Monday, 26 September 2011

Fantasy Intrudes on Real Life

I was trying to figure out what to write about this weekend and was kind of at a loss. I thought I should just update on my current reading, one of which is Tanya Huff's Blood Books (Vol 2), when I had an idea. (Lucky me, eh?) As I was thinking about the book and how it portrays a common day detective mystery with Fantasy elements thrown in (that being Vampire Henry), I started thinking of the other series I've read that have the same elements. So there you have it, my topic for tonight - series that combine fantasy with the normal, day-to-day life. I don't think I've described that very well, but maybe I'll be able to do that a bit better as I get into this. (Of course, my list is quite limited, to those series that I'm familiar with, of course).

BtVS Graphic Novels

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
 The first series I read any of were the books and comics (graphic novels) based on the TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The TV series was probably one of the best and most innovative TV shows ever produced. The fans were loyal and fanatic, the plots unique, funny, scary, a show that drew you in completely.

Over time, the graphic novels and books enhanced the Buffy-verse, adding to its reputation and telling stories that maybe wouldn't translate into the TV media. I've concentrated mainly on the graphic novels; Episode 1 of Season 9 has just come out and I'm looking forward to getting into that.

I've read a few of the books; my personal favourite being The Gatekeeper Trilogy. I found the concept fascinating; in fact, it reminded me somewhat of Stephen King's Talisman. The concept of travelling across America, in fact, around the world via the Ghost Roads, a parallel world where the ghosts live and travel, struck my fancy.

But back to my initial premise for this Blog, the idea of fantasy intruding on everyday life, well, BtVS demonstrates that perfectly. An ordinary school girl, a cheerleader and her nerdy friends, become involved in saving the world from all sorts of demons; vampires, werewolves, etc, who enter Sunnydale from the Hellmouth. The series, as created by Joss Whedon, and the follow-on books and graphic novels demonstrated this concept in an exciting, enthralling fashion.

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter
 Being totally into the BtVS series, I think I was receptive to this type of story and Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake books definitely fit the bill. I saw them in Ottawa one day as I was wandering through the Cole's Bookstore in St Laurent Shopping Center and the concept grabbed my interest right away.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Anita Blake lives in St. Louis and works as a necromancer; her job being to raise the newly dead when families or business acquaintances wish to appeal against wills or for other reasons. As a sideline, Anita also works for the newly formed Regional Preternatural Investigation Team, of the St. Louis Police Department, which is charged with investigating supernatural crimes. In this society, vampires and other supernatural beings are now permitted to co-exist with the humans, as long as they follow the same laws as humans do.

So you can see once again, supernatural beings living side by side with everyday humanity, but with the clashes that such a situation engenders. Anita, somewhat like Buffy, is more than just a mere human; she is also a necromancer and over time, as the series progresses, becomes mistress to the local Master of the City, the vampire Jean-Claude, and also becomes involved with his pet, werewolf, Richard. The series is much more adult than the Buffy books; as each story came out, the violence is stronger, the sex more potent. The series was fascinating and had a wide spread following, many people I recommended it too also became hooked on the books.

Laurell Hamilton also writes the Merry Gentry series, a similar idea, but instead of a vampire hunter, the main female character is a princess of faerie, who tries to hide out in the real, human world, while her family stalk her and her companions to bring her back home, or maybe just to get rid of her. I'm not as familiar with this series, but you may also find it interesting.

Sookie Stackhouse
 Next in line is a series I find somewhat similar in some ways to the Anita Blake books, most specifically the fact that the main character, Sookie Stackhouse, becomes involved with a vampire and a werewolf. The books, written by Charlaine Harris, have become a successful TV series, True Blood, starring Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer. Also like the Anita Blake books, they are very sexy and very violent.

Sookie lives in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps and works as a waitress in Werewolf Bill's restaurant and bar. For a small town, there are surprisingly a large variety of supernatural beings and Sookie, who, it turns out is a telepath, becomes intrinsically involved with all of them. It's a fascinating series, well-written and even with the similarities to Laurell Hamilton's books, stands on its own. Well worth reading (as you can see, I still have a few of them on my To-Be-Read shelves).

The Blood Books
 At the start of this, I mentioned the series I'm currently reading; written by Canadian writer, Tanya Huff, it's the Blood Books. The series portrays the adventures of ex-police officer, now detective, Vicki Nelson. In the four books I've read so far, Vicki is involved with werewolves, Egyptian gods and zombies. She is assisted in her investigations by ex - partner, Mike Celluci and her vampire lover, Henry Fitzroy.

The stories are set in Toronto or the surrounding areas and human Vicki must cope with the jealousy between her supernatural and human lovers and at the same time try to solve the supernatural mysteries she finds herself involved with.

The books have been translated into a short-lived TV series, Blood Ties, starring Christina Cox as Vicki Nelson. I enjoyed the series and have enjoyed the books I've read so far. There remain one move collection, Blood Books, Volume III in this series.

