Monday, 25 September 2017

Thrillers and Thrillers

Just Finished

Yesterday I finished the second Dr. Fu-Manchu thriller by Sax Rohmer. My review of the book is below.

"The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu is the second book of the Fu-Manchu thrillers by Sax Rohmer. Originally published in 1916, it is true pulp fiction at its best and the stuff that those old Hammer movies were made of and could have been one of those Saturday matinee serials I used to enjoy as a kid. (Do you remember those? Before the main feature started, they would show a 10 or 15 minute 'serial' and it would end with the hero hanging off of a cliff or facing twenty gunmen. How would he survive? Wait until next week!)
Fu-Manchu is a cunning, evil genius trying to take over the world and to destroy his arch enemy Nayland Smith and his faithful companion, Dr. Petrie. Smith has been back in Burma and has heard that Fu-Manchu is still alive and has returned to England to get his revenge on them. The book is a series of incidents that find Smith and Petrie trying to find Fu-Manchu and battle his Dacoits and other implements of his terror. The beautiful Karamaneh, the woman of mystery from the first book, returns. Whose side is she on? Can Petrie and Smith trust her? Petrie definitely wants to, as she is forever on his mind and a constant distraction. The steady Inspector Weymouth of Scotland Yard also assists when he can. All in all, it's a wandering thriller and Smith and Petrie find themselves in dangerous situation after situation. How will it all end up? Wait until next week. (3 stars)"

After I finished it, I realised that I've read a few of these thrillers in the past few weeks, series that I've slowly been collecting over the past few years. What genre are they really? Well, they're definitely thrillers. The heroes / heroines can be larger than life. They battle powerful, evil villains, or maybe they are the villains? They are entertaining, action-packed and often unrealistic, but for all that, enjoyable escapes from reality and mindless entertainment. I usually have 4 books on the go, so I've decided that at least one will continue with this genre.

Currently Reading

My next book will feature Peter O'Donnell's heroine, Modesty Blaise. Peter O'Donnell wrote 13 books featuring Modesty and her partner, Willie Garvin. They were written between 1965 and 1991. I've bought 10 so far, all published by Pan Books. Modesty is the ex-leader of a criminal organisation who has turned good. She is independently wealthy and she regularly is asked by the English Secret Service to help solve cases that they don't have the wherewithal to sort out themselves. She is put in dangerous situations, life-threatening, of course and must rely on her skills in armed combat or with weapons, plus her wits to survive and be successful. Very entertaining stories so far. I've completed 3 so far and enjoyed them all. The description of A Taste For Death is below.

"In their fourth exhilarating caper a whirlwind of action sweeps Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin from the underworld of Panama to the blast furnace of the Sahara as they tangle with enemies old and new...
Gabriel - who needs Dinah, beautiful but blind, to trace the treasure of Domitian Mus, Tribune of Rome...
Wenczel -  a master swordsman in chain mail with whom Modesty must fence for her life, stripped to black briefs...
Delicata - the grotesque giant with a taste for death - Garvin's in particular."

Other Series

These are some of the other series that might fall into this genre, or is it a sub-genre? I've read some of them this past year and hope to start or continue some of the others over the next three months.

1. John Buchan (Richard Hannay series).  John Buchan was a prolific writer. He was also a popular Governor - General (the Queen's representative) of Canada. The Hannay books start with The Thirty-nine Steps, a book that has been made into at least two movies, the one with Robert Donat is a favourite of mine. When I found out that it was a book, I got it as soon as I found a copy and enjoyed it immensely. Then as I researched Buchan a bit more, I realised that Hannay was the main character in five books -

1. The Thirty-nine Steps (1915)
2. Greenmantle (1916)
3. Mr. Standfast (1919)
4. The Three Hostages (1924)
5. The Island of Sheep (1936)

Hannay is an average man, a mining engineer, who finds himself caught up in many dangerous, action-filled situations and uses his wits to overcome the odds and often saves his country. I've read four of the books, finished The Island of Sheep this past year. It remains only The Three Hostages to finish the series; maybe this year or next year for sure.

2. Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars / Tarzan of the Apes, etc). American writer, Burroughs, was also a prolific writer. As a kid, I enjoyed his John Carter of Mars series of 10 books at least twice. In fact I wore out the original series and had to replace all but the two featured books later on. It was an excellent series, John Carter, a Cavalry officer, finds himself on Mars and ends up sorting out all of the issues as he battles enemies of all sorts. Fascinating, unique series. This past year I finally decided to try the Tarzan books. Burroughs wrote 25 books in this series between 1912 and 1965. I finally read the first book, which introduces Tarzan, this year. I have the second book, The Return of Tarzan, on my bookshelf, awaiting my attention.

