Monday, 27 December 2010

Xmas Bounty - More Books (Pt 2) - Jo's Prezzies

In my Blog earlier today, I listed the books that I had received for Xmas presents this year. Since I've got a little while before Jeopardy and we've been having a lazy day at home today, I thought I'd go through the presents that my wife, Jo, received.

From Me -

One of Jo's favourite authors is Bill Bryson, an American humorist, who has lived most of his adult life in the UK. He has written a number of travel books, a short history of the nearly everything and other successful books. One of Jo's favourites is Notes from a Small Island in which Bill details his travels around the UK, including anecdotes and historical information about the areas he visited.

His latest seemed quite interesting. At Home is a walk around his home, a Victorian parsonage in the UK. One day he considered how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as found in his home.

He basically came up with the idea of journeying through his home, room by room, and writing a history of the world without leaving his home (personally, I think he was just too lazy to travel around the world. *wink*). In each room, he talks about aspects of history; in the bathroom, the history of hygiene; in the bedroom, the history of sex, death and sleep.

Based on how much Jo enjoyed the other Bryson books, I'm sure that he won't disappoint with this latest. I have rarely heard Jo laugh out loud while reading a book, but any of Bryson's books have had that effect upon her, so I'm hoping this will be the same.

For those of you who may have read Jo's Blog, you'll know about her interest in home design and things of that ilk. Each Christmas I try to find her a new book on the topic.

This year I saw a book that combined her interest in design with our love of books. What could be better?

Living With Books was written by Dominique Dupuis and Roland Beaufre.

The various chapters in the book provide an idea of the subject matter within:
- Collectors and their books (Obsessive and Discreet)
- Designers and their books (Functional and Architectural)
- Interior Designers and their books (Comfortable and Decorative)
- Writers and their books (Charming and Exuberant)
- Fashion Designers and their books (Stylish and Glamorous)
- Artists and their books (Unusual and Inspiring)
- Journalists and their books (International and Up-to-date)
Grand Houses and their books (Imposing and Authoritative)

There is nothing better in my mind than a home filled with books. To look at other peoples' ways of keeping their books is always interesting. (I think I might even read through this book at times.)

A few months ago, Jo and I were having a conversation about children's books and she mentioned that as a child one of her favourite series was the Moomin family books.

The books were written by Tove Jansson, a Swedish speaking Finnish writer. She is best known for her Moomin family stories.

The Moomins are a family of trolls who are white and round with big snouts and look somewhat like hippos. Jo gave me a list of the 8 stories that she had read as a child. Over the past two months I searched for the books and found them on the Indigo book website.

The eight books are -

Comet in Moominland, which Jo says is like Armageddon, in which a comet is heading towards Earth. (Jo said the story was quite scary to her as a child.)
Finn Family Moomintroll - a shiny top hat is found which can turn anything and anyone to something else.
Moominpappa's Memoirs - Moominpappa shares stories of his youthful adventures and intrigues.
Moominsummer Madness - the Moomins are flooded from their home and live in a floating cave like house.
Tales from Moominvalley - 9 funny stories about other residents of Moominvalley.
Moominland Winter - Moomintroll wakes up early from winter hibernation.
Moominpapa at Sea - The Moomins spend the summer in a lighthouse on a tiny island for a change of scenery.
Moominvalley in November - the Moomins get a visit from Snufkin, Fillyjonk, the Hemulen, Grandpa Grumble and Toft, but where are the Moomins?

(Maybe I'll read the stories to Jo at night to help her sleep)

A Book from Sue and Rob

Jo's sister, Sue and her hubby Rob, always send interesting books as gifts. Michael Caine's autobiography, The Elephant to Hollywood, looks like no exception.

Born Maurice Mickelwhite, the story describes his journey from London's poverty stricken Elephant & Castle where he was born with rickets, to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

He has had a celebrated acting career spanning over 5 decades, with roles that have earned him two Oscars and a knighthood.

In the book he tells of life in Hollywood, recalls his many films, the stars of Hollywood and many off-screen moments.

In my mind he's a great actor, but one who doesn't mind getting down and dirty with a role and also a fellow who doesn't mind the odd bit of fluff to go with his detailed resume. Consider 1987 where he starred in George Axelrod's The Fourth Protocol, The Whistle Blower and Surrender, but also found the time to act in Jaws, The Revenge ( a classic.. just kidding of course). Mind you, the money he made for that paid for a new home for his mom. :0)

At any rate, with such a long career as his, the book must be filled with great stories about his life and should be an excellent read.

From Jenn and Eric -

Jo got two books from Jenn and Eric, both quite different from the other. The Tipping Point was originally published in 2000, written by Washington Post reporter, Malcolm Gladwell.

What I understand the book to be, from reading the blurb on the cover, talking about with Jo and also with Jenn is that it deals with that moment in business or social behaviour when an idea or trend crosses some threshold and becomes a raging inferno; as Jo said, for example, when a restaurant moves from being just a restaurant to being the place you have to be at. Why does one restaurant in an area basically just survive when another for whatever reason is a popular hangout for everyone? It's the tipping point!

As the blurb states, 'just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.

As I talked about the book with Jo, it brought back remembrances of courses she took at university, so I'm sure she will enjoy checking it out.

As a final book Jo also received one that I know she will enjoy tremendously. We've heard quite a bit lately about the new movie starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech. So it was a nice surprise for Jo to find the book under the tree Christmas Morning.

The book is based on the diaries of Speech Therapist, Lionel Logue, who worked with King George VI to help him cope with and correct his haunting fear of speaking in public.

The book is written by the grandson of Lionel Logue, Mark Logue, a film maker and custodian of the Logue archives.