The Dresden Files

Fool Moon
 Before I started to read the books of The Dresden Files series, I watched the TV series of the same name, which starred Paul Blackthorne as wizard/ Private investigator, Harry Dresden. I found the series, which unfortunately was cancelled after one season, to be humorous, entertaining and well-crafted with interesting characters.

I've only recently begun to read the series, having completed Storm Front and Fool Moon, so far. All I can say is 'I like it!' The stories are well-paced, the characters interesting, the demons that Harry becomes involved with, different and exciting. I particularly like his partner in crime, Police Lt Connie Murphy and his spirit friend, Bob.

There is a nice humour intermixed with the sometimes scary incidents that Harry gets into the middle of. Once again, you have an individual, this time a wizard of the Fae courts, trying to live amongst humans, set in Chicago, who finds himself both a target of demons from Fae and who tries to help both demons and humans with their problems. It's an excellent series.

The Vampire Files
 The final series is one I've only read a couple of books in. The Vampire Files are written by P.N Elrod.

The series is a hard-boiled mystery series set in 1930's Chicago and features Private Investigator Jack Fleming, who also happens to be a vampire.

The series, which contains 13 books, also features Jack's partner, Charles Escott and his girlfriend, Bobbi Smythe. Jack's first case is solving his own murder.

This series is quite different in tone and style from the others that I highlighted but is also very interesting and different and worth reading.

If you like a good fantasy story, you might want to try these out.

Keep on reading!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Book Buying Spree - Pt 4 (the last stuff)

Over this weekend I've highlighted my fun visit to Victoria, especially the book buying part. Of course, the weekend on the whole was very nice; the evening walk with the missus down to Victoria harbour, wandering around Cook Street, Oak Bay and Cadboro Bay, enjoying a great curry from Da Tandoor and a nice relaxing lunch at Rosie's. Always a nice visit when we go there; hopefully we'll get to go one more time before Xmas.

Anyway, back to the final book purchases, as this is a Blog about books and assorted other things. :0). The final four would fall into the Fiction/ Spy/ Adventure categories.

The Thirty-Nine Steps
I've been looking for John Buchan's, The Thirty-Nine Steps, for a long time. I had read it previously and I've enjoyed the original movie by Alfred Hitchcock many times. (The latest remake was somewhat of a disappointment, though, I must say).

It is a classic adventure story, of a man caught up in events beyond his control, but able to cope with and solve the related mysteries. As the review from the New York Times on the back of this version, reprinted in 1967, states, "Remains the definitive story of espionage, intrigue and pursuit - terse, taut, endlessly inventive, and as delightfully fresh as the day it was written."

This story features Richard Hannay, the first of five books (something I didn't realize until this past weekend) featuring this character. It involves a chase around the United Kingdom, as he tries to decipher the notes left him by an American, Franklin Scudder, who is murdered after telling Hannay of an anarchist plot to assassinate the Greek Premier. The story is exciting, non-stop and satisfying, a book that anyone can enjoy.

One bit of trivia about John Buchan that I didn't realize, is that he was also Baron Tweedsmuir and was Canada's Governor - General and very popular in Canada, where he ultimately died in 1940.

The Island of Sheep
 Oddly enough, while looking around Russell Books, I found another of Buchan's Hannay stories, the fifth and last, which was published in 1936. This particular version of The Island of Sheep was reprinted in 1968.

If it's half as good as The Thirty-Nine Steps, it'll be an entertaining read. The synopsis reads as follows -

"The action occurs some twelve years later on from the last novel, The Three Treasures, when Hannay, now in his fifties, is called by an old oath to protect the son of a man he once knew, who is also heir to the secret of a great treasure.

He obtains help from Sandy Arbuthnot, now Lord Clanroyden, and Lombard. The action takes place in England, Scotland and on the Island of Sheep. This is located in what Buchan describes as 'the Norlands': clearly the Faroe Islands. There are several stereotypical villains, in particular D'Ingraville from The Courts of Morning, and the book also focuses on Hannay's son, Peter John, now a bright but solemn teenager."

As mentioned previously, this is the last of the Richard Hannay novels; the others being Greenmantle (1916), Mr Standfast (1919) and The Three Hostages (1924). Hannay also appears in minor roles in various other of Buchan novels. How exciting! More books to look for.

The Mystic Masseur
 I discovered V.S. Naipaul by chance, I believe one of his stories was listed in another book I had been reading. The write up of that particular book, A House for Mr Biswas sounded interesting and the story indeed turned out to be so. I liked the setting, the Indian communities of Trinidad and Tobago; there was a sadness to the story, but it managed to draw me in to the community described.

V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad and began writing after going to Oxford. Since the 1950's, he has written more than 20 books of fiction and non-fiction. There were a few from his bibliography which attracted my attention, including The Mystic Masseur, which I found in Russell Books.

"In this slyly funny and lavishly inventive novel - his first - V.S. Naipaul traces the unlikely career of Ganesh Ramsumair, a failed schoolteacher and impecunious village masseur who in time becomes a revered mystic, a thriving entrepreneur, and the most beloved politician in Trinidad. To understand a little better, one has to realize that in the 1940's masseurs were the island's medical practitioners of choice. As one character observes, 'I know the sort of doctors they have in Trinidad. They think nothing of killing tow, three people before breakfast.'

