Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Year End Mix - Actresses, TV shows

One last look at 2012, sort of a mish mash; favourite actresses, favourite TV shows, then tomorrow it's on to 2012 challenges...  Woo hoooo!

Let's see, my favourite actresses. This list has changed over the years, but this year, I've been introduced to many new actresses that have spiced up the list. Great new shows the missus I have watched that demonstrate the talents out there in TV and movie land. Looking at the list makes me realise how many British shows we watch, but that's no bad thing, there are so many excellent shows.

Anyway, onto the list.

Elizabeth Shue
10. Elizabeth Shue - I've always liked Elizabeth Shue. Movies like Adventures in Babysitting, Palmetto and Soap Dish were all great and she added a quality to them. I thought she was excellent in The Saint, there was something about her character that toned down Val Kilmer's tendency to over acting. And while she's been busy this past while, she's kind of been under the radar I think. But when Marg Helgenberger left CSI, she moved into the role of the senior CSI like she'd been there all along. Her character has its flaws and she has such intelligence and personality. She's a great foil and sounding board to Ted Danson as the Team Chief.  There have been other actors and actresses that have tried to move into series this past while, but she's done it seamlessly and I can't wait to see what else she does.

Carrie Preston
 9. Carrie Preston - She's an experienced actress who has been acting for many a year. But the first thing I noticed her in was True Blood where she plays Arlene Fowler one of the waitresses at Sam Merlotte's Bar. Since then we've noticed her in other series, where she just seems to shine. She's one of those chameleons, seems to be able to handle any role with intelligence and humour. She plays a lawyer in The Good Wife, has been in 7 episodes. While actors such as Michael J Fox or Martha Plimpton get the nominations for best Guest Actor in the series, I think she deserves one. She's been fantastic. Most recently she has showed up on her husband Michael Emerson's series Person of Interest as a past love interest and once again, she has shone.

Maxine Peake
 8. Maxine Peake - While she's been acting since 1996, I really had only seen Maxine in a series that my wife likes, the British comedy Dinnerladies. It was on from 1998 to 2000. But recently, she has played the main character in a British law series, Silk, as Martha Costello, QC. Not only a great series, but Maxine is fantastic in it, dare I say a revelation. It's a very powerful show and the gist is that Martha spends the first season trying to get her Queen's Counsel or 'taking Silks'. She has both vulnerability and strength in this show and I think if you see it you'll agree.

Emilia Fox
 7. Emilia Fox - Emilia comes from a great acting family, her father is Edward Fox, aka The Jackal and her mother, Joanna David. She's been acting since 1995 and performed in many classics. What the missus and I watch her in and why she is on my list is Silent Witness, a BBC forensic drama that has been on the air since 2004. Emilia has been in 78 episodes of the series. She plays Forensic pathologist Dr Nikki Alexander and adds both gravitas and class to the show. It's definitely a team show, with various police officers entering each week to gain the assistance of Nikki and her teammates, William Gaminara (Dr Leo Dalton) and Tom Ward (Dr Harry Cunningham). A show can't be successful for so long without an excellent cast, a tribute to her abilities as an actress. It is an intelligent, well-crafted and extremely well-acted by Emilia and her partners.

Judi Dench
 6. Judi Dench - I mean what can you really say, Judi Dench is one of the great actresses of a generation. She is beautiful, funny, intelligent and brightens up any part she takes on. Most recently we saw her as M in Skyfall and once again, she was great. Without ruining the movie for anyone who may not have seen it already, the nice thing about this movie was that it was more 'M'-centric than Bond-centric and we got to see more of her great acting skills. Just checking her resume on imdb and she seems, at almost 80 years of age, to be busier than ever. And so many great movies; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, My Week with Marilyn, Jane Eyre, the excellent period TV series, Cranford. Her resume just speaks for itself. I hope she continues to act for many, many years to come. She has so much to offer as both an actress and a person.

Jessica Chastain

5. Jessica Chastain - American actress Jessica Chastain has been acting since 2004. The first thing I saw her in was The Help where she played Celia Foote. What a revelation! Both the missus and I thought she was one of our favourite characters in the movie; funny, strong and with hidden strength. Since then we've seen her in The Debt, where she plays the younger Helen Mirren and Texas Killing Fields amongst others. She is starting to crop up in more and more excellent pieces of work. She will be in Zero Dark Thirty, was in Lawless. I haven't seen her in a great many works, but I think if she keeps finding the right jobs and if directors use her potential, she might be as good as Cate Blanchett, an actress who can play any type of role. Keep an eye out for her.

