Saturday, 3 December 2011

Favourite Books of 2011 - Part 3

Well, it's now Dec 3, 2011 and I'm winding down my reading for the year. I imagine I'll be able to get in 3 or 4 more books, especially if we travel a bit as planned, because I usually manage to get a bit of reading in then. At the moment, I'm reading two mysteries;

Inspector Frost # 2
 R.D. Wingfield's A Touch of Frost. This is the second book in the series; Wingfield only wrote 6, but from the books came a wonderful, long-lasting TV mystery series, starring David Jason as Frost. I'm sure I'm missing some aspects of Frost's life by starting with Number 2, such as the issues with his wife's health, but I'm almost half way through at the moment and I don't feel like the story is lacking any interest without my having read the first. I do recall the basic plot from one of the TV episodes; there are at least 3 ongoing investigations, a serial rapist who targets young girls, a hit-and-run driver and the murder of a hard luck drug addict who is found dead in a public toilet. There are some minor aspects of Frost's character that differ from the book to the TV show, but even that doesn't take away from the story. I can accept either. At any rate, I'm enjoying very much at the moment and it's been interesting enough that I will search out the rest of the series to read.

Cadfael # 5
The second book I'm working on at the moment (my downstairs book) is Ellis Peters' 5th Cadfael mystery, The Leper of Saint Giles. It's a favourite series of mine (among many, you can never have too many!). I also enjoyed the TV mini-series, or at least the episodes that I have seen. I can pick up one of the books anytime and find myself drawn into the life and times of Cadfael, the Benedictine monk who lives in the time of the wars of succession between Empress Maud and King Stephen. In this episode, a wedding is to take place in Shrewsbury Abbey, between a middle-aged royal and a young 18 year old girl, Iveta, whose aunt and uncle are basically selling her so they can gain her properties. The lord is murdered and Cadfael finds himself trying to solve the murder, in order to prevent the execution of one of the lord's squires, a young man who also loves Iveta and wants to protect her interests. I'm enjoying the story very much so far and find myself about half way through it. As always, the descriptions of the times, the character of Cadfael and the mystery always draw me in.

John Wyndham short stories
One last book mention before I finish off my final list of 2011 favourites. When I finish one or other of the two that I am currently reading, the next on my list. One of my book clubs, the UK Book Club on goodreads has an ongoing genre challenge, which I've mentioned previously. In December, the challenge is short stories. I conveniently purchased John Wyndham's The Seeds of Time at a book fair held locally each November by the Rotary Club of Comox.  Wyndham is one of my all-time favourite writers, having written two of my favourite Sci-Fi novels, The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids. I have read the Seeds of Time previously, back in my high school days, but I think it's time to read it once again. Plus it'll satisfy my Dec challenge. :0). The book features 10 short stories covering subjects as varied as time travel, body snatching and mind snatching. I'm looking forward to it..

OK, now on to my final selections for my favourite reads of 2011. (Remember, they weren't necessarily written in 2011, just read this year.)

Brighton Rock
 In Mar, I read Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. I have read a few Graham Greene novels, a particular favourite of mine is Our Man in Havana. But I had never read Brighton Rock; I think one reason I dusted it off to read this past spring was because of the movie remake that came out starring Helen Mirren. Mind you, I still haven't seen the movie, either the original or the remake, but I'm glad I read the book. It was a fascinating tense thriller. The characters were interesting; Pinkie was a ruthless, sociopath, prepared to kill anyone who stood in his way. He readily used Rose, courting her and even marrying her to prevent her telling what she had witnessed. And then there is Ida Arnold, bigger than life, but ready to risk anything to get the truth for her murdered friend. It is a tense story, well-written, well-paced and a must read for anyone who likes that genre, or just likes an excellent story.

Night of the Generals
 I had seen the movie, Night of the Generals, starring Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole, many years ago. It was an interesting movie, a war movie and a murder mystery. Insane generals and an intrepid German military police officer trying to solve the murders of prostitutes in both war-torn Poland and Paris. I had been interested in H.H. Kirst's writing for awhile; while I was stationed in Victoria in 2007, I had purchased a few of his books and read Hero in the Tower, a very sardonic look at the war, from German eyes. Kirst also wrote Night of the Generals and I read it in Feb of this year. The plot moves from Poland to Paris; in both cities prostitutes are brutally murdered. In each city, the same three generals are stationed and considered as suspects. The cases are investigated, the generals characters are developed nicely. The story is interesting, the plot has nice twists and turns and the final scenes are surprising and complete the story nicely. A different perspective of the war and, along with a good mystery, one you might find very interesting and well worth reading.