The story 'offers an astonishing insight into a private world. Logue's diaries also reveal, for the first time, the torment the future King suffered at the hands of his father, George V, because of his stammer. Rarely has there been such an intimate portrait of the British monarchy - at a time of crisis - seen through the eyes of an Australian commoner who was proud to serve and save, his King.

The question for Jo is not when to read the book, but rather if she should read the book first or watch the movie first. Both have received such excellent reviews.


Besides books, Jo and I also received some DVDs from Sue and Rob and we're looking forward to watching them.

We always enjoy a good period piece and have enjoyed watching Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford. We had heard about a series produced for Masterpiece that also interested us. Written by Julian Fellowes, who won and Academy Award for the excellent Gosford Park, is Downton Abbey.

Set in England in the years before WWI, it tells the story of a complicated community. The house has been home to the Crawley Family for generations but it is also where their servants live, plan and dream. Some are loyal to the family and committed to Downton as a way of life. Others are moving through, on the lookout for adventure or a better life.

The difference is that they know many secrets of the family but the family know very few about them. While it seems to be a serene, secure world, there are clouds of conflict gathering that will change everything. Starring Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, amongst many other great British actors, it looks like one we'll enjoy immensely.

The other DVD is a murder mystery series that also looks very interesting. Whitechapel stars Rupert Penry-Jones as cop on the rise, DI Chandler and Phil Davis as his hard bitten partner, DS Miles. Also joining their group is an amateur expert on murder, Steve Pemberton as Edward Buchan.

The two series deal with violent crimes in the Whitechapel area of London.

The first has a murderer stalking the streets, picking off vulnerable women and leaving them brutally butchered; a copy cat killer in the mold of Jack the Ripper. The second series has a series of murders, maimings that seem to replicate those of the infamous Kray Twins of the 1960's. This is a series that I've heard nothing about before, but reading the write up on the back of the DVD packages, it looks like an excellent crime series, one of many that have come out of the UK.

As I mentioned in my earlier Blog, great Christmas presents for both Jo and I.

Merry Xmas to you all!

Xmas Bounty - More Books!!! Woooo hooooo!

It's the 27th of December 2010; I'm back from my run (well, more of a run/ walk this time, what with all that Xmas turkey I had to try and work off), relaxing in my new towelling bathrobe and wondering what to post about as the first post-Xmas day thoughts.

Xmas was very nice this year, what with my daughter Jennifer and her boyfriend, Eric, flying in from Ottawa to visit Jo and I. We played lots of cards, went to see the Xmas pantomime at the Sid Williams, went out for dinner Xmas Eve and generally relaxed. Now I've got another 10 days off to enjoy the company of my lovely wife Jo. Perfect way to end 2010 and start 2011.

I thought I'd write this Blog about the books and movies that Jo and I received for Xmas this year. I love giving and receiving books and this year was no different. Jo and I will have much reading enjoyment over the coming months. So pitter patter, let's get at 'er.

My Books

From Jo -

Barbarians is a book I've had on my wish list for quite awhile. I saw it originally at Munro's Book Store in Victoria and it seemed very interesting. It was such a nice surprise to see it under the tree this year.

Terry Jones is one of the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus. In this book, he 'takes a completely fresh approach to Roman history. It reveals that most of those written off by Rome as uncivilized, savage and barbaric were in fact organized, motivated and intelligent people with no intentions of overthrowing Rome and plundering its Empire. In fact, it was Rome who celebrated savage slaughter and who eventually looted the city of Rome themselves, while leaving a lasting legacy of propaganda attacking everyone else.'

It looks like an interesting perspective of history from one who is not a 'historian.' Jones has also written 4 books on medieval England as well as various children's books. His co-author, Alan Ereira, is a producer and writer of history programmes on radio and TV for over 40 years. Jones and Ereira also collaborated on Crusades and Medieval Lives.

I started reading Iain Banks science fiction stories last year. He is known for his Culture series, two of which I've read so far and enjoyed immensely.

This year, Jo added to my collection of Banks' books with this Gothic horror story, as it's described. The Wasp Factory concerns the extraordinary private world of Frank, sixteen, and unconventional, to say the least.

'Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.'

The short write up at the back has definitely peaked my interest. This is Banks' first novel, written in 1984. Since then he has become well established as a fiction and science fiction author. I'm very much looking forward to getting into this book.

Another author that I've developed a strong interest in is C. J. Sansom, writer of the Matthew Shardlake mysteries, one of which I commented on previously in this Blog. Revelation is the fourth book in the series and from the back page description, it looks just as interesting as the others.

The series is set during the reign of Henry VIII and Matthew Shardlake is a hunch-back lawyer who often gets involved in cases at the behest of the crown or his advisers, Thomas Cromwell, and in this book, Archbishop Cranmer.

In this story, Henry VIII is wooing Catherine Parr, to be his sixth wife. Archbishop Cranmer and the Protestants in court are concerned as Catherine Parr has Reformist sympathies.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is working on a case of a teenage boy who has been placed in Bedlam insane asylum and fears that the boy may be burned at the stake as a heretic.

Involved in another murder case, the murder of an old friend, leads Matthew to Cranmer and Catherine Parr and to the prophecies of the Book of Revelations. Sansom excels at weaving the historical perspective of this period of English history with the mysteries that Matthew Shardlake is involved in and I'm sure this story will be as interesting as the others.

From Jennifer and Eric -

I received two books from my daughter and Eric, who continue to try to prove to me that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Just kidding.

Firstly, a political biography of our current Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper.

Harperland was published in 2010, written by Lawrence Martin, a columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail. He worked as a Washington and Moscow based columnist before becoming an Ottawa-based national columnist and he has written ten previous books.