3. Bernard Cornwell (Sharpe). I've been reading this series since early in the 2000's. I've also enjoyed the TV movies based on the books very much. Sharpe's Tiger, the first book was written in 1997. It introduces Soldier Sharpe, part of the English army in India, who saves Wellington during a battle. Sharpe not only faces off against England's enemies; whether in India, or in Europe where he battles Napoleon's forces, but also against his purported allies, many of whom are jealous of his success or just plain hate him for one reason or another. Sharpe becomes an officer over the course of the books and must forever have to prove himself to other officers. It's an excellent series. I've read the first twelve so far, having finished Sharpe's Battle this year. Still lots to go, although I do have to find quite a few more. Next in line will be Sharpe's Company.

4. Clive Cussler (Dirk Pitt / Isaac Bell, etc). Cussler is another prolific writer. He has written about the adventures of Dirk Pitt, the NUMA files, the Oregon files and Isaac Bell. I have purchased the first book in each of these series, but thus far have only read the first book in the Isaac Bell series, The Chase. Bell is a Pinkerton's agent in the early 1900s, smart, technically proficient and just a darn great agent. I liked the first story and hope to read another of Cussler's books before year end. The question is, do I continue with The Wrecker (Isaac Bell #2) or do I try one of his others?

5. Ian Fleming (James Bond, 007). I read a few of the Bond books as a youngster; they were sexy and full of action.... at least to a 12 year old like me. Since 2001, I've been buying the series and have all 14 on my bookshelf. I love the Pan editions. I've read 10 so far, next in line will be On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963).

6. C.S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower). Forester has written so many more books than his Hornblower series, such as The African Queen, but this series fits the category. Another series that I started in the 2000's. Jo and I also enjoyed the TV series based on the books, which starred Ioan Gruffud as young Hornblower. He's a unique character and the stories are all entertaining sea adventures. There are 11 books in the series, published between 1937 - 1967. I've read eight so far and am still trying to find two more of the books. I finished two books in the series this past year, including The Happy Return.

7. George MacDonald Fraser (Flashman). Flashman is a direct counterpoint to Sharpe. He is basically a coward who looks out only for himself. But, he also manages to come out smelling like a rose at the end of his adventures, sometimes to his own surprise. Now I say this having only read the first book so far, Flashman (1969). I have slowly been collecting this series of 12 books (I have 8 so far, but not the 2nd yet). I want to continue with the series, I guess the question is do I dare skip the second book or wait until I find it?

8. John P. Marquand (Mr. Moto). Mr. Moto is an anti-hero, a Japanese spy during WWII, very pragmatic and willing to do anything to achieve his aims. From 1935 - 1947, Marquand wrote 6 Mr. Moto books. I have found 4 so far and completed the 4th this past year. My search for the remaining two continues.

9. Anthony Morton (The Baron). Creasey was an English writer who wrote under many pseudonyms; JJ Marric (Inspector Gideon), Anthony Morton (The Baron), John Creasey (Doctor Palfrey / Department Z), etc. I've had three of his Baron books for many years and have yet to crack one. He wrote the Baron books from 1937 - 1979. I plan to read The Baron and the Stolen Legacy (1962) as my first try at the series.

10. Peter O'Donnell (Modesty Blaise). I mentioned this series at the beginning as I am reading the 4th book.

11. George Revelli (Commander Amanda Nightingale). Call this series erotic pulp fiction. Amanda is a British spy who works against the Nazis and must avoid torture and other abuses. There were 5 books in the series and they are difficult to find. I have managed to read the first three; Commander Amanda Nightingale, Resort to War and Amanda in Spain. The books were written between 1969 - 1978.

11. Kenneth Robeson (Doc Savage). This was another of those series that I used to read in high school. Doc Savage is almost superhuman, muscular, golden flecked eyes and at the same time, a genius. Accompanied by his gang of unlucky assistants, all scientific geniuses but also more than capable of putting up a good fight, Savage battled evil geniuses from all over; and who wanted to destroy the earth. It was an entertaining series, as I recall. I found 3 books in the series back last year and am looking forward to trying one to see if it is as entertaining as I remember it.

71. Murder Mirage
79. The Devil Genghis
94. The Hate Genius

12. Sax Rohmer (Dr. Fu-Manchu). I also highlighted this series at the beginning. It started the whole conversation. I have purchased 7 of the series so far and have just completed the 2nd book.

So there you go, a bare minimum for this category. There are so many more possibilities but maybe this might give you some ideas on books to start with.

Enjoy your week!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Hallowe'en Month Books and Other Stuff

It's never a good thing to plan ahead to far what you are planning to read as, I find anyway, that it doesn't always work out that way. However, with that caveat, as I sit here in the study watching the sparrows fighting over the bird seed we put in their little bird house outside the window,.. um, where was I?.. Oh yes, with that caveat, my UK Book Group is picking Horror as the genre for October, it being the month of Hallowe'en and traditional spooky month of the year. I've been looking through the list of books I have in the horror genre on my Goodreads' library and have a couple in mind. I'd like to read two or three horror books in October. So here are a couple of my ideas..

