Sunday, 16 January 2011

January 2011 Reading - Where I'm At...

It's January 16th already, time has gone by so quickly. I thought I'd use this Blog to tell you what books I've read so far in 2011, what I'm currently reading and my next two books. (I usually have two books on the go at any time; one for while I'm relaxing downstairs  curled up on the couch in the family room, and the other by my bedside, for when I'm relaxing just before I fall asleep). So far in 2011, I've finished two mysteries and am in the middle of another as well as a SciFi novel.

Completed Books

 "It is 1921 and a terrible discovery has been made at a manor house in Surrey - the bloodied bodies of Colonel Fletcher, his wife and two of their staff. The victims have all been stabbed - and the lack of disturbance in the house suggests the attack was one of terrifying speed.
The Surrey police seem ready to put the murders down to robbery with violence, but Detective Inspector Madden, from Scotland Yard, sees things slightly differently.
For he has experienced the horrors of World War I and has seen madness at first hand. And this crime, he is sure, has been perpetrated by a psychopath who will strike again.. and soon."

Rennie Airth is a new author for me. I picked the book up by chance at the used book store as the cover looked very interesting and the write up above was also interesting. Rennie Airth is an author born in South Africa who now resides in Italy. River of Darkness was originally published in 1999 and introduced his character DI John Madden. He has since written two more stories in this series; The Blood-Dimmed Tide and The Dead of Winter. River of Darkness was a pleasant surprise. It started slowly, but I gradually became very interested in the story and the main characters, Madden, his boss, Chief Inspector Sinclair, Sgt Billy Styles and his possible love interest, Dr. Blackwell.
The story is nicely paced, the mystery well crafted and the time frame, immediately after WWI and set in post-War England, is nicely described. At times I thought I had the story figured, but Mr Airth managed to throw a few little twists in to keep it challenging. I do heartily recommend the story, if you enjoy a historical mystery. I personally look forward to getting the other books in the series.

Now, Number 2.. "In medieval Cambridge, four children have been murdered. Hoping scientific investigation will catch the true killer, Henry II asks the King of Sicily for his finest  'master of the art of death,' the earliest form of medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is an expert in the science of anatomy and the art of detection. But her name is Adelia; the king has been sent a 'mistress of the art of death'.
Adelia faces danger at every turn as she examines the victims and retraces their last steps. Along the way, she's assisted by one of the king's tax collectors, Sir Rowley Picot, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. A former Crusader knight, Rowley may be a needed friend.... or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia's investigation takes her along Cambridge's shadowy river paths, and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again....."

Mistress of the Art of Death, by Ariana Franklin was a fascinating, excellent historical mystery. I don't think I've been so immediately engrossed by a story like this since I read The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Ms. Franklin, the pen name for writer Diana Norman, has such a grasp for the historical period in which the story is set and she also has a knack for grasping your attention from the get-go. I found this story so very hard to put down each night; I loved the characters. Adelia is fantastic, a confident, out spoken woman, living in a time when a woman would be accused of witchcraft for what she did. Every character was nicely described, right down to Gyltha, the eel-seller's, grand son, Ulf. The story covered horrific crimes, but as much as there was horror, there was humour as well and romance. I can't say enough about this story, except 'READ IT!'. Ariana Franklin has since written sequels to this story that I can't wait to get my hands on; The Serpent's Tale (08), Grave Goods (09) and A Murderous Procession (10).

Currently Reading

My current upstairs book is The Lathe of Heaven, a SciFi story, by Ursula Le Guin. "Reality is a dream. George Orr is the dreamer. George's dreams can change the world.
In the hands of a power-mad psychiatrist George is forced to dream up a new reality, free from war, disease and overpopulation. But there are terrifying side-effects, and George must dream and dream again, forever seeking utopia, until the fabric of existence must itself collapse..."

My first experience with Ursula Le Guin's stories was the excellent Left Hand of Darkness, one of my all-time favourite SciFi novels. The Lathe of Heaven was written in 1971. I am currently about half way through the story and am enjoying it. It's quite low key for the subject matter, but well written and very engrossing. George Orr is a quiet man with a problem that can literally change the world. Dr Haber is the psychiatrist who is trying to use the power to change reality. Such an interesting concept and so very well-written. Ursula Le Guin definitely has a unique style that draws you in. I can't wait to see how the story resolves itself.

My downstairs book is another historical mystery; Ragtime in Simla, the second in the Scotland Yard detective Joe Sandilands series. "Simla, 1922. At the foothills of the Himalayas lies the summer capital of the British Raj, where the English share tea, tiffin and tales of the notorious radical, Gandhi. It is here that Scotland Yard detective Joe Sandilands senses the sinister work of a calculating assassin.
For Sandilands, the investigation of two chilling murders hearkens back to a horrific train crash, and the suspicion that one of the survivors is living in Simla, driven by a powerful motive to keep the past a secret. While the latest dance crazes and racy rumors entertain his countrymen, Joe has fascination all his own - with the beautiful Alice Conyers-Sharpe, who seems to be at the center of the case. But is she a victim or a suspect? This enigmatic woman will lead Joe through a maze of changed identities, secret passions, and blackmail - toward a shocking conspiracy and a murderer's unrelenting quest to quell the truth forever..'

