing of involving poor Charlie in her life-threatening schemes such as monarch-assassination, heroin smuggling and - worst of all - survival training at a college of feminist spies. Perhaps, it's all in a good cause - if only Charlie can live long enough to find out."

7. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe #2, 1935) - Nero Wolfe is one of the classic characters in the detective genre. In fact, I found it interesting as I was reading a Gregor Demarkian mystery the other day to discover that Demarkian states that if he was to model himself after a famous detective, it would have been Wolfe - mainly because he could then just solve his mysteries while not leaving his desk. I've read a collection of three Nero Wolfe short stories so far. This is the second book in the series.

"Paul Chapin's college cronies never quite forgave themselves for instigating the tragic prank that left their friend a twisted cripple. Yet with their hazing days at Harvard far behind them, they had every reason to believe that Paul himself had forgiven them - until a class reunion ends in a fatal fall, and the poems, swearing deadly retribution, begin to arrive. now this league of frightened men is desperate for Nero Wolfe's help. But are Wolfe's brilliance and Archie's tenacity enough to outwit a killer so cunning he can plot and execute in plain sight?"

8. Katwalk by Karen Kijewski (Kat Colorado #1, 1989) - I can't remember is someone in one of my Goodreads' groups recommended this series or if I just liked the cover and character when I was searching through my local. At any rate, I'm looking forward to giving this new series a go.

"Meet Kat Colorado, a thirty-something California P.I. with nerves of steel and a passion for tipping the scales of justice in the right direction.
Kat's friend Charity Collins dispenses hard-hitting advice in her syndicated column, 'Consult Charity,' but when her estranged husband, Sam, depletes their common funds by $200,000, Charity turns to Kat Colorado for help.
Nobody believes that Sam dropped the big bucks at the gambling tables, so Kat takes off for Vegas in search of the truth...and Charity's half of the money. Following Sam through a trail of glitz and grime leads right into a rats' nest of sleazy real estate deals, heavy-hitting mobsters, and contract killings. But Kat's not about to back off, even though prowling the low life has put her right at the top of the syndicate hit list."

9. Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris (Harper Connelly #4, 2009) - With the exception of her Aurora Teagarden series, which I've tried but never really grabbed me, I've enjoyed all of the series I've explored of Charlaine Harris. Sookie Stackhouse is an excellent fantasy, Lily Bard is a strong mystery solver and Harper Connelly is one of the more interesting characters I've met. This is the 4th and last book in this series.

"Lightning-struck sleuth Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver take a break from looking for the dead to visit the two little girls they both think of as sisters. But as they travel to Texas, memories of their horrible childhood resurface...
To make matters worse, Tolliver learns that his father is out of jail and trying to re-establish contact with other family members. Tolliver wants nothing to do with the man - but he may not have a choice in the matter.
Soon, family secrets ensnare them both, as Harper finally discovers what happened to her missing sister, Cameron, so many years before. And what she finds out will change her world forever..."

10. The Cuckoos Calling by Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #1, 2013) - I enjoyed J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books but have been avoiding trying her move into the world of mystery/ thriller. But I hear so many good things about the Cormoran Strike books that I have decided to give them a try.

"When a troubled supermodel falls to her death from the balcony of her London home, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts and calls in private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.
Strike is a war veteran - wounded both physically and psychologically - and his private life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline but it come at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model's world, the darker things get and the closer he comes to terrible danger."

So there you go, my planned first 10 books in my Sleuth challenge. Next in line with be some of the Canadian books that I would like to read.
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