Sunday, 13 March 2011

New Books/ Currently Reading

It's been awhile since I've written in this Blog, surprising how quickly time passes some days. If I haven't forgotten how to write in this, I thought I'd take this opportunity to update on what I'm currently reading and on some new books the missus and I bought in the past little while..

Current Books

Back in my university days, that would be '74 - 78 time frame, I took this book in one of my classes; possibly a classic fiction course that also included James Joyce's Ulysses, D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers and many others. For my young brain, I think I found many of these books a bit overwhelming; much preferring my Science Fiction novel and Canadian Fiction courses. I had read Greene's Our Man in Havana (in fact have reread recently) and quite enjoyed, but I just wasn't able to get into his other readings.

My loss, it turns out. From the first page of Brighton Rock, I've been drawn in. It's a fascinating, well-written story. The characters are interesting, there is a underlying menace throughout the story. The contrast between Pinkie and Ida and the potential conflict that is brewing makes me want to keep reading to see how it finally ends up.

I've never seen the original movie from 1947, with Richard Attenborough as Pinkie but will now keep checking on TCM to see if they show it. I do hope that the 2010 version comes to town as I'd love to see how Helen Mirren portrays Ida.

I'm now about 3/4 through the story and can't wait for the ending. Totally recommend to anyone.

The other book I'm currently working my way through is another classic, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book itself is a 1945 printing, lovingly cared for and in excellent condition.

The book was originally published in 1890 and tells the story of a young man named Dorian Gray who is the subject of a painting by a close friend. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, he expresses the desire that the painting rather than his own youth will fade.

I won't get into the plot anymore; well, I really can't anyway, as though I have ideas where the book will lead me, I have never read before and have never seen the movie.

I have found the style takes a bit of getting used to and did find getting into the story a bit of a chore. But now that I've read a bit, I do find the plot opening up and am looking forward to continuing my journey with Dorian Gray to see where it leads him.

New Purchases

A couple of weeks ago, the missus let me know that an antique / collectible book store in Victoria, BC was having an online sale. At her suggestion, I scrolled through the list of books available at the store, Bellefair Books and found a few of interest.

Parkinson's Lore is a biography of one of her favourite radio/ TV presenters from the UK, Michael Parkinson.

The story includes Michael Parkinson's reminiscences about his childhood in Yorkshire, a county which has remained one of his greatest passions in life, together with cricket and football. In this book, he recalls the hours spent in the local cinema, enthralled with Cyd Charisse and Hedy Lamarre, his introduction to cricket, recollections of times spent at Barnsley Football Club, etc.

The missus has fondly told me many stories of interviews that he has conducted, of his personality and ability to draw out guests on his show.

I have glanced through a few pages of the book already and I'm sure it's one I'll read as well, as just a quick sampling demonstrated a humorous, witty style that I think I'll find appealing.

Back in my university days, I read Robertson Davies' Deptford trilogy, Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders. They were quite fascinating, weaving characters skilfully and introducing a magical, fantastical storyline. After finishing World of Wonders, I never got into any other of Davies' stories. (Tastes change, other activities take over, that sort of thing, I imagine.)

Recently, in my hunting through used book stores, I've started acquiring the books of the Cornish Trilogy. I had purchased books 2 and 3, What's Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus. I discovered the first book in the series, The Rebel Angels, while searching through Bellefair Books list and jumped at the chance to get it.

The trilogy sounds very interesting, exploring the life of fictional character, Francis Cornish. The first book, The Rebel Angels, tells of the world of a Canadian university, following two characters, Maria Theotoky and Simon Darcourt, as they are drawn into the same dramatic chain of events. A memorable mix of academic jealousy and wild gypsy magic leads to a spectacular murder of stunning sexual impropriety. (Dare I say, woo hoooo!)

The final book purchased from Bellefair's is a John Steinbeck offering, The Moon is Down. This version is a 1942 first edition published by Viking Press.

The book was a propaganda novella sponsored by the OSS and for which Steinbeck received a medal of honour.

The story deals with an occupied country in northern Europe by an army of an unnamed country at war with England and Russia. Steinbeck deliberately refrained from making it literally true to actual events. Although the weapons and ideologies may have been of the present time, they were only vehicles for the theme that a free brave people is unconquerable.

Written with a purpose to motivate the resistance movements in occupied countries, it has appeared in at least 92 editions across the world, proving its popularity.

(Note - Although I didn't get photos of them, we also ordered and received two other books from Bellefair Books. One was a 1942 edition of Jan Struther's Mrs. Miniver. The movie of the same name is one of my wife's favourites and it seemed appropriate to purchase this book, which inspired the movie. The other book is a slightly worn, well-read edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sir Nigel which was published in 1906. I had read the precursor to this story, The White Company, about Sir Nigel's adventures as a knight, fighting in France. I found the story quite interesting and have been looking for the sequel. I was quite happy to find it listed at Bellefairs).

While sitting at Winnipeg Air Port waiting for my delayed flight to actually depart, I wandered through one of the airport bookshops and was happy to find, Vikas Swarup's Six Suspects. Swarup is also the author Slumdog Millionaire, or more properly, Q&A. I had been quite surprised by the movie and was interested in reading his work, so I had to snap this up when I saw it.

"Seven years ago, Vivek Rai, the playboy son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, murdered Ruby Gill at a trendy restaurant in New Delhi simply because she refused to serve him a drink. Now Vicky Rai is dead, killed at his farmhouse at a party he had thrown to celebrate his acquittal. The police cordon off the venue and search each and every guest. Six of them are discovered with guns in their possession and are taken in for questioning. Who are these six suspects? And what were they doing in the farmhouse that night?"