Ganesh's ascent is variously aided and impeded by a Dickensian cast of rogues and eccentrics. There's his skeptical wife, Leeda, whose schooling has made her excessively fond of ; punctuation: marks!; and Leela's father, Ramlogan, a man of startling mood changes and an ever-ready cutlass. there's the aunt known as The Great Belcher. There are patients pursued by malign clouds or afflicted with an amorous fascination with bicycles. Witty, tender and filled with the sights and sounds of Trinidad's dusty Indian villages, The Mystic Masseur is Naipaul at his most expansive and evocative."

Spies of the Balkans
 The final book from my shopping spree is one I've seen a few times and had on my To-Be-Read list. Alan Furst is a new author for me, but the book seemed very interesting and when I saw it in Ivy's Books in Oak Bay, I had to pick it up. Furst has an extensive catalogue, so if I like this one, who knows...

"Greece, 1940. In the port city of Salonika, with its wharves and brothels, dark alleys and Turkish mansions, a tense political drama is being played out. As Adolf Hitler plans to invade the Balkans, spies begin to circle - and Costa Zannis, a senior police official, must deal with them all. he is soon in the game, working to secure an escape route for fugitives from Nazi Berlin that is protected by German lawyers, Balkan detectives and Hungarian gangsters - and hunted by the Gestapo. Meanwhile, as war threatens, the erotic life of the city grows passionate. For Zannis, that means a British expatriate who owns the local ballet academy, a woman from the dark side of Salonika society and the wife of a shipping magnate. With extraordinary historical detail and a superb cast of characters, Spies of the Balkans is a stunning novel about a man who risks everything to fight back against the world's evil."

Sounds interesting, eh? I thought so. Now I just have to sit down and try to catch up on my reading.


Keep on reading!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Book Buying Spree - Pt 3

I've always liked SciFi and Fantasy and the interesting concepts that SciFi writers present; new worlds, new beings, and how humans are able to deal with it. I have gotten away from both genres in the recent past, focusing more on Mystery, but I do still enjoy certain authors and like to try a new one, here and there. While in Victoria, I managed to get a few authors I do enjoy.

SciFi and Fantasy

I discovered Phyllis Gotlieb while I was stationed down in Victoria, during one of my weekend book store crawls. She's a Canadian SciFi writer and has a very unique style; witty, interesting stories and characters. I have already read Sunburst, O Master Caliban and various of her short stories and find her style quite refreshing.  (On a side note, I was saddened to read that she had passed away in 2009. RIP Phyllis)

While in Victoria this weekend, I found another of her series, dealing with the telepathic cats of Ungruwarkh, The Kingdom of the Cats.

"The Time: A millennium after the Mayflower, on Solthree, once Mother-of-Worlds, now merely an area government in the Galactic Federation.
The Place: Solthree's immense Grand Canyon, temporary habitat for the great telepathic cats of Ungruwarkh.
The Grievance: The great cats had come in peace from a distant planet, to let Solthree scientists study their remarkable powers of perception. There were docile as Solthree housecats, until... the unthinkable happened! And Solthree suddenly had a terrible wrong to right, before peace would come again to ... The Kingdom of the Cats!"

The Dresden Files
 I was first introduced to Chicago's resident Wizard/ Private Detective, Harry Dresden, when the series aired on Space. I loved it and was quite upset it didn't last longer. I've since read some of the comics based on the books and also two of the books, Fool Moon and Storm Front.

I like how Jim Butcher tells a story; the characters are interesting (I especially like spunky Police Lt Karrin Murphy), the stories are well-written and make you want to read on and on, and the concept of the wizarding private eye is just neat!

Grave Peril is the third book in the Dresden Files series.

"Harry Dresden's faces some pretty terrifying foes during his career. Giant scorpions. Oversexed vampires. Psychotic werewolves. It comes with the territory when you're the only professional wizard in the Chicago area phone book.

But in all Harry's years of supernatural sleuthing, he's never faced anything like this: The spirit world has gone postal. All over Chicago, ghosts are causing trouble - and not just of the door-slamming, boo-shouting variety. These ghosts are tormented, violent and deadly. Someone - or something - is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc. But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties with Harry? If Harry doesn't figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself..."

True Blood
Back in Ottawa, I was hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and watched the show, read the books and comics, anything I could get my hands on. Then I discovered Laurell K. Hamilton's fantasy series about Anita Blake, vampire hunter and necromancer, and loved it. Later on, another series caught my attention. It was written by Charlaine Harris and was about a psychic bartender from Bon Temps, Louisiana, who gets involved with werewolves and vampires to name just a few. Interesting stories that have translated well to television with the hit series True Blood.

I have gotten away from keeping up with this series, but when I saw one of the latest  at Russell Books, I felt like reacquainting myself with Sookie. Dead in the Family is the tenth in the series and came out in 2010.