In this book, he portrays the leader of the Conservative government as a leader firmly in control of his agenda and a man who will go to any lengths to ensure it is implemented. He 'charts how a prime minister, with only a minority government has made significant progress in undermining the old Liberal consensus while fashioning a new Conservative order.

It looks like a very interesting book. Mr. Harper is a right wing Conservative who has succeeded where other Conservative leaders seem to have failed. It will be interesting to see how the author perceives him.

Knowing how much I read, the kids also bought me a book with a series of essays on various Canadian fiction. Hooked on Canadian Books was written by T. F. Rigelof, a Canadian writer and reviewer to the Globe and Mail 'Books' section.

For more than 20 years he has reviewed countless Canadian books. 'He does more than opine whether a book works or not; he seeks to understand why, through writing that is approachable as it is insightful. He also writes about Canadian literature itself, defending it from stereotypes, lauding its successes, and promoting its future.'

I took a Canadian Literature course in my university days and have a mild acquaintance with some Canadian writers; William Gibson, Rohinton Mistry, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, etc. I think this will be an interesting book, both to provide both some insight into Canadian fiction, itself, and also maybe to provide me with some other ideas for books that I might want to read. (Because that's just what I need, more books to read.. :0) ).

From Sue and Rob -

The final book I received was from my sis-in-law and bro-in-law from England. Just for a bit of a historical perspective here, before I met Jo in 2002, I didn't know a great deal about footie. I think I'd watched some World Cup footie and I had also I'd gone to see the Edmonton Drillers of the old NASL play once, back in 79 or 80, when I was working at Cold Lake Alta.

When Jo came over in 2002, the World Cup, hosted by Japan and South Korea was just about to take place. Jo asked if I minded if she watched the England games. And basically, the rest is history. I have totally embraced the wondrous game, got hooked during the World Cup and now watch as many Premiership games as I can, getting up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to start the weekends games, and so on.

I've received many excellent footie books over the past few years, autobiographies of the great Bill Shankly, a book about the worst team in British footie, at the time it was East Stirling of the lowest Scottish division.

Jo calls me an 'anorak', a fond name for someone who gets down in the weeds about something, to find all the trivial facts they can. Well, thanks to Sue and Rob's Xmas present, I'll be able to become a much higher quality 'anorak'. The Book of Lists features great facts and stories, such as, the 7 fastest goals, 10 brainiacs, 10 tattoos, 11 words of wisdom, etc. I've started it already and am really enjoying. I'll leave you with a couple of quotes from within the book; from the category, 12 geography students.

"It was like playing in a foreign country", from England player, Ian Rush, talking about his time playing with Juventus of the Italian Serie A.

and from the great David Beckham, when asked if he was a 'volatile' player....

"Well, I can play in the centre, on the right and occasionally on the left side".

I'm so very happy about the books I received as Xmas presents, love them all and can't wait to get into them.

Next Blog I'll go through the books that the missus received. Yay for books!!

Thursday, 23 December 2010


I won't be making a post until after Xmas, so just want to wish everyone a


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Shaken not Stirred - A Bit of Bond

It's one of those days, raining so I don't feel like running and England has been hit with snow storms which has affected my ability to watch any Premier League footie matches. So I thought I'd write a Blog about my favourite spy and then crawl back into bed with the missus. :0)

Bond, James Bond
 I'll start off with a question. Who is your favourite James Bond? I'd have to list mine as follows -

Number 1 - Sean Connery (Firstly he was the original and secondly, I think his movies kept the tone of the books the best)
Number 2 - Timothy Dalton
Number 3 - Pierce Brosnan
Number 4 - Daniel Craig
Number 5 - Roger Moore
Number 6 - George Lazenby

I don't think I'll count David Niven in Casino Royale as it was a comedy. Mind you he did play the part quite well.


I saw my first Bond film in 1964 or so, when the Base Theater in Chatham N.B. showed Goldfinger with Sean Connery and Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore. It was a great movie for a 9 or 10 year old boy. I will say that Goldfinger's henchman, Odd Job, did scare me, especially his hat with the metal brim. It was a dangerous, effective weapon. I never saw all the Bond movies, but as many as possible; Live and Let Die, Dr. No with the lovely Ursula Andress, On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby, everyone's supposed least favourite Bond, You Only Live Twice, etc. They were great movies, stirring the imagination of a young fella and providing action and entertainment.

I don't think I read my first Bond book until a few years later, when we'd moved on to Germany in the later 1960's. As a bit of background, the Bond books were written by Ian Fleming. Mr. Fleming was a British Naval Intelligence officer during WWII. He was born in 1908 and died in 1964. His career as a spy provided background for his Bond stories which were written between 1953 and 1966 (obviously published after his death). He did write some other books, most notably that well-known children's story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Most of the Fleming's Bond books have been made into movies. His literary executors did periodically hire other author's to continue to write Bond books and the follow-on movies starring Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig had little to do with Fleming's original stories. (well, except for Craig's first, Casino Royale).

Anyway, I read most of the Bond stories while I was in Junior High School. They were very exciting stories, with action, adventure and for my young mind, sex!! Fleming presented a dark image of Bond and in the Connery movies, I think they followed that trait quite well. The follow-on movies with Roger Moore relied more on humour and I don't think they were quite as good. Having said that, I think Live and Let Die was one of the better Roger Moore movies, with the scenes in New Orleans, the voodoo in Jamaica.

It had been many years since I had read a Bond story when I noticed some paperback versions in my local used bookstore, ABC Books. They were published by Pan Books and looking  at the covers, they rekindled my interest in reading the Bond series. I've so far read From Russia With Love and it was as good as I remembered. But I thought I'd highlight the books I've got and tell you a bit about each story in case you've never been introduced to Ian Fleming's James Bond before.