Possible Horror Selections

1. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. One of the classics, that I purchased last year. It was originally published in 1911.

"The story of the Phantom of the Opera, a half-crazed musician hiding in the labyrinth of the famous Paris Opera House and creating a number of strange and mysterious events to further the career of a beautiful young singer, is today regarded as one of the most famous of all horror stories: widely mentioned in the same breath as Frankenstein and Dracula. Yet the fame of this novel, first written by the French journalist turned novelist Gaston Leroux, in 1911, is based almost entirely on the various film versions which have been made over the years. Remarkable performances by two actors, Lon Chaney and Claude Rains, helped to make the Phantom an immortal figure. The original book, however, has been largely ignored, rarely in print, and the first edition (in either French or English) is now a collector's item."

2. Forever Odd by Dean Koontz. This is the second book in the Odd Thomas series and I enjoyed the first very much.

"I see dead people. But then, by God, I do something about it. Odd Thomas never asked for his special ability. He’s just an ordinary guy trying to live a quiet life in the small desert town of Pico Mundo. Yet he feels an obligation to do right by his otherworldly confidants, and that’s why he’s won hearts on both sides of the divide between life and death. But when a childhood friend disappears, Odd discovers something worse than a dead body and embarks on a heart-stopping battle of will and wits with an enemy of exceptional cunning. In the hours to come there can be no innocent bystanders, and every sacrifice can tip the balance between despair and hope."

3. The Bad Seed by William March. This was William March's last novel, published in 1954. He died before he saw it translated into a stage production and also two movies.

"What happens to ordinary families into whose midst a child serial killer is born? This is the question at the center of William march's classic thriller. After its initial publication in 1954, the book went on to become a million–copy bestseller, a wildly successful Broadway show, and a Warner Brothers film. The spine–tingling tale of little Rhoda Penmark had a tremendous impact on the thriller genre and generated a whole perdurable crop of creepy kids. Today, The Bad Seed remains a masterpiece of suspense that's as chilling, intelligent, and timely as ever before."

So there you go, a few ideas. There are some other books I might also consider; The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, Someone Like You by Roald Dahl, The Guardians by Andrew Pyper, etc. I've a few to choose from on my bookshelves. :)

Great Historical Events

In today's excerpt let's take a look at the First Prez of the US of A.

"The First President.

April 30. - Inauguration of George Washington as President, and John Adams as Vice-President.
John Carroll the first Catholic Bishop in the United States.
First Temperance Society formed in the United States by 200 farmers in Litchfield county, Connecticut.
1790. Laws passed - ordering a census to be taken; to provide for payment of foreign debts; naturalization law; patent law; copyright law; law defining treason and piracy; penalty for both, hanging; status of slavery question settled; State debts, etc.
Congress moved to Philadelphia.
District of Columbia ceded to the United States by Maryland, for the location of the National Government. Oct. 17 - 22. - Harmer defeated by the Indians on the Maumee in Indiana, near Fort Wayne. Gen. Harmer, with a force of 1453 men, attacked the Indians with small detachments of his force, and was twice defeated with great loss.
First rolling mill introduced into the United States.
April 17. - Death of Benjamin Franklin.
May 29. - death of Major-Gen. Israel Putnam at Brookline, Conn., aged 72 years. Gen. Putnam, although an illiterate man and a backwoodsman, was one of the bravest and most truly patriotic Generals in the American Army."

We move on to the first census and other things in the next excerpt.

Science of Common Things

Today's excerpt from Prof. L.G. Gorton discusses mirages.

"What is the mirage and what is its cause? Mirage is the appearance in the air of an erect or inverted image of some distant object which is itself invisible. It is most frequently seen on the water, where it is termed looming, but has also appeared to persons traveling through deserts with such vividness as to make them believe that they saw trees and springs before them in the distance. Captain Scoresby, while cruising in a whaling ship, recognized his father's vessel when distant from him more than thirty miles (and consequently below the horizon) by its inverted image in the air, though he did not previously know it was in that part of the ocean. Mirage is caused by the rays of light from the object being bent differently by different layers of the atmosphere until they are curved so as to strike the eye."

In the next excerpt from Prof. Gorton's scientific encyclopaedic knowledge, we cover twilight (no, not the movie) and sunsets, etc.

The Birth Date Thing 10 November 2011

US Billboard #1 Single 10 November 2011

Someone Like You by Adele. English singer / songwriter, Adele, is one of those artists known just by her first name, a true talent in the music business. Someone Like You was her second US #1 and her first UK #1. It was for her second studio album, 21 and was written by Adele and Dan Wilson of the band, Semisonic.

UK #1 Single 10 November 2011

Read All About It by Professor Green ft. Emeli Sandé. Stephen Paul Manderson, AKA Professor Green, is an English rapper, singer, songwriter, etc. Read All About it was his first UK #1 single.