"After enduring torture and the loss of loved ones during the brief but deadly Fae War, Sookie Stackhouse is hurt and she's mad. Just about the only bright spot in her life is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman. But he's under scrutiny by the new vampire king because of their relationship. And as the political implications of the shifters' coming-out are beginning to be felt, Sookie's connection to one particular Were draws her into the dangerous debate. Also, unknown to her, though the doors to Faery have been closed, there are still some fae on the human side - and one of them is angry at Sookie. Very, very angry."

I'm looking forward to getting into each and every one of them. Can't wait!

Tomorrow I'll go through the last few books on my shopping adventures, fiction and spy/ adventure stories.

In the meantime, Keep on Reading!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

A Week of Book Buying Pt 2 - A Touch of Mystery

I do love a good mystery, my tastes lean towards them these days. During our visit to Victoria last weekend, I managed to find a few that filled out some of my favourite series and I'm so looking forward to reading them. So what did I find? Well, let's see -

Gregor Demarkian Holiday mystery
 I discovered Jane Haddam when I first came to Comox. Her stories feature a retired Armenian - American FBI profiler, Gregor Demarkian. He and his two friends, fantasy writer, Bennis Hannaford and Father Tibor Kasparian. Gregor retired due to the death of his wife, but he has reluctantly become a Private Investigator. Many of his crimes have a religious over tone and often the crimes he works on occur during the various Christian holidays (the Holiday mysteries).

Dear Old Dead is a holiday mystery. "Media Mogul Charles van Straadt could have picked a better time for an unannounced call on the uptown health-care center he supported. A gang war rages across Harlem, making for wall-to-wall stretchers in the emergency room, and photos of the center's saintly director have been splashed all over the front pages after a vice charge arrest. It was an inconvenient time to drop in.. and an even worse time to drop dead.
Former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian is called in to investigate van Straadt's messy demise. Was it a premature Father's Day gift from one of the millionaire's grandchildren, hoping to head off a rumored change in the old man's will? Did the clinic director have a falling out with his prickly, uptight patron? Or did the smiling nun with a will of steel send Charlie to his Heavenly Father? Soon Demarkian has a Father's Day gift of his own, even more unwanted than a gaudy tie.. another corpse."

A quirky, interesting mystery series if you're looking for a new one.

A Lily Bard mystery
 Charlaine Harris is probably best known for her Sookie Stackhouse fantasies; or as they are known on TV, the True Blood series. But she has also created a variety of  mystery series; one featuring Aurora Teagarden, one with Harper Connelly and this one, the Lily Bard mysteries. Lily is a cleaner, but more than that. She moved to the town of Shakespeare, Ark to escape from her past, but finds herself involved in many events in the town. I've read a few and quite enjoyed and I'm looking forward to this one -
"Determined to move beyond her violent past, Lily heads to her hometown of Bartley for her estranged sister's Christmas Eve wedding. But there is something in the air besides her holiday cheer - murder.
The town's doctor and nurse have been bludgeoned to death - and Lily's detective boyfriend has followed an eight - year old kidnapping case straight to Bartley. It just might have something to do with the murders.. and her sister's widower fiance. With only three days before the wedding, Lily must work fast to clean up the messy case before her sister promises to love, honor and obey a killer.. " Cool!

The 15th Chronicle of Brother Cadfael
  I do enjoy a good historical mystery and one of the best is Ellis Peter's series set in England of the 1100's and featuring ex-soldier turned monk, Brother Cadfael. I've read a few of the series so far and also watched a few of the TV series featuring Derek Jacobi as Cadfael. I found this one at Russell Books. It's the fifteenth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael.

"After a mild autumn, December of 1142 brings a smothering, silent blanket of snow. Thus it comes about that the guest hall of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is damaged, and the brothers must repair its roof before the danger worsens.

The treacherously icy conditions are to prove near-fatal for Brother Haluin. He slips from the roof in a terrible fall, sustaining such grave injuries that he makes his deathbed confession to the Abbot and Brother Cadfael. A startling story of trespasses hard for God or man to forgive emerges.

But Haluin does not die. On his recovery, he sets out on a journey of expiation, with Cadfael as his sole companion. An arduous trip, it leads to some shocking discoveries. And to murder.. Once again, Brother Cadfael must abandon his herbiary and turn detective."

An excellent series, sound mysteries and an interesting description of the time in which the stories are set.

A mystery of love and ivory
 David Rotenberg is a Canadian writer who sets his police mystery series in China. Police detective Zhang Fong is a disgraced police officer, who was banished to the countryside by the Communist Party. His exile was revoked in an earlier story and he now finds himself in Shanghai. This is a very interesting series, much political intrigue, that Fong must work through if he is to be able to keep his team safe, but still solve the crimes he is involved with.

"Body parts of an American police officer from new Orleans are found in a heavily trafficked alley, arranged in a bizarre and puzzling manner. The murder appears to be the work of a trained assassin with a deadly message to convey. And it isn't long before he leaves another message: the body of an African diplomat is found as skillfully carved up as the first. Rotenberg breathes life into modern-day Shanghai with its sights, sounds and smells, creating a cast of unusual and memorable characters."