Helen Mirren

4. Helen Mirren - Like Judi Dench, one of the great actresses of this generation. She seems to get better with age. Take a look at the movies she's been in recently, she can do anything, adventure, comedy, serious drama; the butler Hobson in Arthur, retired hit man Victoria in Bruce Willis' Red, Ida in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, Sofya in The Last Station. She is a beautiful woman, she brings intelligence, humour, drama to whatever role she plays. I think she willingly accepts any role, either as a challenge or just because she loves acting so much and wants to take advantage of her ability to command any role now that she has hit the big time. You can count on excellent acting when you go to a movie with Helen Mirren in it.

Suranne Jones
 3. Suranne Jones - It's kind of neat to see Suranne Jones' name on my list as I feel I kind of grew up with her when I watched her as mouthy, spunky Karen MacDonald on Coronation Street back in the late 90's. From that show, she has become a star and brightened up so many TV series with her talent. She went on to star with Ray Winstone in a gritty crime drama, Vincent, where she played one of the team that worked with Vincent, an ex copper, who took on challenging, difficult to solve cases. Most recently, she stars in one of my wife and my favourite TV series, police drama, Scott and Bailey, along with Lesley Sharp and Amelia Bullmore. It's one of the best dramas on TV at the moment, I think, very gritty, but at the same time very realistic and with such excellent humour to help lighten the mood when needed. Finally, she recently starred in a spooky drama based on James Herbert's The Secret of Crickley Hall. Excellent work and it definitely highlighted Suranne's acting chops and growth as an actress. She's great.

Essie Davis

2. Essie Davis - While she's been acting since 1993, Australian actress is new to me and has been a revelation. She stars in an Australian TV series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, a series based on the mystery novels of Kerry Greenwood. It is a period series, set after the first World War where Phryne Fisher has returned from serving as a nurse. She is wealthy, sexy and loves an adventure, hence taking on a role as a Private Investigator. Essie has a quality about her; she blows onto the screen like a breath of fresh air, she is sexy, intelligent, sensitive. She makes this series a joy to watch. I have enjoyed getting to know her character and look forward to seeing what else she does.

Amelia Bullmore

1. Amelia Bullmore - My wife will not be surprised by this choice at all.. lol.. She's an experienced actress and been in shows I've seen before. Once again, she appeared in Coronation Street back in '95 when I was still watching it as Des Barnes missus for 25 episodes. She appeared in State of Play in 2003. She was in Ashes to Ashes as Keeley Hawes' mother. (I'm jumping around here, picking shows I've seen). But it was when I saw her on Scott and Bailey that she just jumped out at me. She is the boss, DCI Gill Murray and she is realistic, funny, intelligent, speaks so well and top it off, she's lovely. I can remember specific scenes between her and Lesley Sharp, her closest companion in the station. They stand out. There is something so believable about her as the DCI. Since then I've seen her in Sherlock, The Hound of the Baskerville where she played Dr Stapleton, a Lewis mystery and she also stars in Twenty Twelve a comedy about preparing for the London Olympics. Love her! She's great.

Not your standard Top Ten maybe, but all actresses who I love to watch. Some honourable mentions -

- Valerie Cruz. I liked her when I first saw her in the Dresden Files as Lt Connie Murphy. Since then she's appeared in other favourite shows, True Blood as Isabel, Alpha as Kathy Sullivan, and most recently in Homeland as Maj Joy Mendez. Always good value in any role.

- AJ Cook. She's Canadian and she's been a mainstay of Criminal Minds for 151 episodes. Of late she's taken on a more physical, active role. She adds a sensitivity to the show and is one of the reasons it's been such a success for so long.

- Emilia Clarke. A relatively new actress, I believe she will has made a name for herself playing Daenerys Targaryen in the hit series A Game of Thrones. So many strong women in this series, but she stands out as the Princess trying to return to Westeros to become Queen again. Alone among warriors she has to fend for herself and show her strength and leadership. She has been fantastic in this series and I believe has enhanced her acting chops tremendously.