New York Times #1 Fiction Best Seller 10 November 2011

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. This is the 2nd novel by Nicholas Sparks to be #1 on my birthday, the last one being At First Sight in 2005. It was adapted into a film in 2014, starring James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan.

Pulitzer Prize Winner 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I've seen it, heard of it, but honestly have no idea what it's about. Part of me thinks it's about the Goon Squad show with Spike Milligan, but I also think that I'm so totally wrong about this. So let's look, eh?

"Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa."

So I was totally wrong..

Nobel Prize Laureate 2011

Tomas Transtromer (Sweden). Swedish poet and psychologist Transtromer lived from 1931 to 2015. He was awarded his Nobel Laureate 'because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.'

Hugo Award Winner 2011

Blackout / All Clear by Connie Willis. Blackout / All Clear comprise two novels by American author, Connie Willis. They are the most recent of four books and a short story involving time travel from Oxford during the mid-21st century.

Edgar Award Winner 2011

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton. American crime writer Hamilton is one of only two mystery writers to win Edgar Award for both the best novel and best first novel. The Lock Artist was one of his four standalone mysteries. He is also known for his Alex McKnight series.

"Marked by tragedy, traumatized at the age of eight, Michael, now eighteen, is no ordinary young man. Besides not uttering a single word in ten years, he discovers the one thing he can somehow do better than anyone else. Whether it's a locked door without a key, a padlock with no combination, or even an eight-hundred pound safe ... he can open them all.  It's an unforgivable talent. A talent that will make young Michael a hot commodity with the wrong people and, whether he likes it or not, push him ever close to a life of crime. Until he finally sees his chance to escape, and with one desperate gamble risks everything to come back home to the only person he ever loved, and to unlock the secret that has kept him silent for so long."

Man Booker Prize Winner 2011

The Sense of Ending by Julian Barnes. The Sense of Ending was British author Barnes's eleventh novel.
"The Sense of Ending is narrated by a retired man named Tony Webster, who recalls how he and his clique met Adrian Finn at school and vowed to remain friends for life. When the past catches up with Tony, he reflects on the paths he and his friends have taken."

It was adapted for a film by Ritesh Batra and had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017. It stars Michelle Dockerey, Emily Mortimer and Jim Broadbent.

Giller Prize Winner 2011

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Esi Edugyan was born and raised in Calgary Alberta and raised by Ghanaian immigrant parents. Half-Blood Blues was her second novel.

"The book's dual narrative centers around Sidney "Sid" Griffiths, a journeyman jazz bassist. Griffiths' friend and bandmate, Hieronymus "Hiero" Falk, is caught on the wrong side of 1939 Nazi ideology, and is essentially lost to history. Some of his music does survive, however, and half a century later, fans of Falk discover his forgotten story."

So there you, something to chew on over the upcoming weekend. Have a great one!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

All About Books Today

As the BLog title and the subject bar say today, it's all about books today. :)

New Books

I received an order the other day from Better World Books out of the UK. In one of my recent reads, there was a list of other books published by the particular publishing company, Soho Crime, at the back. Some looked like they might be worth trying so I ordered a few. These are the three I got.

1. Billy Boyle by James R. Benn. This is a World War II mystery series created by American writer Benn. It's the first of  12 books as of 2017.

"Billy Boyle, a young Irish-American cop from Boston, has just made detective when the United States joins World War II. His 'Uncle Ike' - Dwight D. Eisenhower - has been chosen to command Army forces in Europe, and he wants Billy to be his personal investigator. Billy, who had never left Boston before enlisting, is not so sure about his ability as a detective. But he dutifully sets off for London, where he'll be working with British Allies to catch a spy who threatens Operation Jupiter, the impending invasion of Norway."

2. Jade Lady Burning by Martin Limon. Martin Limon served 10 years in the US Army in Korea. His eleven book mystery series, starring Military Police investigators Sueno and Bascom, is set in Korea.

"Almost twenty years after the end of the Korean War, the US Military is still present throughout South Korea, and tensions run high. Koreans look for any opportunity to hate the soldiers who drink at their bars and carouse with their women. When Pak Ok-Suk, a young Korean woman, is found brutally murdered in a torched apartment in the Itaewon red-light district of Seoul, it looks like it might be the work of her American soldier boyfriend. Sergeants George Sueno and Ernie Bascom, Military Police for the US 8th Army, are assigned to the case, but they nothing to go on other than a tenuous connection to an infamous prostitute. As repressed resentments erupt around them, the pair sets out on an increasingly dangerous quest to find evidence that will exonerate their countryman."

3. The Woman Who Married a Bear by John Straley. Alaskan writer Straley has written 6 books in his Cecil Younger mystery series set in Alaska.