A Chief Inspector Barnaby mystery
I find that there is nothing better to curl up with than a well-written British police procedural. PBS TV has discovered this and has brought so many of the excellent British police shows to life. Midsomer Murders is one of my favourite; the missus and I always enjoy a Sunday evening spent with Chief Inspector Barnaby as he solves the many crimes that seem to occur in the scenic Midsomer area of England. This series is the creation of Caroline Graham, who has actually only written seven Midsomer murders. I have found 4 of them so far; I found Written in Blood during our recent visit to Victoria, at Fairfield Books.

"It is clear to the more realistic members of Midsomer Worthy's Writers' Circle that asking best-selling author Max Jennings to talk to them is a little ambitious. Less clear are the reasons for secretary Gerald Hadleigh's fierce objections to seeing the man - a face from his past - again. But, astonishingly, Jennings accepts the invitation and, before the night is out, Gerald is dead.

Summoned to investigate, Chief Inspector Barnaby finds that Gerald's solitary life was as much of a mystery to his well-heeled neighbours as his violent death. The key is surely their illustrious guest speaker - but where is he now?"

John Madden mystery
 I only discovered Rennie Airth during a previous visit to Victoria when I purchased his first Inspector John Madden mystery, River of Death. A writer who originally hales from South Africa, he has only written three books in the series so far. The first was set just after WWI and the time frame provides an interesting backdrop for the mystery. The Blood - Dimmed Tide is his second in the series and sounds very interesting indeed.

"It is 1932 and John Madden, former Scotland Yard inspector, is now a farmer in the peaceful Surrey countryside, enjoying the idyllic days of his retirement and precious time spent with his wife, Helen, and their two children.

But the family's peace is about to be shattered. When a young girl goes missing, it is Madden who discovers her disfigured body hidden in a wood, and he is convinced the killer has struck before...

When a second body is found, Madden's instinct is proved right - there is a serial murderer at large. Allying himself with his old colleagues, and against the wishes of his anxious wife, he immerses himself in one more case.

The killer is a master of evil and reinvention who has been covering his tracks for many years. If Madden is to outwit him, he will need to stay one step ahead in the brutal dance he is performing. And soon significant links are discovered in Germany, where the Nazis are on the brink of power."

DI Anna Travis mystery (No 6)
 Lynda LaPlante is one of England's most prolific and successful writers, of mysteries and of television shows. She is probably most noted for the Prime Suspect series, starring the lovely Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison. Her latest series of books (and also a TV mini-series) features Detective Inspector Anna Travis and already has 7 books in the series. I have previously read the first in the series, Above Suspicion and enjoyed tremendously. Blind Fury is the sixth in the series.

"When the body of a young woman is discovered close to a highway service station, DI Anna Travis is brought on to the team of investigators by her former lover and boss, DCS Langton. As more evidence is uncovered, the team realizes that they are contending with a triple murder investigation - and no suspect.

But then a murderer Anna helped arrest years ago makes contact from prison. Cameron Welsh insists that he can help track down the killer, but he will divulge his secrets only to Anna herself. Does her really have an insight into another criminal's mind, or is he merely intent on getting into hers?

The team soon realizes that they are dealing with a killer whose deviousness has enabled him to commit horrific crimes, yet remain undetected for years. As the case draws to a close, Welsh's obsession for Anna fuels a terrifying rage that will have disastrous consequences for Anna, who finds herself staring into the face of a desperate personal tragedy."

Nothing quite like a great mystery to stir the blood....

Keep on reading!

Friday, 16 September 2011

A Week of Book Shopping

The missus and I spent the weekend in Victoria last weekend and it provided me an opportunity to visit some of my favourite book stores while we were there. It's always a nice weekend, a chance to eat out at some of the restaurants that we enjoyed during my brief posting there from 2007 to 2009 and just the fun of wandering around the lovely area that is Victoria. We stayed at a new hotel for us, the Chateau Victoria, and found it a comfortable place within easy walking distance to downtown and our room had a lovely panoramic view of the harbour. A very nice time all in all.

Anyway, back to books. Well, over the weekend, I visited Russell Books on Fort Street, Fairfield Books on Cook Street (after we had a nice brunch at Rosie's), Cadboro Bay Books (in Cadboro Bay) and Grafton Books up on Oak Bay Road. I also squeezed in a quick visit to Curious Comics Monday morning. I couldn't resist.

So over the next couple of days, I'll show you the books I managed to find; some good mysteries to continue various series I've been reading, a couple of SciFi novels, some fiction; basically a nice mix.

Actually, this first book was purchased a couple of weeks ago when Jo and I were at a local antique shop here in Courtenay. I saw this book while we were wandering through the store and it caught my attention.

It doesn't have a publishing date inside, but was published by British Books Limited during the reign of King George V.

It is such an interesting looking book, somewhat worn, but the sections inside are quite interesting.

