Sunday, 13 February 2011

Top Ten Favourite Books - Number 4

This is one of my favourite books of all time. (I guess that sort of makes sense if it's in my Top Ten list..) It's one of those books I can pick up, crawl into it and lose myself in the time period and the adventure. H.G. Wells has definitely written one of the best science fiction books ever. Considering that he originally wrote it in 1897, it was ahead of its time.

For anyone not familiar with the plot, The War of the Worlds tells the story of invaders from Mars who land in England. The synopsis on the back reads, 'Man had not yet learned to fly when H.G. Wells conceived this story of a Martian attack on England. Giant cylinders crash to earth, disgorging huge, unearthly creatures armed with heat-rays and fighting machines. Amid the boundless destruction they cause, it looks as if the end of the world has come.'

I enjoy a well crafted alien invasion story and this does not disappoint. I enjoy the setting of England before WWI, the lovely countryside, the heroism of the English army in trying to battle the Martians. The story is just such an easy, enjoyable read; even those not fond of science fiction would enjoy it.

The success of the story has spawned movies, comics, TV shows. One of my favourite movie versions is the one starring Gene Barry. While it can be somewhat hokey, it still tries for the same feel as the book; mankind versus the Martians, small town California instead of the English countryside. In its own way, it is as good as the story.

The more recent version, starring Tom Cruise, was quite disappointing, considering the excellent cast and the pedigree of the director, Mr Steven Spielberg. I had hoped that with Spielberg involved that the movie would be set in the time frame of H.G. Wells' story. Unfortunately, it was too modernized and became a disappointing action movie that did nothing to enhance the book.

H.G. Wells also wrote well-known science fiction novels such as The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and The Time Machine, to name a few. But if you want to read a classic, one of the first science fiction stories and an excellent one at that, you have to try The War of the Worlds.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Saturday & Sunday Mish - Mash


In my last B Log, I updated what books I was currently reading. One of the books was by Ariana Franklin, Mistress of the Art of Death. I finished it while the missus and I were in Victoria the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd of January. It was a fascinating story that hooked me right from the beginning. I enjoyed the characters, the time frame in which the story was set and the mystery that was being solved. The story is set in medieval Cambridge during the time of King Henry II. An Italian doctor, a master of the art of death, is sent from the King of Sicily, to help solve the murders of four children in Cambridge. This expert is Adelia, in fact a 'mistress' of the art of death and she must not only deal with the perceptions of the city of a woman doctor, but also must solve the murders before others take place. Everything about the book was fantastic and I was thrilled to find a new author to enjoy.

While in Victoria, I spent some time visiting some of my favourite bookstores and while at Ivy's Books in Oak Bay, I bought the next in the series, The Serpent's Tale. In this one, The mistress of King Henry II has been poisoned - and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the king's estranged wife, is the prime suspect. The king must once again summon Adelia Aguilar, mistress of the art of death, to uncover the truth. But more is at stake than just the identity of a killer: civil war threatens to ravage an already war-sick England.

Needless to say I was thrilled to have the next book on my 'To-be-read' shelf. However, I was shocked to learn just shortly after our return to Comox, that Ariana Franklin, born Diana Norman, had passed away 27 Jan 2011. I don't really know what to add to this, except to say that I'm glad that at the very least I was introduced to her writings before this tragedy happened. She started writing this new series very recently; the first book was published only in 2007, when Mrs. Franklin was a young 74.

The literary world has lost a great writer. For my part I will make sure that I read the remaining books of her Mistress of the Art of Death series. R.I.P. Ariana Franklin.


Kirsten Moore-Towers / Dylan Moscovitch (Pairs Champions)
On a more cheerful note, as previously mentioned, the missus and I were in Victoria 21 - 24 Jan. The purpose of our visit was to experience the Canadian National Figure Skating Championships, which were being held to determine which skaters would represent Canada at both the Four Continent Championships and the World Championships to be held later this year. I'll let Jo write about this in her Blog, but I did want to say that we had a great time and totally enjoyed the figure skating, especially the men's finals. I'll submit one of the many photos that Jo took while we were there, that of the pairs champions. They were great... well, the whole show was great!! :0)

While we were there, I also was able to take the opportunity to visit some of my book stores. We hadn't been to Victoria for about six months, so it was nice to wander through them again. Of course, I did manage to buy a few books.

At Chronicles of Crime, I found a Kingsley Amis, The Riverside Villas Murders. I must say the thing that grabbed my attention first was the cover. But I had read another of his books previously, The Green Man and enjoyed it. This one also sounded interesting; Evoking the unnerving accuracy the shabbily genteel England of the thirties, Kingsley Amis unfolds his clever, comic and chilling story of marital duplicity, sexual discover and murder... most unpleasant.

How can you go wrong with that; sex, murder and mystery. I'll let you know if it's any good when I get around to reading it.