I have enjoyed many stories set in India and I also thoroughly enjoyed his previous work (even if only as a movie) so I am quite looking forward to reading this.

Barbara W. Tuchman's, The Guns of August, is one of my favourite novels. She has a way of presenting history, making it interesting and readable; presenting the personalities and events in such a way that make it enjoyable and educational.

I have since purchased another of her books, The Zimmerman Telegram, which discusses a key incident between Germany and Mexico that helped provoke the USA into World War I.

A Distant Mirror discusses the 14th century, "reflecting two contradictory images: on the one hand a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry and the exquisitely decorated Books of Hours; on the other, a time of ferocity and spiritual agony - a world plunged into chaos."

She discusses all aspects of life, what childhood was like, what marriage meant, how money, taxes, and war dominated the lives of serfs, nobles and clergy alike.  If it's as interesting as The Guns of August, I'm sure I'll totally be drawn in.

I found 3 Science Fiction stories at ABC Books a couple of weeks ago; one of the Culture series and two by a new author for me, that seemed different and humorous.

I have totally enjoyed the Iain M. Banks stories I've read so far. I think he has taken Science Fiction in an interesting direction. I have read Matter, from the Culture series and as well, The Algebraist. and both were so interesting. In some ways, they are similar to David Brins' Startide series; both authors explore ideas and cultures that I've found fascinating.

"The Culture is a fictional interstellar anarchic, socialist, and Utopian society" that features in 8 of his novels.

Look to Windward is the sixth in the series, coming out just before Matter.

"It was one of the less glorious incidents of a long-ago war. It led to the destruction of two suns and the billions of lives they supported. Now, eight hundred years later, the light from the first of those ancient mistakes has reached the Culture Orbital, Masaq. The light from the second may not."

If this is as good as the other Banks stories, it'll be great.

I will readily admit I bought the next two stories for their titles as they were definitely out there. How could you resist a story called, The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.

"Once upon a time Jack set out to seek his fortune in the big city - but when Jack finally gets there, it is Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town. And there is a serial killer loose on the streets.

One by one, the old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being brutally slaughtered. The Toy City police are getting nowhere; Bill Winkie, Private Eye, has also mysteriously vanished, leaving only his sidekick, Eddie Bear, to take care of business.

But Eddie's ready, and when he teams up with jack, the two set out on an epic adventure. Not to mention a lot of heavy drinking, bad behaviour, fast car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, bizarre toy fetishism and all-round grossness. Of a type not normally associated with Toy Town".

The other Robert Rankin story I picked up was the sequel to the previously described, The Toyminator. It seems to follow the continuing adventures of Eddie and Jack.

"Things are not going well in Toy City. There have been outbreaks of STC - Spontaneous Toy Combustion - and strange signs and portents in the Heavens. Many believe the End Times, a Toy City Apocalypse, will soon come to pass. But can this possibly be true, or is there a simpler explanation - alien invasion, for instance?

With the body count rising and the forces of law and order baffled, Toy City needs heroes - Eddie Bear, Toy City PI and his loyal sidekick, Jack.

But their adventure, fraught with thrills, spills, danger, excitement and rather too much alcohol, will take them far from Toy City into a world beyond even their wildest imaginings. This world."

Sounds like fun, eh?

The final two books are another new author to me. I have enjoyed various Scandinavian mystery writers; Karin Alvtegen and Hakan Nesser, to name a couple. I was in The Laughing Oyster bookstore on Saturday and picked up a book by an author Jo Nesbo, who I'd not heard of before. He is a Norwegian writer and The Redbreast is the third in his Harry Hole series. The clerk at the counter told me that the stories are great, similar to the Wallender books.

In The Redbreast, "Detective Harry Hole is having a rough time. Reassigned, having caused a high-profile embarrassment, he finds himself lumbered with surveillance duties. But working alone is just the way Hole likes it and it's not long before he discovers that a rare, high-calibre rifle, a type favoured by assassins, has been smuggled into the country.
When a former WW2 Nazi sympathiser is found with his throat slit, Harry suspects a connection. As his investigation unfolds and the bodies mount up, it becomes clear that the killer is hell-bent on serving his own justice. but who is he? And what is the link to events that took place over 50 years ago?" Just reading the back storyline also made me think of Ian Rankin's Rebus books; maybe a similar sort of police detective.

As things often happen, when I went next door to my used book store, I found another Jo Nesbo story, Nemesis, so I had to have that too. It also seemed very interesting. I think I may have another new series on my hands. :0)

"Grainy CCTV footage shows a man walking into a bank and putting a gun to the cashier's head. He tells her to count to twenty-five. When he doesn't get his money in time, she is executed.
Detective Harry Hole, still mourning the death of his police partner, is assigned to the case. While his girlfriend is away in Russia, an old flame gets in touch, but after he goes to dinner at her house he wakes up at home with no memory of the past twelve hours. That same morning, the girl is found shot dead in her bed. Shortly after, Harry begins to receive threatening e-mails - is someone trying to frame him for this unexplained death? As he fights to clear his name, the bank robberies continue with unparalleled savagery."

Well, there you have it, up-to-date on my reading habits. Now that I've posted something, maybe I can get back to more of a routine. Next Blog, Number 3 on my Top Ten list?? Time will tell..

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