- Taraji P Henson. She's been acting for a long time, but with her role in Person of Interest, Police Detective Joss Carter, I think she's really come into her own. She holds her own admirably with main stars Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel and provides intelligence, spunk and action. She does a great job on the show.

I could go on.. :0) (I'll let my wife pick the top actors.)

Favourite TV shows

OK, let's start off by saying I watch too much TV. I admit it. but what the hey! I've been busily writing down favourite shows and I could go on and on.. So here are some highlights


1. Big Bang Theory. I've loved it from the first time I saw it. I laugh out loud, love the characters and it makes me feel good. The new additions, Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler and Melissa Rauch as Bernadette have kept it fresh.
2. Modern Family. Funny and intelligent. Love it, have always loved it and will continue to love it.. :0)
3. New Girl. The missus and I weren't sure about it after one episode. Seemed like a clone of Happy Endings, which we both liked very much. But it grew on us and has become a favourite. Zooey Deschanel is super.

(so many others)

Mini-series (although for the most part they have become series)

1. Downton Abbey. So looking forward to Season 3 next week. Great setting, great acting and fantastic story
2. Game of Thrones. Fascinating books and a fascinating series. Such a great scope and fantastic characters and plot twists.
3. Call the Midwife. A gentle look at the poor end of London after the War. Focused on a nuns and midwifes (young ladies) who bicycle to the homes of expectant mothers. Seems simple, but the plots are detailed, touching in almost every instance and lovingly presented.
4. Homeland. It's one of those mini-series that has become a series. But anyway, I love the intrigue, the acting, especially Claire Danes, and the subject matter. An excellent spy drama.

British Police Dramas

1. Scott and Bailey. I've mentioned this show above. Fantastic ensemble cast, Suranne Jones, Amelia Bullmore and Lesley Sharp including a great support cast. Great cases, well-acted, believable..
2. Silent Witness. Forensic police drama, a la CSI. Focused on 3 forensic scientists, the police change each story. Two-hour long episodes. Interesting cases, interesting characters.
3. Inspector George Gently. Set in Newcastle, based on the books of Alan Hunter. A police drama starring Martin Shaw (AKA Judge John Deed) as Inspector George Gently. A period piece, early '60s time frame I think. But excellent.
4. Silk. Starring Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry Jones, it follows a legal firm practising in Manchester. Fascinating look at the British legal system.
5. Murder in Paradise. A fun police drama set in the Caribbean where a London Police inspector has been sent. It stars Ben Miller and has a nice touch to it.


1. The Walking Dead. Gritty, full of adventure and action and with great acting, this series on AMC deals with the survivors of some catastrophe that has changed the majority of humankind into flesh-eating zombies. It follows one group of survivors. Excellent
2. Dr Who. It has totally reinvigorated itself, first with Christopher Ecclestone, then David Tennant and now with Matt Smith as the Doctor. A great supporting cast, most recently the lovely Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, and soon to be Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswin. Such humour and yet at times terrifying stories.
3. Haven. Kind of took the wife and I by surprise. Based loosely on the Stephen King novel, The Colorado Kid, it stars Emily Rose as an ex-FBI agent now working in Haven trying to solve mysteries set in place by people with newly awoken supernatural powers. Great supporting cast and great stories.
4. Warehouse 13. We weren't sure about this at first, but it was definitely a grower. A warehouse guarded by the Regents as it is filled with artifacts with supernatural powers. A team of agents led by Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly must search for and retrieve artifacts to prevent magical consequences. Excellent cast, lovely humour and good stories.
5. Lost Girl. Sexy, funny, full of adventure. Starring Anna Silk as a succubus dealing with the dark and light Fae, ably assisted by her human friend, played by Ksenia Solo. Season 3 about to start.