They consist of -
A Bird's Eye View of English Literature
The Correct Use of English in Speaking and Writing
Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony
Dictionary of English Language (of course)
Select List of Synonyms and Antonyms
Pseudonyms and Pen-Names
Dictionary of Notable Proper Names
Dictionary of Famous Men and Women
The Choice of a Career
Dictionary of Health
Dictionary of Commerce and Office Compendium
Tables of Weights and Measures
Motoring and Aviation - Dictionary of Technical Terms
Dictionary of Wireless Terms
Glossary of Scottish Words and Phrases
Classical and Foreign Words and Phrases in Common Use
Geographical Supplement
Complete Atlas of the World

So as you can see, a very useful book (I'm sure especially for its time) and the way it's laid out inside, with some lovely illustrations as well. It looks great on the book shelf.

Gulliver's Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World
 Grafton Books in the Oak Bay area of Victoria has so many lovely antique books and it's a joy to wander through. I've had my eye on this one particular book about the early days of cricket and football from the early 1900's, but it's so hard to justify spending $400-500 on a book.

But on Monday when we stopped in on our return trip to Comox, I did talk myself into buying this edition of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. It was published in 1909 by J.M Dent of London and E.P. Dutton of New York.

As you can see from the cover, the book has colour illustrations from Arthur Rackham. While I was unfamiliar with him, Jo saw the name right away and told me he was quite famous as an illustrator.

Sure enough, this book is mentioned as one of his  notable efforts on the wikipedia page. The book is well-used, but still in very good shape and the illustrations are indeed quite excellent. I scanned through on the drive back home and it's really very excellent. I look forward to rereading in the future, but in the meantime, it does add a nice quality to the shelves. :0)

The final book for today doesn't quite have the age of the previous two, but it's one I saw in Russell Books, that caught my eye and I couldn't resist taking off the shelves. Sometimes you do buy a book for its cover.

Originally published in 1952, this tenth impression came out in 1956 and is actually titled The Terror of St Trinian's or Angela's Prince Charming.

The book just called to me from the shelf, it was amazing. I've seen parts of the St Trinian's movies; sometimes you just have to take a chance on a book, eh?

"How love came to St Trinian's, in the shape of a fatally handsome young Inspector of Secondary Schools attached to the Board of Education, is the theme of this book. The devastation caused by Mr Rupert Rover's charms, the ferocity of the struggle between his two principal girl-victims, the climax of the Great Fire - these breathtaking themes have been dealt with in a masterpiece of cooperation between Mr Searle and Mr Timothy Shy (of the News Chronicle) whose sense of romantic drama makes a perfect foil for the brilliant ruthlessness of Mr Searle's art."

Interesting, huh?

That's all for today, over the weekend I'll cover the other lucky purchases of the weekend past.

Keep on reading!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Currently Reading - September 2011

A short one today, I think. It's early Sunday morning and I've been updating information on my Goodreads page and checking out some sport sights; BBC Sports for my footie fix and to see if there was anything new about the Blue Jays.

I've got the two books I'm currently reading in front of me, so here's what I'm reading to start of September.

To Kill A Mockingbird
I've blogged about this first book previously, in my listing of my Top Ten all-time favourite books. I've read many times and also seen the movie more than once. I can either pick up the book or put on the movie and just sink into the story again.

I'm reading it this time because in one of my goodreads clubs, it's being read as a side-read for this month, besides the other books chosen. I thought it was time to take this one up again and refresh my feelings about the story.

For a brief synopsis, this is what's written on the back - "Shoot all the Blue Jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.
A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mocking bird of this enchanting classic - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.
Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties.
The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice.
But the weight of history will only tolerate so much...."

I won't say too much more about the story, as I have talked about it previously and probably ad nauseum to my friends. However, having started it again, I am once again drawn into the characters, Jem, Scout, Atticus, Calpurnia, the Ewells, Radleys and every other lovely, well-drawn person from this story. I obviously have pictures of them in my mind; as they were so well-portrayed in the movie and every one of the actors fit the role to perfection.

It's a sad story, but at the same time, as you read about Scout and Jem growing up and of their love for their father, it's endearing, lovely and so fantastic. I've never experienced the life they did in their small town, but it doesn't matter as I feel it and am drawn to it. I can think of other books of the same sort that have caused the same sorts of feelings in me; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers and Who Has Seen the Wind, by W.O. Mitchell. They are all stories about families, living and loving together and the events that occur in their lives that enrich them and help them grow up.

Anyway, suffice it to say that I'm happy to be reading Mockingbird again. It never grows old or outdated and always brings out new thoughts and ideas.

Her Fearful Symmetry

The other book I'm currently reading is Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger, who also wrote The Time Traveller's Wife in 2003. Since that was one of my favourite books at the time, I've looked forward to Audrey publishing her next novel. It's taken awhile, she has published some graphic novels (visual books, as wikipedia calls them), but I finally saw this one at The Laughing Oyster, a few months back and had to buy it.