The other book that I found there was another in Ian Fleming's James Bond spy adventures. It actually contains three stories; Octopussy, The Living Daylights,  and finally one that was making its first appearance in book form, The Property of a Lady.

The first takes place in Jamaica; "a paradise of sunshine and exotic fish harbours a dying major whose dwindling hoard of gold conceals an act of treachery." The second is set in Berlin; "Winchester .308 plus sniper scope v Kalashnikov 7.62 sub-machine gun. the identity of the assassin disturbs Bond's deadly aim". And finally, the last is in London, where "a magnificent Faberge emerald comes under the auctioneer's ivory hammer an, as the bidding rises, Bond waits for the move that will unmask a Soviet master-spy."

The Bond stories are guilty pleasures, full of adventure, sex, spies and all that is good.

At Russell Books, I found a few more used books to add to collections. I don't have photos of the first two; This Sweet Sickness, by Patricia Highsmith, written in 1961 is a psychological thriller about an insane young man who is obsessed by his ex-lover. You will know Patricia Highsmith from her first novel, Strangers on a Train, which Alfred Hitchcock turned into one of his great movies. The other book is No Good Deed by Lynn Hightower. I had read another of her mysteries before, The Debt Collector and enjoyed it very much. I'm looking forward to reading this one, which features female detective, Sonora Blair, trying to solve the murder of a teenager and a horse.

One of the other books that I had found at Russell Books was Margery Allingham's Black Plumes. It tells the story of the famous Ivory family of London - founders and owners of a great art collection - from Gabrielle, the ninety-year-old matriarch, to Frances, her twenty-year-old granddaughter, and of what happens to them when murder unexpectedly strikes in their midst."

Margery Allingham is a new writer for me. I do have one of her other mysteries; an Albert Campion mystery for which she is best known. She lived from 1904 - 1966 and wrote many mysteries. I'm always on the lookout for new writers and I did notice her stories listed in another mystery that I had read. Hoping that she is also a welcome discovery; not that I need more new authors to get hooked on.

A writer that I've been interested in for awhile is Margaret Millar, a Canadian mystery writer who lived from 1915 - 1994. Like Margery Allingham, I had seen some of her stories listed in the back of another mystery that I was reading. However, although I have looked through my used book stores for the past two or three years for her books, I've only managed to find two. She was highly praised for her work and was at one time the President of the Mystery Writers of America.

But I've struggled to find any others of her books... until the weekend in Victoria. One that I'd especially looked for was, The Soft Talkers, "a story where the reader looks in on the lives of a set of wealthy Toronto business men. the wealthiest, Ron Galloway, has invited the 'fellows' to his lakeside hunting lodge for the weekend. but Galloway himself fails to arrive. Suspicion hardens into certainty that Galloway has made a cuckold of his best friend, Harry Bream, and Thelma Bream is expecting a child. Has Galloway cleared out, gone mad, committed suicide? And when this mystery is resolved, why shouldn't life return to normal again? For it cannot."

I was thrilled that Russell Books had one of her stories. To my surprise and pleasure, on our way back to Comox, we stopped in Ladysmith to have a wander about. I found my way to a used book store on the main street and found two more Millar books, How Like an Angel and Beast in View. I was thrilled!

The last book that I found was at Grafton Books, in Oak Bay. In a previous Blog, I had written that The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman, was my Number Ten in my all-time favourite books list. I've read that book two or three times and have enjoyed Barbara Tuchman's way of presenting history.

Since my Blog, I've been looking for any other Tuchman books. While in Grafton Books, which has so many neat antique books, I found The Zimmerman Telegram, one that I had been looking for. It tells "the story of certain events leading up to America's entry into World War I and of the intercepted message that triggered the dramatic climax. it involves a tale of espionage, secret diplomacy, international politics and personal drama probably unparalleled in history."

The book was originally published in 1958, with this edition coming out in 1967. Barbara Tuchman proved her abilities to present history in a fascinating style with The Guns of August, and I'm hoping this story will be much the same.

Jo also found a couple of books that brought back fond memories of her childhood at Grafton Books. She already has a series of children's stories by English writer, Enid Blyton, The Malory Towers series. At Grafton Books, she found two of another series, The O'Sullivan Twins and Summer Term at St Clare's, both from, of course, The O'Sullivan Twins series. The editions are from the same series as her Malory Towers books, published by Dragon books and they are in excellent condition for books printed and published in 1971. I'm sure they'll provide her with fond memories.

Finally, while looking through an antique furniture store on Fort Street, we found five Shakespeare plays. They were published in the early 1900's by Gin and Company and are all in very good condition. The reason we purchased them, besides the fact that they look great is that Jo took each of those plays in secondary school. (It must have been fate!) The plays are; Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tragedy of King Lear, The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It. I must say, there is something lovely about the smell of old books.


To round out this Blog, these are the books I'm currently reading, or about to read.