Dramas (mostly crime shows)

1. Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries. Not sure where to fit this in. It's not a network show, rather an Aussie crime drama shown on PBS in Canada. A period piece starring Essie Davis, as Phryne Fisher, a socialite turned PI. Excellent plots and characters.
2. Major Crimes. The follow-on from The Closer, since Kyra Sedgwick left, it follows the Murder squad, now led by Mary McDonnell as they solve major crimes in LA. Excellent ensemble cast.
3. Perception. Excellent crime drama, starring Eric McCormack as an eccentric professor and neuroscientist dealing with his own issues who helps Rachel Leigh Cook, as an FBI investigator, solve cases. Looking forward to Season 2.
4. Person of Interest. One of the best dramas on TV, starring Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson as two men helping people identified by a computer program developed by Michael Emerson. These people may either be in danger or about to cause danger to others. Excellent team show as well
5. Justified. Starring Timothy Olyphant and based on the books of Elmore Leonard, it follows US Marshal Raylan Givens enforcing his unique brand of justice in Kentucky. Great cast, super plots. We've only seen Season 1 here so far, but Season 2 starts soon.. :0)
6. Longmire. Based on the books of Craig Johnson, it's an A&E TV series starring Robert Taylor as Sheriff Walt Longmire, with an excellent supporting cast of Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips and Bailey Chase solving crimes in Wyoming. Brings back fond memories of Cade's County with Glenn Ford.

So there you have it.. phewwwwwww.. Hope you liked. Have a Happy New Years Eve and Best wishes in 2013. 

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Music from my USB - Top Ten..ish songs..

I'm in the mood for a bit of Blogging this morning, especially since QPR is getting stonked 3-0 by Liverpool.. Maybe if I don't watch, they'll come back.

So I went through my USB stick and have picked my Top Ten songs, the ones I enjoy listening to no matter how many times they pop up. They are a mix of old and new; some of the older in time songs are still new to me as I've started listening to groups I had previously been unfamiliar with. I'll finish with three artists who have caught my attention this past while.

Lets go then.. (Click on the song name to listen to the song if you're so inclined)

10. Saving Jane (I heard this song a few years back and still think it's a great song. Have always loved it).. Girl Next Door.

9. Siouxsie and the Banshees. This is a group I always wanted to try, but never seemed to get any of their albums. I saw this song listed on one of the BBC 2 Radio shows and when I listened to it, it had such a haunting quality that I had to add it to my USB. Great song... Dear Prudence

8. Rebecca Ferguson. This another artist whose name I saw either on the Virgin Radio play list or on BBC radio. I tried the song and really liked it. Great voice. Just looking up Rebecca, she was a runner-up on X-Factor in the UK. Hope you like this song. Backtrack.

7. Michelle Branch. I've never grown tired of this song. Great lyrics, great music. It affects me in an emotional way. Love it. Breathe.

6. Carly Rae Jepsen w. Owl City (or vice versa). Carly Rae competed on Canada's Canadian Idol, not that I remembered it. But she had some hits and when I heard Call Me Maybe, she caught my attention. Great pop sensibilities and an interesting voice. This song is one of those perfect pop songs, teaming up with Owl City was no bad thing. I can listen to it over and over and love it when it comes up on my Walkman when I'm jogging. Good Time

5. The Stranglers. This is another group of which I wasn't familiar (to the shock of my missus). But when I heard this song recently, loved it and had to add it to my favourites. I love the key board. Golden Brown.

4. Of Monsters and Men. A friend of mine, Bob Chabot, posted this song on You Tube and I loved if from first listen. The group is from Iceland. I've since seen them perform on the Graham Norton Show. Quirky, interesting, great song. Little Talks.

3. Echo and the Bunnymen. Yup, another group from the '80s that I had never listened to. Heard this song recently, it reminded me of early U2, but also unique on its own. Very powerful vocals and music. Back of Love.

2. Nell Bryden. A new singer for me. I love her voice and the song is so thoughtful. The music just soars. Buildings and Treetops.


1. Girls Aloud. I'm not much for boy bands or girl bands, but Cheryl, Kimberley and the other girls performed this on Strictly Come Dancing this past year. It's the perfect pop song, hooks, changes of tonality, pace and each and every lady can sing wonderfully. I listen to it if I need a boost to start my day. Something New. (definitely a heart starter... )

Finally, I want to highlight three artists/ groups that have really attracted me; two new for me this past year and one group that I've loved since I heard them back when I was living in Victoria.