"Murder is uncommon in the Alaskan port of Sitka, and this was an uncommon murder. For a start, the case has long been closed. The killer of a Tlingit hunting guide has confessed and is behind bars. But the victim's elderly mother wants to know why her son was killed, and she asks down-at-heel PI Cecil Younger to find out.
His quest takes him through Alaska's wildest landscapes - from the dark hidden world of city nights to the haunting world of the bush country and mountain forests.
The truth hinges on the meaning of a Tlingit myth. And the danger lies in finding it..."

Just Finished

I've finished 2 books since my last post here, both enjoyable.

1. Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear. This is the 2nd book in Winspear's Maisie Dobbs, PI mystery series, set between the two World Wars. My review is below.

"Birds of a Feather is the 2nd Maisie Dobbs mystery by Jacqueline Winspear. I've enjoyed the first two books so far. Winspear is a meticulous story teller, providing a lot of particular details while developing her characters and plot. Details about exactly what Maisie is wearing, etc seem irrelevant but they help provide a picture.
It's been hard to warm to Maisie as she is quite buttoned-up and does have personal issues from her time serving as a nurse during WWI and also between her and her father (guilt on both sides from her mother's death), but I'm getting to like her more. She is more than just a private detective. From her training with her old mentor, Maurice, she is more of a psychologist / private detective who provides both investigative assistance and then psychological assistance, whether the client wants it or no.
So, on to this story. Maisie is hired by a rich owner of a major grocery chain, Joseph Waite, to find his daughter. This is not the first time she has gone missing so he doesn't want the police involved. Maisie and her assistant, Billy Beale, agree to find her. They quickly realize that murders being worked on by Scotland Yard, especially Inspector Stratton, may be related to their case. As well, Maisie is concerned about Billy, an ex - soldier who had been severely wounded during the war. He is acting strangely and Maisie is concerned. Also simmering is her relationship with her father.
It all makes for an interesting story and mystery. I will admit that I had a pretty good idea of what might be involved and ultimately also a pretty good idea of who might be the murderer, but the story is very well-written and crafted and was well worth reading. I am warming more to Maisie and look forward to reading the third instalment. (4 stars)"

2. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. I've probably said this a few times in my BLog but it bears repeating. Shute is one of the all-time best writers ever. He is definitely one of my favourites and I'm enjoying exploring his extensive catalogue of books.

"As Joe says and most Queenslanders say throughout this book, 'Oh my word!'. What a great book A Town Like Alice by English author Nevil Shute is! Shute is one of my favourite authors. I've enjoyed so many of his books and I will keep searching for others of his stories.
A Town Like Alice (which I've always wanted to name A Town Called Alice; I know now why the title is as it is) is the story of Jean Paget, a young English woman, whose journey carries her from Malaysia in WWII, back to England and on to Australia. She is a normal girl, who finds herself in unique situations and finds a strength of character common to the heroes and heroines who people Shute's novels. Shute has said this story is based on a true story of a Dutch woman who kept many women prisoners of the Japanese alive with her efforts. In Shute's story, the Japanese invade Malaysia and capture a group of English women and their children. Not wanting to have anything to do with them, the women are forced to march around Malaysia, from Japanese camp to camp, suffering privations. Jean, unmarried, becomes a rational, smart leader of the group.
They are helped by an Australian prisoner, Joe, who risks his life to provide food and medicine to the women. After the war, Jean returns to England and discovers she has inherited a fair bit of money. The story teller, her solicitor Noel, helps her sort out this inheritance, which Jean wants to use to help the Malaysian village that kept the women safe.
She also decides to go to Australia to find out more about Joe, where he was from and when she arrives decides to use her money once again to help the town he was from, to make it 'a town like Alice'.
I don't want to discuss the plot much more as it is a book that needs to be enjoyed and savoured. I love the characters, I love the spirit of nation building, the positive qualities of the people. There are outstanding events that take place in this story, but they are told in such a gentle, matter of fact way that it makes them even more impressive. There are many highlights for me. I especially enjoyed discovering how the Australian outback radio communication system worked and how much of a key it was to saving a lost man. The story reminds me of The Far Country, another story that features Australia. Shute is a great author that should be explored. (5 stars)"

Currently Reading

I've added the two books below to my currently reading pile to replace the two I just finished.

1. The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny. This is the third book in an excellent mystery series by Canadian writer, Louise Penny, featuring Chief Inspector Gamache of the Quebec Provincial Police.

"A vast abandoned house. A chilling séance. A sudden death. To Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, it's the stuff of an old novel - but when he discovers the victim was murdered, a sinister shadow falls over the town of Three Pines ... and an old secret, buried deeper than the dead, returns once more to haunt the living."

2. The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer. Call it what you will; pulp fiction, B-movie fodder, tense thriller, the Fu Manchu series is an entertaining action-filled ride. The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu is the 2nd book in Rohmer's series. It was first published in 1916.