Live and Let Die was originally written in 1954. Pan Books published their first edition in 1957. The edition I have is a 16th Printing from 1964 (obviously a popular book).

In this story, Bond meets Mr. Big, an American Negro master criminal, head of a Voodoo cult, a high ranking member of SMERSH, the Soviet murder organization that Bond battles in many of his books. He also meets Solitaire, Mr. Big's inquisitor, an exotic Creole beauty with the power to read a man's mind.

Racing from New York's Harlem district to the shark - infested waters of the West Indies, this is a power-packed James Bond adventure.

In the movie, Mr Big is played by Yaphet Kotto with menace and panache. Jane Seymour plays the Creole beauty, Solitaire.

The soundtrack had one of Paul McCartney's best songs, of course, Live and Let Die. (At least I liked it. :0)). If you like a little Voodoo in your life and some dark danger, try both the book and the movie.

In 1957, From Russia With Love came out. The version I have was published in 1964, a 17th Printing.

This story finds Bond in Istanbul in love with the beautiful Tatiana Romanova, spy for SMERSH, trying to use her to gain possession of a Russian Decoding machine.

He must also battle one of SMERSH's toughest contract killers, originally from Ireland, Donald Grant and also the evil Rosa Klebb with the poisoned blade in her shoe.

I think that Tatiana was Bond's one true love and he became even more cynical after this story. (But I'll let you read it yourself to find out if I'm right).

The movie came out in 1963 and was a dark, gritty affair. It starred Robert Shaw as the arch villain, Donald Grant and Lotta Lenya as Rosa Klebb, a role she played with panache.

We move onto 1958 for my next Bond story, Dr. No. This is actually the sixth book in the series, so you can see I have a few gaps to fill. From the cover, it's apparent that this is the movie that helped bring the lovely Ursula Andress into prominence, with the famous bathing suit scene on the beach of Dr. No's island.

In this story, Bond is on a routine assignment in Jamaica, a holiday and convalescence. The sun shines, the palm trees wave and the calypsos throb. Bond is tasked to investigate the murder of a colleague, a fellow agent.

On the horizon is the island, Crab Key, which is an island fortress run by the evil, villainous Dr. No.

His prescription for Bond is one long calculated dose of torture and death. Bond is assisted by Quarrel, a local fisherman and Felix Leiter, a CIA agent and Honeychile (Honey) Rider to solve the mystery of Dr. No.

In 1959, Fleming wrote Goldfinger, the first movie I saw and probably one of my favourite Bond books as well (maybe because it was my first introduction to Bond).

Bond was warned not to tangle with Goldfinger, but the super-criminal's latest obsession was too strong and too dangerous. He had to be stopped.

Auric Goldfinger is determined to take possession of half the supply of mined gold in the world - to rob Fort Knox. He has enlisted the aid of the top criminals in the US, including a group of beautiful thieves from the Bronx. He has conceived a plan so foolproof that it will take all of Bond's talents to stop him.

The is an excellent novel and it was also a great movie. Some well-remembered moments; such as the woman painted gold, played by Shirley Eaton, the laser beam that threatens to split Bond in half, Oddjob's metal brimmed hat, which kills the sister bent on revenge, and of course, Honor Blackman as the lovely and dangerous Pussy Galore.

I have to say that I have never seen the movie or read the book of this next Bond thriller, Thunderball. It came out originally in 1961 and I have no idea why I never got the book or went to see the movie; I remember it being at the theater.

In this story, SPECTRE, the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, an international gang of super criminals in Paris, have stolen two nuclear bombs.

They have sent a blackmail letter to Britain's prime minister threatening to detonate the two hijacked atomic weapons in unspecified western cities if they are not given 100 million Pounds in gold bullion.

Bond is assigned the mission to foil the dastardly threat and he has just one person who can help him. She is the beautiful blond mistress of SPECTRE's sinister, 'Number One'.

I'm afraid I can't tell you much more about this story until I manage to sit down and read it in the near future. The Bond Girl in the film, which was released in 1965 was French actress, Claudine Auger, playing Domino. I'll have to see if I can find the movie too, to see if it lives up to the other Sean Connery Bond movies.

The final Bond book I have on my book shelf in the 'to be read' area is On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which was published in 1963.

This story features one of Bond's arch villains, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The back jacket describes the story as, "one of the world's master criminals.. a remarkably beautiful woman... and exciting chases about the Swiss mountains."

Bond goes undercover to discover the true reason behind Blofeld's allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.

In the movie, the main female lead was played by the lovely Diana Rigg, later well-known for her role as Emma Peel in the Avengers. James Bond was played by George Lazenby in this film. He was a little known Australian actor and unfortunately much-maligned for his attempt to replace Connery in the role. I actually thought the movie was great, lots of action in the Swiss Alps, beautiful scenery and while Lazenby was somewhat wooden as Bond, he still played the role quite well.

So there you have it, my partial collection of Bond books that I'm slowly working through as I relive my childhood. Good fun!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Just a quickie - Books to read in 2011

Over at the goodreads site, I've been involved with a few of the book groups. In one of them, Book Addicts, the folks are putting down their lists of individual challenges for 2011; what they would like to read basically. I took a look through my 'To Be Read' bookshelves and came up with a list of 24 books that I plan to try and read in 2011 (not to say I won't read more, but I do want to read these books). They are a mix of mysteries and SciFi stories. In most cases, they are authors I haven't read before; especially the mysteries.

So here goes, my lists of books to read in 2011.