I was introduced to Joe Sandilands in The Last Kashmiri Rose the first of his mysteries, set in India just after WWI. The stories are entertaining and full of action and I do enjoy the setting and the time frame when it takes place. While the mysteries can be somewhat formulaic, if you want an enjoyable mystery, combined with the wonders of India, I do heartily recommend. Now to find out how Sandilands solves his latest mystery!

Next On the List

Next for me on my To-Be-Read list are a classic and a mystery.

The first is Nevil Shute's On The Beach.

"The last generation.. innocent victims of an accidental war, living out the last days, making plans that will never be carried out, making do with what they have - however temporary it might be - hoping for the miracle that will not come. As the deadly rain moves ever closer, and the world as we know it winds toward an inevitable end."

This is an old favourite of mine. I've read it many times and every time I enjoy it even more. Nevil Shute has this way of telling a story about huge events by focusing on normal people, people trying to maintain an every day life when all about them might be falling apart. While it's not a new book for me, it's a book that I have to read every five or six years as it is one of my all time favourites.

I heartily recommend to anyone and I also recommend the excellent movie starring Gregory Peck.

The next book in my To-Be-Read list is another new author to me, mystery writer, Anthony Berkeley and the story is The Poisoned Chocolates Case.

Anthony Berkeley lived from 1893 - 1970 and was a prolific mystery writer. This mystery was originally written in 1929.

"Sir Eustace was surprised when the box of chocolates arrived at his club. It was an ideal gift for the man of taste, but he didn't have a sweet tooth. So he gave them to George Bendix, who gave them to his wife, who gobbled them down. there were perfectly fresh. Perfectly delicious. Perfectly poisonous.

Was this fiendish work of a lunatic or an ingenious murderer? And who was his intended victim? The famous Crimes Circle Club is determined to help Scotland Yard find out. Each member, a famous dramatist, a brilliant novelist, a lawyer, a detective writer and a nobody named Ambrose Chitterwick, has a theory. One will be right. One will be 'dead' wrong."

Sounds great! Can't wait. I'll tell you how it turns out.

Good reading!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Top Ten Favourite Books - Number 5

It's been awhile since I wrote an entry for this Blog so I figured I should at least do a short one to get back into the habit. Number 5 on my all-time favourite list is a post-apocalyptic story, by David Brin. The Postman tells the story of a survivor of a devastating war, a loner who has been travelling across the wasteland that is the U.S.

The back jacket describes it, "He was a survivor - a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war.

Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery."

The book is compared to other's of its genre, also favourites of mine; Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank which is set in Florida in the aftermath of a nuclear war and War Day, by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka, a story of two journalists who travel around the U.S. years after a post-apocalyptic event to see if the U.S. is rebuilding and surviving. (I do enjoy this genre of book, especially if it well-written and if there is a positive outlook at the end.)

A bit spoilerish below.

The main character of The Postman, Gordon Krantz, is very much an anti-hero. He lives on his wits, scavenging to survive, sometimes becoming a story - teller to get food from small communities. The postman's jacket is a boon. He acquires it mainly to keep warm as it is well-made, but he also takes along the postman's bag, which contains letters and he uses these letters from a time gone by to gain access to communities.

Against his will, he becomes a beacon for hope as communities begin to set up post offices to provide a link to each other. These efforts are fraught with danger as they threaten a group of hyper-survivalists from the Rogue River area. Working with a group of scientists who still reside at Oregon State University, the war for the future takes place.

It's a fascinating story that draws you in and ensures you can't wait to find out what happens on the next page. The characters are well-drawn and the story is so very interesting. I've read 3 or 4 times and would gladly read again and again.


There was a movie based on this book, which I must admit that I looked forward to for many months. I remember rereading the book to be fresh for the movie and then being totally disappointed when I watched it. It was nothing at all like the book, left out key parts and added elements; e.g. Tom Petty's hippy survivors, that had nothing to do with the book.


David Brin has written some of my favourite SciFi stories. Along with The Postman, I also recommend -

Heart of the Comet - The story of a group of scientists living on Halley's Comet, trying to put it in orbit around Earth so that it's resources can be mined.
The Uplift Wars - This is actually a series of novels; I've put a link to Startide Rising, the story that introduced me to the series. It's basically about a group of Earthling spacemen/ women, with a crew augmented by genetically enhanced dolphins and chimpanzees who get in the middle of a Space War. That's a very simple summary and does the series no justice. Humans and the apes and dolphins are considered wolflings by the other major alien species. They are watched over by friendly aliens, but because of something they discover in space, they become the target of certain alien races. Anyway, suffice it to say, this series is fascinating as well, with characters that really grab you and keep your interest.

At the very least, read The Postman, you'll find it great.
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