"Here is the second of the fabulous adventures of Nayland Smith and his trusted companion, Dr. Petrie - another complete thriller that again invokes the diabolical dreams and implacable will of the fabled Dr. Fu Manchu. For the Orient's most sinister emissary as returned. His goal is as monstrous as his ruthless cunning mind..."

Whew. That sounds exciting, eh? It's a page turner so far.

So there you go, all updated for a few days. Almost the weekend. Enjoy!

Best wishes to those people in the Caribbean and in Mexico who have suffered such tremendous tragedy recently.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

New Books and the History and other Items...

It's raining! Carry on to the mainland please. They need it too!

My morning rant... such as it is. How petty, childish and dangerous is the current resident of the White House that he thinks it's OK and I guess funny to retweet a video of him hitting his presidential opponent in the 'back' with a golf ball. I wonder if his mouthpiece will think that's a fireable offence when she meets the press next week. And calling another of the dangerous leaders to the world, Rocket man? I wonder if he actually called him that in his telephone call to the President of South Korea. The F***wit - in - chief probably can't pronounce or spell the other guy's name so it's easier to make up a name for him. Do you really want to goad a guy with nukes that way? Oh well, maybe he's getting nervous about addressing the whole world at the UN this week, eh? Can he actually come across as balanced and informed?

Oh well, on to more interesting items, at least, to me anyway.

New Books

 While the missus was Skyping with a friend from the UK this week, I took a short visit to my local book store, Nearly New Books, to see what new (used) books they might have acquired. I was pleasantly surprised to find three books that I liked.

1. Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer. I've enjoyed the Rumpole books I've read so far, always fun and entertaining. I liked the looks of the book cover for this one and it was just like new. This was Mortimer's first full-length Rumpole novel.

"Rumpole took the liberty of altering Shakespeare a little when he offered the meeting at his Chambers a choice quotation from Henry V. It reflected what he was thinking: that it was about time he committed to paper his memories of the Penge Bungalow affair. It would be scandalous, after all, and an affront to history, if the details of such a famous case were to become lost in the mists of time.
Horace Rumpole had been a novice at Number 4 Equity Court, fresh from a quiet war in RAF groundstaff and a law degree at Oxford, when the murders at Penge fist hit the headlines: two war heroes, bomber pilots who'd flown numerous sorties together over Europe, apparently shot dead after a reunion dinner by the son of one of them, young Simon Jerold.
Young he might have been, but in those dark post-war days Simon Jerold was facing the ultimate punishment. There seemed little he could hope for, since the evidence was so incriminating. Even old Wystan - head of Chambers, father of Hilda and ostensibly there to conduct Jerold's defence - seemed to have given up the game. But not Rumpole. There was something about the evidence which bothered him and, though he was only Wystan's Junior in the case, when the time came for him to seize the initiative, he did it triumphantly - like King Harry himself."

2. John le Carré, the Biography by Adam Sisman. I've read many of le Carré's spy novels and, for the most part, enjoyed them. George Smiley is one of the great characters. I had seen this book when it first came out and wanted to try it. I was glad to find it when I was checking out books.

"Over half a century since The Spy Who Came in from the Cold made John le Carré a worldwide, bestselling sensation, David Cornwell, the man behind the pseudonym, remains an enigma. Little is really known of one of the world's most successful writers.
Adam Sisman's masterful and insightful biography reveals a man whose own life - from a difficult lonely childhood, through marriage and family life, to recruitment by both MI5 and MI6 and eventual emergence as the master of the spy novel - has been as complex and confounding as any of his novels. Written with exclusive access to David Cornwell himself, to his private archive and to the most important people in his life, this is the definitive biography of a major writer."

3. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood is one of Canada's more unique writers, whether writing fiction, science fiction or poetry. The Handmaid's Tale remains one of my all-time favourite novels. This is one of Atwood's latest ventures and I'm happy that I found this copy. As I understand it, it's part of a group of books by different authors, with their takes on Shakespeare's plays.

"Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he's staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.
Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge.
After twelve years, his chance finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It's magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?"

Great Historical Events

As we approach the end of the 1700's, today's excerpt covers the First Constitutional Congress.

"1789. March 4. - First Congress under the National Constitution assembled at New York. (Ed. Note - Trying to imagine what the first US Constitution would have been like if the likes of the current President and his racist cronies had been involved. *shudder*)
Mackenzie, in the employment of the Northwestern Fur Company, made an overland journey to the great polar river named for him, which empties into the Arctic Sea.
Aug. 22. - John Fitch exhibited a boat on the Schuylkill, at Philadelphia, propelled by steam, and afterwards a stock company was formed, which built a steam packet that ran till the company failed in 1790.


When the National Government was established, the number of the States was thirteen, viz.: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia (Ed. Note. OK, I recognize that I'm on a rant today but ..... I assume this is a US citizenship question, or it should be. Would the current President pass this or maybe one of his immigrant spouses? OK, I'll stop now)

1789. Congress passed first tariff bill. The departments of State, War, and Treasury created."

Next excerpt will discuss the first President of this newly minted country.