Patricia Wentworth's Wicked Uncle was published in 1947 and is a Miss Silver mystery. A gathering of house guests with nothing in common until the host, the 'wicked' Gregory Porlock is found with a knife in his back. Only 'Miss Silver' will be able to see through the motives and clues.

Lynda LaPlante's Above Suspicion, of Prime Suspect fame, was published in 2006. Introducing Anna Travis who must solve her first murder case, a series of killings that has shocked even the most hardened detectives.

Kay Mitchell's A Lively Form of Death was originally published in 1990. Chief Inspector Morrissey must try to solve 3 near perfect murders, perhaps more as the trail leads back to an unsolved case of missing boys.

A.A Milne, better known for his Winnie-the-Pooh books wrote The Red House Mystery in 1922. Crime investigator Antony Gillingham, whose skills rival Sherlock Holmes, works to solve the murder of Mr Mark Ablett's brother, plus the possible disappearance of Mark as well. Did the key to the mystery lie on the premises or in the dark recesses of the human heart?

Margery Allingham first published Pearls Before Swine in 1945. This is an Albert Campion mystery; a gentleman who works as a confidential investigator. In this case he tries to solve the murder of the woman found in the Marquess of Carados bed.

Deadlock by Iris Johansen is about John Garrett, an ex-operative for the  CIA / British Intelligence and anyone else who will hire him. In this story he is hired to track down and save two archaeologists and finds himself drawn into an astonishing adventure.

Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train was her first novel and was written in 1950. It is well known as one of Alfred Hitchcock's movies. How do two strangers who meet on a train plot the perfect murders? You have to read.

Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare was published published in 1942. Francis Pettigrew must investigate a series of unrelated mishaps to determine if they are nasty practical jokes or whether someone is trying to murder Judge William Hereward Barber of the Southern Circuit court.

King of Rainy Country was written by Nicholas Freeling. It is an Inspector Van der Valk mystery. In this story, Van der Valk tracks a missing millionaire who has disappeared; tracking him from Cologne to Innsbruck and learning about the ways of the wealthy and the fury of a jealous woman.

Mistress of Death is a historical mystery by Ariana Franklin. Published in 2007 it is set in medieval Cambridge, Henry VII asks the King of Sicily for his master of the art of death to help solve the murders of 4 children. This Italian doctor and expert in the art of anatomy (an early medical examiner) is also a woman, Adelia. Facing danger at every turn and assisted by the one of the King's tax collectors, she follows the byways of Cambridge to try and solve the murders before the murderer strikes again.

Known for his Horatio Hornblower books, C.S. Forester wrote Payment Deferred in 1926, a story which was chosen as one of the 99 best crime stories ever. It is described as a chilling story whose oppressive suspense accumulates like storm clouds until relief is brought by the masterly shock ending.

A more recent mystery is Mark Billingham's Sleepyhead which was originally published in 2001. DI Tom Thorne must try to find the person who left Alison Willetts in a state known as Locked-In Syndrome, a state which leaves her unable to move or communicate but able to hear, see and feel. It has taken three women murdered to achieve success in his latest crime.

Back to an older story with this last mystery, published in 1929 was Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolate Case.  In this mystery, the famous Crime Circle Club is determined to assist Scotland Yard solve the murder of the wife of George Bendix who was poisoned with a box of chocolates, which seem to have been meant for someone else. Each member has a theory; one will be right and one will be 'dead wrong'.

Science Fiction

Canadian writer, Phyllis Gotlieb wrote Son of the Morning in 1983. Two giant crimson cats from a primitive planet were sent to Sol Three. They took the brain-in-a-bottle, Espinoza, who had once lived on Earth as an interpreter. However their journey is made more complex as they enter a time warp and end up in Poland hundreds of years before Espinoza was born.

The next novel pictured is a style I remember fondly; that being two books in one. The first is The Unteleported Man by Philip K. Dick from 1964, the story of Rachmael ben Applebaum who challenges the mighty Telpor corporation to travel to Utopia the old long way, rather than use the instant-teleport system they have developed. On the flip side is Howard L. Cory's The Mind Masters, published in 1966. It tells the adventures of Irishman Terence O'Corcoran who crash lands on an alien world an must face the most vile creatures imaginable.

Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka wrote one of my favourite SciFi novels, Warday. In 1986, they collaborated on Nature's End, a story set in 2025 (not that far away now). Immense numbers of people swarm the globe. In astonishing ways, technology has triumphed, but at a staggering cost. Starvation is rampant, city dwellers gasp for breath under blackened skies; the world may be ending. (Sound familiar?)

Finally in this group, a story from Ursula Le Guin who wrote another of my all-time favourite SciFi novels, The Left Hand of Darkness. This story, The Lathe of Heaven, written in 1971, tells the stories of George Orr, a dreamer, whose dreams come true. George can change the world. In the hands of a power-mad psychiatrist, George is forced to dream and dream again, seeking Utopia, but threatening the fabric of existence.

Fred Hoyle and his son, Geoffrey collaborated on this story which records the first landing on the grassy slopes of the deceptively peaceful planet, Achilles. Fifth Planet was written in 1963 and according to the Sunday Times is the best so far from the Hoyle stable; strong praise from the family that also brought A for Andromeda.

J.G. Ballard explores many strange concepts in his SciFi stories. In The Crystal World, written in 1966, he travels to darkest Africa where Dr Edward Sanders finds himself in a world that defies scientific belief. By some force, the landscape is being transformed and encrusted with deadly jewel-like forms.

John Brunner gave us Stand on Zanzibar in 1968 and The Sheep Look Up in 1972. In 1975 he wrote The Shockwave Rider, he tells us about Nickie Haflinger, a man who had lived a score of lifetimes, but technically didn't exist. He must fight the government of Tarnover to try and restore sanity and personal freedom to the masses.