Inspector John Madden
 One of the very first books I read this year was a mystery from a new writer for me, Rennie Airth's River of Darkness. It is set after WWI in the peaceful countryside area of Sussex in South England. The peace is rent asunder by the brutal murder of 5 members of a family; four with a bayonet and the lady of the house, by having her throat slit with a razor. Tragically a young girl, the daughter of the household, is found alive under her bed, terrifyingly having heard the slaughter in the house. Into this tragedy comes Scotland Yard Inspector John Madden, who must sort through this violent murder to find the killer. Madden deals with his own issues, psychological baggage from the War, while he works steadily to find out who committed the vile murders. The search takes him along many paths, to other areas of Southern England as he tries to find the person responsible. It is a tense well-developed story and I highly recommend it. I now have the second book in the series, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, ready to be read in 2012.

Spook Country
 William Gibson is a Sci-Fi writer, but one who produces interesting different views of the future. I've read many of his books and only was disappointed with one, The Difference Engine; I just didn't get it. But Spook Country follows along with many of his series; Pattern Recognition and Zero History are set in the same period. it's a future of computers, holograms, spies, invention. The story is more of a spy thriller than futuristic Sci-Fi; there are no aliens, just strange and interesting people. The plot revolves around 3 story lines which ultimately are linked into one thread. The main characters of each plot line are Hollis Henry, ex rocker, turned investigative journalist on assignment for a new secretive magazine, The Node; Milgrim, the junkie, inextricably tied to the secretive spy Brown, involved in trying to get something for someone; and, Tito, the Cuban - Russian, who is helping his family on a mission to who knows what. The story moves along very nicely, keeps you guessing and ultimately links everyone and everything up very nicely for a satisfying conclusion. Great story.

Her Fearful Symmetry
 A book that resonated with me so very much was The Time-Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffnegger. I loved it; the whole concept was fascinating and the story so well-written. I even liked the movie, even though it seemed to be panned by the critics. I don't know why, as I thought it represented the story very well. When I saw Audrey's next book, Her Fearful Symmetry, at the store, I had to buy it. It has sat on my shelf for awhile, but in September I took it down and sat down to read it. And I loved it too. It was different from the first, but as enjoyable. The story involves twin sister Valentina and Julia who inherit there aunt's flat beside Highgate Cemetery when she dies. The aunt is the twin of their mother, sisters who haven't spoken for years. To inherit the flat or be able to sell it, they must stay there for a year, and their mother isn't allowed to enter. Residents on other floors of the flat are their aunt's lover, Robert Fanshawe, who works as a tour guide at the cemetery and Martin Wells, the agoraphobic shut-in who lives upstairs and never leaves. Throw in the ghost of their aunt and you have the makings of a fantastical, interesting story which will take you down some paths you don't expect. It was different from the first, but all the same, it was an excellent story. I loved it!

Harry Hole mystery
 I was introduced to Norwegian writer, Jo Nesbo, by chance. I like to frequent the mystery section of one of my local book stores, The Laughing Oyster, to see if any of my favourite series have new additions or just to see if anybody else might grab my fancy. I found Jo Nesbo in Jun, read the back of some of the copies the store had on the shelf, asked the clerk if she had read any, and from both the synopses and her recommendation, found myself with two books. The Redbreast is the third of the series which has 8 stories in it, but the first translated. I sat down to read in in Jun and finished it in 3 days. Great story, fast paced; I really find Harry Hole interesting and I like his partner, Ellen, as well. The story moves between the present where Harry finds himself promoted to Inspector and monitoring neo-Nazi activities and the Russian Front during WWII where Norwegian Nazis find themselves fighting with the Germans. It was a very different story for me, gritty, interesting mystery and I liked the Norwegian setting. I'm finding many excellent mystery writers from Scandinavia and Nesbo ranks up there with the best. I have Nemesis on my shelf, which follows The Redbreast so that will be a must read for 2012. I'm looking forward to it already.

Water for Elephants
The final book from 2011 that I want to mention is Water for Elephants, from Sara Gruen. In February I found myself in Winnipeg, Manitoba, waiting out a snow storm at the airport as all flights were delayed, including my flight back home to Comox. So I saw at the airport bookstore and following normal procedure, I bought it. I had just finished a book of short stories as I lounged around. So in need of something new I started to read this and found that it drew me in so successfully that I had finished it by the time I got home later that night. It's a simple story in its way, man joins circus, man falls in love with lovely female circus star and they live happily ever after.. Well, maybe not quite. But the basic premise is there. There are many tragedies and adventures throughout this journey as told by Jacob Jankowski, the veterinary student who loses his parents in a car crash, which causes his life to come tumbling down, and who joins a circus. The story follows Jacob until we meet him as a ninety-plus year old man living in a nursing home. It's a fascinating, interesting, emotional story, told with feeling and skill. Another of my favourites of 2011.

So there you have it, over the last 3 Blogs, the books I enjoyed most reading them in 2011. I hope that by reading this you might find some interesting enough to pick up yourself and see what they are like.

At any rate, go to a book store in your neighbourhood and check them out. Keep on reading in 2012!


  1. Sounds like a lot of great reads there..
    You should do a list of the duds too.
    Jo xx

  2. There were a few. That's a good idea.


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