This is the synopsis -
"Julia and Valentina Poole are twenty-year-old sisters with an intense attachment to each other. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. Their English aunt, Elspeth Noblin, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions for this inheritance: that they live in the flat for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the girls' aunt Elspeth and their mother, Edie.
The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders the vast Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Stella Gibbons, and other luminaries are buried. Julia and Valentina become involved with their living neighbours: Martin, a composer of crossword puzzles who suffers from crippling OCD, and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. They also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including-- perhaps-- their aunt."

I don't want to spoiler the story for anyone who hasn't read it yet and wants to, but I must say that I've been drawn in just as I had with The Time Traveller's Wife. The characters are lovingly drawn, they are quirky and interesting. The story moves at a leisurely pace, but is packed with character, scenery, ideas. There is also a magical quality; especially with Elspeth, which I won't get into.

I'm enjoying immensely; Audrey Niffenegger is unique, interesting writer and I'm glad she took the time to create this latest story. It has, thus far, been well worth the wait.

Look both stories up if you've not read them. I think each offers the best in literature (well, Mockingbird, definitely; Symmetry for now. I'll decide once I've finished it completely.)

Good reading!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Favourite Mystery Writers - A Touch of Venice

Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti Series
I will say I do love a well-written series. One of my favourite mystery series for the past few years has been Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series, which is set in Venice, Italy. Ms. Leon started the series in 1992, with Death at La Fenice and since that time has published 20 novels. I noticed just the other day that she has published Brunetti's Cookbook, which intrigues me, since one of the aspects that makes the novels enjoyable and interesting are the meals that Brunetti has with his family or when out solving mysteries. I think it's a neat idea.

I haven't read the mysteries in any particular order, of the 8 that I have read so far, since 2002, when I bought my first one. I don't think it hurts anything by not reading them in order, but obviously there are incidents involving specific characters, including the basic fact that Brunetti's two children; Raffi, his teenage son and Chiarra, his precocious, lovely daughter, are both growing up as the series progresses. If you prefer to read the books in chronological order, this is how they've been released:

Dressed for Death (1994)
1. Death at La Fenice (1992)
2. Death in a Strange Country (1993)
3. Dressed for Death (or The Anonymous Venetian) (1994)
4. Death and Judgement (A Venetian Reckoning) (1995)
5. Death in High Water (or Acqua Alta) (1996)
6. Death of Faith (or Quietly in their Sleep) (1997)
7. A Noble Radiance (1997)
8. Fatal Remedies (1999)
9. Friends in High Places (2000)
10. A Sea of Troubles (2001)
11. Wilful Behaviour (2002)
12. Uniform Justice (2003)
13. Doctored Evidence (2004)
14. Blood from a Stone (2005)
15. Through a Glass, Darkly (2006)
16. Suffer the Little Children (2007)
17. The Girl of his Dreams (2008)
18. About Face (2009)
19. A Question of Belief (2010)
20. Drawing Conclusions (2011)

Death and Judgement (1995)

Donna Leon, the author of this great series, was born in New Jersey in 1942. Now what you may well ask qualifies her then to set her series in Venice, Italy and make the locale and people who populate the stories seem so real?

Good question. :0). Donna has lived in Italy for over 25 years, lecturing in English at the University of Maryland University College - Europe, then worked as a Professor from 1981 to 1999 at the American military base of Vicenza (Italy).

She no longer teaches, instead concentrating on her writing and other cultural activities. According to the write up on her in wikipedia, while her books have been translated into many foreign languages, at her request, they have not been translated, oddly enough, into Italian.

Acqua Alta (1996)
As I mentioned earlier, I first discovered Donna Leon around 2002. I do love to browse in The Laughing Oyster bookshop on 5th Street in Courtenay, when looking at new books (I do love the name of the store for one thing.) They have a nice little mystery section at the back of the shop and when I'm looking to see if any of my favourites have put out new books, I often head there first.

One thing that does often first catch my attention with new authors is the book cover. Donna Leon's Penguin editions did just that. There is a simplicity to the spine, her name and the title with a solid neutral colour. When that grabs your focus and you pull out the books, the shadowy photo in the foreground, some focus on Venetian architecture; and then the muted colours (well, I'm an autumn person, so the oranges and brown do appeal to me).

Of course, that wouldn't especially make me buy a book; I next read the summary and that has always been interesting enough to get me started and then continue to draw me in.

Doctored Evidence (2004)
 For example, in Acqua Alta, "A Venice braces for a winter tempest, Commissario Guido Brunetti, Donna Leon's intrepid Italian sleuth, finds out that an old friend has been savagely beaten at the palazzo home of reigning diva Flavia Petrelli. Then, as the flood waters rise, a corpse is discovered - and Brunetti must wade through the chaotic city to solve his deadliest case yet. Sinister and exotic, Acqua Alta is another chilling addition to Donna Leon's bestselling series."


Ah yes, the setting. As mentioned, the stories are set mainly in the environs of Venice, Italy. It definitely adds to the ambiance of the novels. Donna Leon lovingly describes the area, the feel for the history, the sometimes decay caused by political interference, pollution, the flooding, but at the same time, there is an affection; the small cafes frequented by Brunetti, the history in the buildings, the lives of the people who make Venice their home.