Science of Common Things

Today's excerpt from Prof. L.G. Gorton discusses stars. (Ed. Note. I should caveat this, if I haven't before, that I haven't checked in every case to see if the Professor's answers have adjusted with new scientific knowledge in the past 200+ years)

"Why do stars twinkle? Because there are a great many non-luminous bodies in space, and when they pass between us and a star they cut off its light just for an instant, thus causing the twinkling. What are 'shooting stars'? They are not stars proper, but are non-luminous bodies coming in contact with the earth's atmosphere, and becoming ignited by their friction upon the air have the appearance of stars. Why are meteorites or shooting stars seen most frequently between the 12th and 14th of November each year? Because the earth at that time is passing through a portion of space where the greatest number of these bodies is found." (Interesting.)

Next excerpt will discuss mirages. (Ed. Note. Wouldn't it be nice if 2017 was a mirage?.. Nope, I said I'd stop!)

The Birth Date Thing 10 November 2010

(I hit 55 years of age on this date, five years from official retirement from the military.)

US Billboard #1 Single 10 November 2010

Like a G6 by Far East Movement. Far East Movement (FM) is an American hip hop / electronic pop band based out of Los Angeles. Like a G6 featured The Cataracs and singer, Dev.

UK #1 Single 10 November 2010

Promise This by Cheryl Cole. This is the 2nd consecutive for Cheryl Cole on this date. This single came out in the aftermath of her divorce from footballer Ashley Cole.

New York Times #1 Fiction Best Seller 10 November 2010

Worth Dying For by Lee Child. This is the 15th Jack Reacher novel. I think I'd better get moving on this series. I've read 3 so far. As of 2017, there are 22 books in this series.

"There’s deadly trouble in the corn county of Nebraska ... and Jack Reacher walks right into it. First he falls foul of the Duncans, a local clan that has terrified an entire county into submission. But it’s the unsolved, decades-old case of a missing child that Reacher can’t let go. 
The Duncans want Reacher gone - and it’s not just past secrets they’re trying to hide. For as dangerous as the Duncans are, they’re just the bottom of a criminal food chain stretching halfway around the world. For Reacher, it would have made much more sense to put some distance between himself and the hard-core trouble that’s bearing down on him. For Reacher, that was also impossible."

Pulitzer Prize Winner 2010

Tinkers by Paul Harding. Another new book for me. This book was American author Paul Harding's first novel.

"An old man lies dying. Propped up in his living room and surrounded by his children and grandchildren, George Washington Crosby drifts in and out of consciousness, back to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in Maine. As the clock repairer’s time winds down, his memories intertwine with those of his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler and his grandfather, a Methodist preacher beset by madness."

Nobel Prize Laureate 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru / Spain). Llosa is a Peruvian writer, politician, essayist, etc. He was awarded his Nobel Laureate "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat."

Hugo Award Winners 2010

In 2010, the award was shared -

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. This biopunk science fiction novel was the debut by American writer Bacigalupi. I've never read but it does sound interesting.

"Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko.
Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe. "

The City & The City by China Miéville. I have read one of English writer Miéville's books, Perdido Street Station, and loved it. I hope this is as good. I will be looking for it.

"Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad finds deadly conspiracies beneath a seemingly routine murder. From the decaying Beszel, he joins detective Qussim Dhatt in rich vibrant Ul Qoma, and both are enmeshed in a sordid underworld. Rabid nationalists are intent on destroying their neighbouring city, and unificationists dream of dissolving the two into one."

Edgar Award Winner 2010

The Last Child by John Hart. This is the second time in three years that Hart was awarded this prize.

"Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has to face things no boy his age should face. In the year since his twin sister's abduction his world has fallen apart: his father has disappeared and his fragile mother is spiralling into ever deeper despair. Johnny keeps strong. Armed with a map, a bike and a flashlight, he stalks the bad men of Raven County. The police might have given up on Alyssa; he never will. Someone, somewhere, knows something they're not telling. Only one person looks out for Johnny. Detective Clyde Hunt shares his obsession with the case. But when Johnny witnesses a hit-and-run and insists the victim was killed because he'd found Alyssa, even Hunt thinks he's lost it. And then another young girl goes missing."

Man Booker Prize 2010

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. The Finkler Question was the 11th novel by English writer Jacobson.

"Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer, and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never lost touch with each other, or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik.
Dining together one night at Sevcik's apartment - the two Jewish widowers and the unmarried Gentile, Treslove - the men share a sweetly painful evening, reminiscing on a time before they had loved and lost, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. But as Treslove makes his way home, he is attacked and mugged outside a violin dealer's window."

Giller Prize Winner 2010

The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud. Skibsrud was born in Nova Scotia in 1980 and this was her debut novel. She has since published two more novels and two books of poetry.