For Xmas this past year, one of the many books I received was Barbarians, An Alternative Roman History, by ex Monty Python member, Terry Jones. The synopsis states,

"Terry Jones' Barbarians 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 to overthrowing Rome and plundering its Empire. In fact, it was the Romans who celebrated savage slaughter and who eventually looted the city of Rome themselves, while leaving a lasting legacy of propaganda attacking everyone else."

I enjoyed the book and would give it a thumbs up or three stars. It was straight forward to read and covered this time of history very well and in an interesting style. He covers Roman history from the perspective of the Celts/ Gauls/ Goths/ Persians and many of the other races that made up the Ancient World and provides it from their perspective as a nice counterpoint to the Roman history. Very enjoyable and interesting.

I do enjoy a post-apocalyptic story and at the moment I'm about half way through Nature's End, by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka.

"The year is 2025. Immense numbers of people swarm the globe. In countless, astonishing ways, technology has triumphed - but at a staggering cost. Starvation is rampant. City dwellers gasp for breath under blackened skies. And tottering on the brink of environmental collapse, the world may be ending."

Cheery, huh? I've read another of James Kunetka's and Whitley Streiber's collaborations, War Day, many years ago and was quite blown away by the story. This is one I've meant to read for a long time.

So far it is living up to my expectations. It is very readable, told from the individual points' of view of the four main characters; John, Allie, Scott and Bell. It's a story of the future and at the same time is a thriller and very exciting.

Now that I've finished Barbarians, the next book pulled from my 'To-Be Read' shelf is a mystery by a renowned children's story writer. Best known, at least from my limited knowledge, for his Winnie-the-Pooh collection, I was surprised to find out that A.A. Milne also wrote a number of other books. (I don't know why I should have been surprised, but let's leave it at that.) I saw this next book, The Red House Mystery at Snowden Books in Victoria and it piqued my interest. So what's it about?

"Mr Mark Ablett's stately mansion, the Red House, was filled with very proper guests when his most improper brother returned from Australia. The prodigal brother entered Mark Ablett's study, the parlourmaid heard arguing, and the brother died.. rather suddenly, with a bullet between his eyes.

Investigating the crime was Antony Gillingham, who rivaled the late Sherlock Holmes in his remarkable powers of observation. He immediately noticed that Mark Ablett himself was missing, that the study windows were bolted from the inside and that the door was locked. How could the killer have left the room? Was it possible Mark Ablett wasn't the murderer? And did the key to the Red House mystery lie hidden on the premises.. or in the dark recesses of the human heart?" Sounds like a winner.

Finally........ Next on the list...

"The sordid murder of a Polish prostitute would not normally have aroused much attention in Warsaw in 1942. But in this case all the evidence points to a German General as the murderer, or rather, to one of three generals: a Corps Commander, scion of the old Germany; his Chief of Staff, who concealed his true nature behind a mask of flippant irony; and a commander of the elite Nibelungen Division, who looked like a statue portraying heroism.
A similar crime was committed in Paris in July 1944 when the same three generals were assembled there. The investigators were on the point of proving their case when they were frustrated by the dramatic 'Night of the Generals' - the attempted coup against Hitler.
But in 1956, a third murder occurred in Dresden...."

The Night of the Generals, written by H.H. Kirst was also made into a movie starring Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif. If this is as good, then it will be a great story.

The final is a from a two-book in one collection. The first sci fi story is The Unteleported Man by Philip K. Dick. Written in 1964, it is about.... "Nobody would go to the stars the long way when you could travel to your new planetary Utopia the instant-teleportation way. That is, nobody reasonable would want to spend eighteen long years in a spaceship just to be stubborn about electronic transit. Which is what made Rachmael ben Applebaum such a thorn in the side to the giant industrial combines that had made the Telpor what it was. Because Rachmael was all set to head for Newcolonizedland by his own star ship - alone. But just being eccentric and a doubter would hardly justify the incredible concentration of effort to prevent his trip. The Unteleported Man suspected he was on the track of a secret too dangerous to get out - even after an eighteen year journey. Yet even he did not guess how terrifyingly right he was!.

On the flip side is a story from 1966, Howard L. Cory's The Mind Monsters.
When Terence O'Corcoran, solo operator of an exploratory Terran Planetary Survey Corps spaceship, crash-landed on an alien world, he awoke with no obvious injuries and a forever-useless ship. The redheaded y9ung Irishman grabbed his blaster and proceeded down the icy mountain slope. Once on level ground, Terence felt hostile eyes watching him from behind the forest's dense growth. And then one came into view: a bug-eyed monster! One after another, Terence shot them down, the most vile creatures imaginable. But these were nothing compared to the things he would fave once he got to the carnival capital of Mahtog... "

Back in the sixties and seventies, I used to read these two-in-one books all the time. They were the best in pulp science fiction, space adventures, aliens.. all and more. I'm looking forward to this one.

Well, enough for one weekend! It's been a great reading 2011 so far. Keep on reading!
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