As Brunetti wanders around Venice, either walking or taking the water taxis and police launches, you feel you are there and experiencing the area with his eyes. Brunetti obviously loves Venice and is at the same time frustrated that it is being let decay because of government corruption and inaction.

Death in a Strange Country (1993)
 I love the politics of simple things like getting repair work done on apartments and homes. I love sitting in the bars with Brunetti, having a grappa or sitting in his kitchen while he interacts with his wife and children as they prepare the evening meal. I've been to Venice a couple of times in my earlier life and reading these stories does bring back some foggy memories of the time I did manage to spend there, even as short as that was.

Of course, not every story is set in Venice, or, at the very least, Brunetti does make side trips to other areas, but his fondness is always for his home. And why not?


Of the stories I've read so far, and I've managed to read 8 thus far, these are the main characters that the Commissario deals and interacts with -

A Noble Radiance (1997)
 Brunetti (himself) - Of course, he is the lead, the main protagonist. Guido Brunetti is a Commissario (police commissioner) who works for the Venice Police Force. As best as I can relate this rank, he is a superintendent who leads investigations and other such duties. Brunetti is intelligent, somewhat cynical, but one who seeks justice for the victims of the cases in which he is involved. He has to deal with the Italian political system in gaining this justice, but he has the assistance of a small group that he can always rely on to solve his cases and get justice.

Vice-Questore Patta - Brunetti's boss is an ambitious individual who is often a thorn in Brunetti's side. He is an individual who wants promotion and he won't let Brunetti's sense of justice side track this desire of advancement. Brunetti must often tread carefully to get what he needs; warrants, the ability to interrogate powerful people, etc, or Patta will hinder or stop his investigations. However, it does seem that the good Commissario knows how to get around his sometimes interfering boss to ensure some form of justice is achieved.

Sergeant Vianello - Brunetti's most reliable investigator, the subordinate he relies on the most to help solve his cases is the redoubtable, efficient Sergeant (and sometimes his wife as well) who works tirelessly on Brunetti's behalf. There have been cases where even his wife, who works in the background, has become involved to question friends and acquaintances if the case interests her.

Uniform Justice (2003)

Signorina Elettra - OK, I admit it, I have a crush on la bella Signorina. Elettra was introduced in Dressed for Death. She is Patta's secretary, but also provides invaluable assistance to Brunetti and Vianello. She has come over as a senior secretary from la Banca Italia and provides a wealth of knowledge of how to gain information from the Italian governmental Internet and seems to take great joy in researching and gathering useful information for the two. Besides the fact that she is lovely, intelligent and just darn wonderful.. well, I guess that says it all. Why she helps them or chose to work with the police is mainly a mystery, but we're glad she does!

Brunetti's family (Paola, Raffi and Chiarra) - It's nice to have a mystery series, dealing with crime, murder and corruption, where the main protagonist isn't divorced, dealing with personal ghosts and all that stuff. Not that Brunetti doesn't have issues, but the nice thing about the series is that he can go home to his family, which grounds him. His wife Paola, who comes from one of Italy's richest families, but is more of a leftist, is intelligent (teaching English literature at the university), beautiful and still manages to raise a family and cook great meals!!! This is Brunetti's joy and solace in his life as a police commissario and they add a wonderful quality to the stories.

Where Am I At?

I've managed to read 8 of the stories so far;
Death at La Fenice - Brunetti works to solve the mystery of a German conductor of La Fenice opera house.
Death in a Strange Country -  Brunetti works to solve the murder of a young American who is fished out of a Venetian canal. Though all the signs point to a violent mugging, it may also involve the existence of a high-level conspiracy.
Dressed for Death - Instead of going on holiday to the mountains with his family, Brunetti must try to solve the murder of a banker, which may involve the world of transvestites or financial intrigue.
Death and Judgement - Brunetti works to solve two seemingly unrelated murders, which involve him in the dealings and intrigue of Italy's elite class.
Acqua Alta - As Venice prepares for the winter season and annual floods, Brunetti is once again involved with the opera world as an old friend is mugged.
A Noble Radiance - Brunetti discovers the clue at an old grave discovered at an Italian farm house that reignites a cold case and famous kidnapping.
Uniform Justice - Brunetti must try to solve the case of the murder of a young military cadet, which involves the city's elite and also brings back memories of his own childhood.
Doctored Evidence - Brunetti investigates the murder of a wealthy, elderly woman and the possibility that her Romanian maid was not involved in her murder.

I don't read the books one after the other, rather, I find the series a comfortable read. I enjoy taking one of my shelf of 'to be read' books, every 3 or 4 months and re-installing myself in Brunetti's world. I still have a few on the shelves available to read, so I won't lack for enjoyment. I'm sure also that over time, I will find the remainder as I search through my favourite book stores. I highly recommend the series. Find them and enjoy as much as I have so far!

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