Some light reading next from the annals of The Dresden Files. Jim Butcher's second story in the series is Fool Moon, written in 2001. With Chicago dead quiet, Harry Dresden, the only professional wizard in the phone book can't drag up any business. Until a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise.

Lined up next for 2011 reading is some grand old outer space adventure from Lester del Rey. Published in 1963 is Outpost of Jupiter.  When his father's illness stranded the Wilsons on Ganymede, Jupiter's small moon, Bob decided not to go to college but instead joined the colonists in their struggle against the moon's brutal environment. His attempts to discover a major mystery are thrown for a loop by a plague that is blamed on Bob!

Finally, there is a book of short stories by the Canadian wizard of computer cowboys and high tech lowlifes. William Gibson received great praise for his collection of short stories, Burning Chrome, which follows in the great tradition of Neuromancer and Count Zero.

So there you have it; books I've identified for definite reading in 2011. Mind you, I'm hoping I can read more than two books a month; those hardly make a dent in my shelves of too be read books. Wish me luck. :0)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Bookstores, Pt III

In previous Blogs I talked about my favourite bookstores in the Comox Valley and also in Victoria. Last night I was searching around the web and I found he website of a used bookstore that I used to frequent when I lived in North Bay, Ontario.

Allison The Bookman, North Bay, Ontario. (Established in 1973)

Fond memories
 Forty years ago, while I was finishing High School at Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay, one of my favourite stores was Allison the Bookman. It was at the far end of town from where we lived, but I used to hop on my bike and pedal my arse down there regularly. I'm sure there were other bookstores in North Bay, but I can't remember any. This was an unassuming little store, but it was a great place to look around. And from the looks of things, it still is.

Front of store

I don't recall exactly what the inside was like, but he picture below sure seems familiar. At the very least, it might be a bit neater now.. ;0)

But there were always good finds and I enjoyed spending an hour or so wandering around and looking through the shelves.

Middle of the room

It's your typical small town bookstore and I'm so glad to find that it has lasted all these years.

Treasure them because they still have the old classics, great paperbacks, anything you might want.

I remember seeing the store last time I went home to visit my parents but I neglected to stop in. Next time, I'll make sure to do so.

Hang in there, Allison.... you, bookman you.. ! :0)

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Top Ten Favourite Books - Number 6

Number 6 All-Time Favourite Novel
 I'm not sure which of Stephen King's stories was the first one that I read, maybe The Dead Zone or Cujo or Carrie, but through the '80's I had a real love affair with his stories. Stephen King had a knack for making the ordinary terrifying. Every story was unique in its own right and each had something different to offer. I will discuss a few others of his stories in this Blog, but the main purpose is to highlight Number 6 in my Top Ten all-time favourite books. 

The Stand was originally published in 1978 and was a change for King as, while it still had a horror motif, it also fit into the SciFi genre. This particular edition was published in 1990 by Doubleday and contained new materiel from King.

The story, for those unfamiliar with the work, is set in a post-apocalyptic United States. A super flu is released in the US by a soldier and his family, who escape from a military base. It spreads quickly across the US and the world, killing 99.4% of the world's population.

The story revolves around various individuals who are immune to the virus and leave their homes to escape the turmoil. There are various groups but they are experiencing the same thing; they dream about a woman Abigail Freemantle, who guides them to a new society in the Western US. At the same time, the story follows a number of 'troubled' individuals who dream of 'The Dark Man', Randall Flagg, who leads them to Las Vegas, a Hell on Earth.

The first group form a community, try to build a new society, but of course, there is conflict with Flagg's people. This is the conflict within the novel and King portrays it so very well. Ultimately there will be a final confrontation, but not wanting to spoil the story, I won't go into anymore details.

Suffice it to say, this is a story I've read many times and each time I've found it fascinating. King develops his characters so very well and the plot grows and evolves in leaps and bounds. I also like his use of intertextuality (how's that for a word, eh?); that being the use of people like Flagg, who also shows up in other King stories.

The Stand (1994)
 The Stand was also developed for TV as a mini-series in 1994. It starred Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe, amongst others. The role of Flagg was played by Jamie Sheridan (probably a miscasting in my mind), although Matt Frewer as Trash-Can Man was excellent.

Overall, I thought it was pretty well-done. I think to capture everything that Stephen King was trying to present in his novel, the movie had to be done as a mini-series.

The tension of the novel was there, the character development as well. I think that even if you hadn't read the novel, you would have enjoyed the mini-series.

However, having said that, to really appreciate the scope and breadth of the story, you really need to read the novel. I think you'll find that you won't be able to put it down and you might even read it one or two more times. :0)

Other Stephen King favourites

I will only highlight a few of my favourite King novels. As I mentioned at the beginning, I went through almost all of his books at one time. I did find that his later novels; The Dark Half, Dolores Clairborne, Gerald's Game and Needful Things, to name a few, didn't grab me as much as his earlier writing. While still good stories, they didn't have the same impact.

The Dead Zone was published in 1979 and is a story about Johnny Smith, a man who wakes from a coma after five years. He discovers that he now is able to see future crimes happening.

He helps the police but because he is treated as  a freak due to this talent, he isolates himself. It is an excellent story, not typical of the horror stories that made King more well-known. Not to say that it isn't a scary story, but the story deals more with the psychological issues that  Johnny must deal with.

The Dead Zone is also an excellent movie by Canadian horror maestro, David Cronenberg, starring Christopher Walken. So many of Stephen King's books have been turned into movies or TV mini-series and they are hit or miss. The Dead Zone was one of the very best interpretations of a Stephen King novel. The mood and tension was excellent and Christopher Walken portrayed Johnny perfectly.