"In this riveting debut, a daughter attempts to discover the truth about the life of her father, a dying Vietnam veteran haunted by his wartime experiences. Powerful and assured, The Sentimentalists is a story of what lies beneath the surface of everyday life."

So there you go. Sunday is almost passed and it's still raining here, quite making it up for the lovely, sunny summer we've had. Have a great week!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Finished Reading and the Replacements

Just a quick post this morning as Jo and I are going to take a drive over to downtown Courtenay and wander around the shops. I can hear her moving around the kitchen as I write this.

Just Finished

I've completed two books since my last post, one classic and one fiction.

1. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. This is the 2nd Dickens book I've read in my longish life, the first being Pickwick Papers. I enjoyed this so very much, sympathetic characters, excellent story, with sad, scary and happy moments. My review is below. This is a favourite, I have to say.

"Back during my high school days, and I shudder to think it was 50 years ago, I read The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens and I recall enjoying it very much. However such is my memory I may be wrong. ;0) Anyway, it took me that long to try another book by Dickens. Over the past couple of years I've been exploring the Classics more and in Jul, decided to try Nicholas Nickleby. I had an old book of this story. Not sure when it was published but the illustrations by W.H.C. Groome lead me to believe it was published in 1907.
Anyway, enough administrative details, what about the story? Simply put, I loved it. Dickens' writing style is so accessible and entertaining. He creates wonderful characters who you find yourself becoming very invested in. The story starts off with Nicholas and his mother and sister, Kate, being placed in dire circumstances. Their father has died recently, leaving the family without income. Uncle Ralph, not a nice man, sends Nicholas off to be a teacher at a boys school in Yorkshire and then provides poor lodgings for Kate and her mother, also getting Kate a job as a dressmaker. In both instances, both Nicholas and Kate are treated horribly. Things look so very grim. Nicholas finds the treatment of the boys at the school to be abominable, especially that of Smike, a boy or more rather a young man, who has been at the school for years and is the special punching bag of Squeers and his wife. Nicholas finally can take it anymore and after thrashing Squeers leaves with Smike to return to London.
This is the barest introduction to Nicholas Nickleby, so much more is to happen. You meet such wonderful characters as Newman Noggs, hard worked clerk for Ralph Nickleby, who does everything in his power to help the family, Vincent Crummles, leader of a roving band of actors, who takes in Nicholas and Smike, the Cheeryble brothers who provide so much generous assistance to the Nickleby family, even Miss La Creevy, the lovely lady who is such a good friend. And then the villains, the Squeers, Ralph Nickleby, Mulberry Hawk, who wants to abuse Kate, etc.
Getting to know these characters as the story develops makes it such fascinating reading. Wanting to find out how everything will resolve makes you turn page after page. It's a very long story but it doesn't seem so. I won't say how everything turns out. There are so many varied possibilities. Ultimately I was so satisfied. Dickens is a great writer and story teller. I will have to now try another of his books, and I'll ensure it doesn't take me 50 years to try another. (5 stars)"

2. Night Moves by Mai Zetterling. I'm not sure where I originally heard of this book by Swedish actress / director Zetterling but the story sounded very different so I had it listed in my To-Be-Read book list. Jo got it for me for Xmas last year. It was originally a movie I believe or at least turned into a movie by Zetterling. From what I read, it was fairly disturbing. Anyway, the book was definitely different.

"I don't know if I actually got Night Games by Mai Zetterling. The synopsis sounded very interesting and the story in itself was well - written and easy to read. Basically it is about Jan, a man who is trying to sort out his past and resolve his present. He had many issues growing up with his mother, one who basically ignored him and with whom he seems to have been in love. He finds Mariana and in the course of their relationship goes through his past and tries to sort things out. I guess that is the gist of it all. Is it resolved in the end? That you have to read it for. Not really what I expected. (3 stars)"

Currently Reading

I already had A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (which I am enjoying immensely) and Birds of a Feather, the 2nd Maisie Dobbs mystery, by Jacqueline Winspear, on the go. I have since started two others to replace the two that I have finished.

1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I've previously read Neverwhere by Gaiman and enjoyed his unique brand of Fantasy. I read that this book was being turned into a TV series, starring Crispin Glover, Pablo Shreiber and Ian McShane, amongst others so thought it might be a good idea to try it in case I want to check out the series.

"Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she's been killed in a terrible accident.
Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him introduces himself. The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.
He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming. And from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same..."

2. Dear Fatty by Dawn French. Dawn French is one funny woman. Known as part of the double - comedy team of French and Saunders and also as The Vicar of Dibbley, amongst so many other great parts, I've wanted to read this memoir for awhile now. (Click on the links for examples of her great comic timing and sense of humour)

"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 on of the best-loved comedy actresses of our time."

I'm enjoying both books so far.

The weekend is almost here and it's a lovely day out so I'm going to go sit on the deck for a bit with Jo and enjoy the fresh air. Have a great day!
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