Another of his earlier works that I'd like to reference is Christine, the horror story about a haunted car. Published in 1983, it deals with nerd, Arnie, who buys a dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury. As he works on the car, his confidence grows, but he also becomes more withdrawn. The car seems to change but nobody actually sees Arnie repairing Christine. The car is a jealous creature and people who get in the way of Arnie and Christine suffer mysterious fates.

This was a neat, scary story. There is tension throughout. I also liked how King used rock music as an ongoing theme during the story; at the beginning of each chapter to express the mood of the story. Considering it was about a haunted car, King outdid himself in setting an appropriate mood and giving me the creeps.

There was a movie about this story as well which came out the same year. I enjoyed the movie but I don't think it was one of the best interpretations of a King story. Still worth a watch though.

For just a fun, pure horror story, you might want to read Pet Sematary. Written in 1983, it tells the story of Louis Creed and his family who move into a house beside a busy highway in a town called Ludlow. When the family cat is killed, their neighbour buries the cat in an old Indian burial ground (don't read if you don't want to know what happens next), which brings the cat back to life (sort of).

This is truly a creepy story. The one event builds into others when further tragedies occur in the family. I won't get into them in detail, but there are incidents in the cemetery that give you the chills and follow-on activities that make you shudder.

This is Stephen King at his creepiest and it's a good spine-tingler. However, unfortunately, the movie based on the book, which came out in 1989 was downright awful. Rather than focus on the creepiness, it was just crude and gruesome. I couldn't even watch the whole movie. One of the misses when it comes to a Stephen King movie.

Another favourite of mine is It, which came out in 1986. Another well - written horror story it tells the tale of seven children, the Loser's Club, who are terrorized by an inter dimensional life-form, "Pennywise the Clown".  The seven children, when they grow up, must return to their home town to confront this evil if they are to be able to move on with their lives.

The story takes place over two time periods, when the Loser's are children, describing how they encounter Pennywise. The second time period is when they have grown up and must deal with their nightmares and come together once again to deal with Pennywise.

I enjoyed both the story and also the excellent TV mini-series starring Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson and the excellent Tim Curry as Pennywise. While this may not have had quite the horror of the book, I still found it an enjoyable, interesting televised version of the book.

In 1996, King came out with two novels, one written as Richard Bachman, a name he'd written other stories under when he was just starting out.

I got both of these as Xmas presents from my daughters. King often reflected characters or scenes from other books. In Gerald's Game, there is a telepathic connection between Jessie and Dolores Clairborne, who of course is the main character in Dolores Clairborne. Flagg, of The Stand, also appears in The Dark Tower series and also the children's fantasy The Eyes of the Dragon. As you can see from the covers of The Regulators and Desperation above, even the covers of these books are related. It did take me awhile to realize this, I'm afraid. :0).. The same characters appear in each story, dealing with different situations in each. Different results occur in each story to different characters. The main antagonist, Tak, appears in each book. I think King had a great deal of fun with these two stories. A quite reasonable TV movie of Desperation came out in 2006, with a great cast, including Tom Skerrit, Steven Weber and Annabeth Gish. It was quite as eerie as the book.


If you want to read excellent horror novels, you can't go wrong starting with Stephen King. Besides those mentioned above, other excellent stories include Salem's Lot, Cujo, Carrie, The Green Mile and King's many books of short stories. King is able to find a simple idea that makes people nervous and build on that to send chills up your spine. Many great movies have been made based on King novels and short stories. Others that come to mind are The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me and of course, The Green Mile. Basically, with Stephen King you can generally count on an interesting evening's viewing or a week's great reading.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Just finished and currently reading

Time for a quick update on where I am with my current reading.

Just Finished

Excellent well-paced historical mystery
 Last time I updated this, I was in the middle of a mystery and an old favourite.

C.J. Sansom's Dark Fire is the second in his Matthew Shardlake mysteries. The setting of this story is 1540 and the hottest summer of the 16th century. Matthew Shardlake, who has been out of favour with Henry VIII's chief minister Thomas Cromwell since the first story, has been trying to maintain his legal practice in London. His involvement in a murder case defending a young girl accused of murdering her cousin once again brings him into contact with Cromwell.

An official of the Court of Augmentation has discovered the ancient secret of Greek Fire in a dissolved London monastery. Shardlake is sent to obtain it but instead finds the official and his alchemist brother murdered. And the formula has disappeared. Shardlake must now search for the secret formula and at the same time try and save the young girl from execution.

I enjoyed this story very much. While I liked the first in the series, Dissolution, as well, I found this one much more readable. C.J. Sansom seems to have found his pace with this second story. The story moves very well, the characters are well developed and the plot is very interesting. Matthew Shardlake, the hunch-backed lawyer, is much more appealing in this story, maybe because of his disillusionment with the Reformation. This seems to make him more grounded, less rigid in his beliefs. It was nice to have his friend Joseph the Moorish pharmacist in this story; he is a very sympathetic character. As well, we are introduced to Cromwell's investigator, Barak, who is assigned by Cromwell to assist Shardlake in his investigations. Barak is a mysterious individual, whose character develops nicely through this story.

If you like a historical novel, combined with an excellent mystery, you'll enjoy Dark Fire. The third book in the series is Sovereign. I'm already looking forward to reading it.

A primer on foreign policy
The second book on my just finished list is one I'd read many years ago when I was still in junior high school. William Lederer and Eugene Burdick published The Ugly American. in 1958. This particular edition was published in September 1969. There was a follow-up book to this one, simply entitled Sarkhan, which came out in 1966.

I remember enjoying this book quite a bit when I first read it. In fact it made me find Sarkhan and read that one as well. Having read it again, I still find it very interesting, but I also found it more preachy this time.

The Ugly American is a fictionalized account of American foreign policies in South-East Asia, you could call it a primer on the best way to compete against the Communists for the hearts of these under-developed countries. The novel takes place in the fictionalized country of Sarkhan and covers the dealings of the new US ambassador as he tries to discover the best way of dealing with the people of the country. This involves travelling to other countries, such as Viet Nam, still under the rule of the French and meeting with many other US citizens who each have their own ways of spreading the message. The book was still very interesting; probably not all that current anymore. However, the message still remains quite valid; if you want to be successful dealing with other countries, you have to understand the values and customs of those people, not just ram your own values down their throats.

Now Reading

Atwood's latest futuristic novel
 I have two new books on the go at the moment; both well under way and both interesting.

Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, is a prolific writer who has developed her own view point on the 'end of the world' novel. She does not write only in this genre, but the novels she has produced have all been very interesting. Besides The Year of the Flood, which I'm currently reading, she also wrote The Handmaid's Tale, a personal favourite of mine, and Oryx and Crake, also set in the hopefully distant future.

The Year of the Flood is her latest novel, which came out in 2009. The story revolves around two women, Toby and Ren. In this story, the uncontrolled development of new, gene-spliced life forms, has resulted in a man-made pandemic which appears to have obliterated human life. Toby and Ren are survivors, isolated from each other. Toby has barricaded herself in a luxurious spa and Ren is locked inside a high-end sex club, Scales.

So far the story is developing quite nicely. It tells each woman's life as it leads up to the events of the Flood and also deals with the present time, as they wait and try to survive. Atwood appears true to form and so far I'm enjoying the story very much.

Five Ages of History and their Impact
The second book I have on the go at the moment is a non-fiction, historical novel by Max Boot. Boot is an American novelist and military historian. I am reading his most recent book, War Made New; Weapons, Warriors and the Making of the Modern World. I received this book for my birthday in November and it looked interesting right away.

So far the book has not disappointed. As described, it is a sweeping, epic history that ranges from the defeat of the Spanish Armada to the current war on terrorism. The author explores how advances in weaponry and technology transformed how wars were fought but also shaped our society and human events.

The story deals with what he calls the five great revolutions in military technology and how those nations that best mastered these new technologies held sway during those specific periods of history. To highlight his ideas, Boot covers specific battles in each period and analyzes the specific events and how the technologies were utilized to impact the results.

I am about 20% into the novel, finishing of the first period, The Gunpowder Revolution. Max Boot has a nice way with his story telling; the events unfold easily and his analysis of both the historical events and the impacts of the various technologies are told in such a way to keep the pages turning. I am enjoying very much so far and at present rank it up with other histories I've read, such as The Guns of August  and Paris 1919. I hope it keeps flowing as nicely.

Keep on reading!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Good-bye Nikki

 Yesterday, our Schnauzer, Nikki, who was fifteen and a half years old passed away. While she had been showing her age for the past couple of years, on Saturday, she had a stroke and she never recovered. It really affected both Jo and I, but Jo had a perfect solution for the sadness we were both feeling. She wrote a lovely Blog about her fondest memories of Nikki. It made us both smile and laugh as we talked about our frisky little dog. Jo's thoughts and words were a palliative to the hurt we were both feeling and provided a lovely picture of our Nikki. Take a look here if you'd like a smile.

Nikki was one of two Schnauzers that Jo and I had; Norman passed away back in 2005 at the grand old age of 12. Nikki loved him very much and kept him young, especially when she was bored.

Following Norm around the yard, looking for a chance for a hip check.
If you told Nikki it was time for a walk and to go wake Norman up, she'd charge over to him barking until she startled him awake. Or if she wanted to play, she'd go over to him, asleep in his bed and bark in his face until he stumbled out of bed and then hip check him to get him going. Of course, she could always push things a bit too far..

OK, should have stopped there.
The funniest thing was when Jo and I took both Norman and Nikki for a walk. Norman hated going for long walks, much preferred puddling around in the garden, but if Jo went (he loved her), then we'd all head off as a family around the neighbourhood. The last portion of the return home was up the little hill on Beaconsfield Crescent. We would always make a race of it and sure enough, Nikki, the competitive one, would run over to Norman and grab his leash and pull him up the hill. Of course, he being the gentle dog he was, would just follow her.

Jo will tell you that Nikki was my dog and in many ways I guess she was. I'd had her for about 7 years when Jo came into our lives. Nikki was definitely suspicious about this new lady in our house. But with me at work and Jo around the house all day long and throwing them into the car with her everywhere she went, Nikki soon warmed to her.

Nikki and her pet, Jo. OK, she's OK. ;0)
As Jo said in her thoughts on Nikki, she was a tart who loved to be in front of the camera. She also had an endless curiosity.

Is that for me? Smells good anyway
There are so many fond memories of her. Everywhere we look, she is there. In her last couple of years, she had many aches and pains but she still wanted to go for walks 4 or 5 times a day; we just didn't go quite so far. She still liked to try and chase after the neighbourhood dogs even if she wasn't quite so fast. She was a little spark plug.

To me she was always a little firecracker and I always had this wish, sort of silly, to get her a Mohawk when we took her to the groomer. But I always changed my mind when I got there. Well last time my daughter, Jennifer, and her boyfriend were here, I finally got up the nerve and asked Lindy, our groomer, if she could leave a little Mohawk when she finished grooming Nikki. And Lindy went a bit further and did us proud. The result was wonderful and it's Nikki through and through. I leave you with the final picture of Nikki, the little dog that Jo and I love so very much. Jo and I know that she and Norman are once again happy together.

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