Firstly are The Overtones who it turns out are an English/ Irish/ Aussie vocal group formed in 2010. The first song I heard was Lovin the Sound and I really liked its upbeat quality, their smoothness (coolness) and their harmonies. I've since also downloaded Higher which is nicely different. Hope you like them too.

She's been around for awhile, but Paloma Faith is newish to me. I'm now seeing her on all sorts of shows and I love her voice and her music. I've got a couple of her songs on my USB, they are both beautiful. She's definitely quirky, but she can sing her socks off.. I hope you like Picking up the Pieces and 30 Minute Love Affair (I think I like this last the best.)

The Veronicas are an Australian group formed by twin sisters Jessica and Lisa Origliasso. The first song of theirs that I heard was Untouched. I heard it while driving through Victoria in rush hour and the orchestration grabbed hold of me and then the whole song, the rap quality, the pop beat. Such a great song and it started me searching for their music. They provide such variety, from pop songs to lovely ballads. Such a talent. Great music all. I've linked to some of my favourites here.

When I Falls ApartThis Love, Everything I'm Not and Leave Me Alone.. enjoy!

2012 Year End Review continued

The missus and I are back from our surprise Christmas trip to Calgary to visit my daughter and her boyfriend and his family. Had a very nice time. Even saw Skyfall while we were there and loved it. But back home now, after some flight delays due to the bad weather back East. I'm currently ensconced on my comfy sofa, watching Everton vs Chelsea as I work on this BLog.

12 + 2 Challenge
 So where was I before we went away.... Ah the year 2012, a great year for reading. :0) My biggest challenge was my Reading Group challenge in the Book Addicts Book Club. This challenge is the 12 + 2, being you choose 12 books to read over the course of the year, plus two alternates. I enjoyed this challenge and over the year managed to read all of my choices. The books were -
1. Susanna Clarkes - Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (a horror/ magic story) finished 24 Jun and given 3 stars
2. Sergei Lukyanenko - The Nightwatch (vampires in Moscow) finished 5 May, 4 stars)
3. Scott Westerfield - Leviathan (alternate history/ steampunk adventure) finished 7 Feb, 4 stars
4. Bill Bryson - At Home (non-fiction/ history) finished 28 May, 4 stars
5. Deborah Cadbury - Chocolate Wars (non-fiction/ history of chocolate) finished 18 Feb, 5 stars.
6. Barbara Tuchman - The Zimmerman Telegram (history/ WWI) finished 9 Jan, 3 stars.
7. Jack Whyte - Knights of the Black and White (historical fiction/ Crusades) finished 26 Jan, 3 stars.
8. Iain Banks - The Wasp Factory (fiction/ mystery) finished 5 Jan, 3 stars.
9. Anthony Burgess -  A Clockwork Orange (dystopian universe/ fiction) finished 11 Mar, 3 stars.
10. Robertson Davies - The Rebel Angels (fiction/ mystery) finished 17 Mar, 5 stars.
11. Ken Follett - The Pillars of the Earth (Historical Fiction) finished 20 Apr, 4 stars.
12. Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible (Fiction) finished 8 Jul, 5 stars.
Alt 1. Vikas Swarup - Five Suspects (Mystery/ India) finished 13 Sept, 3 stars.
Alt 2. Trevor Elleston - Flight of the Phoenix (fiction/ adventure) finished 23 Jul, 4 stars.

There were other challenges over the course of the year that are sort of ongoing challenges that I work on only haphazardly. They include the

Around the World in 80 books challenge, where we try to read 80 books set in 80 different countries.  I have been working on this challenge since Aug 2011. I have currently visited 25 countries. This past year, I've visited some of the following - Pakistan, while reading The Damascened Blade, a Joe Sandilands mystery by Barbara Cleverly, Turkey with Greenmantle by John Buchan, Germany with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre, Laos with The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill, the Congo with The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and others. I managed to visit 9 countries this past year; not a bad year of travelling.

Two of my other challenges involve travel. They are the UK Counties Challenge where you visit each of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counties, a somewhat daunting challenge of 97 various locations. Since starting in January of this year, I've managed to visit 14 counties, all located in England; with books such as Minette Walters' The Tinder Box, located in Hampshire, Ngaio Marsh's Tied Up in Tinsel, set in Devon, MC Beaton's The Potted Gardener set in Gloucestershire. It's an interesting challenge, but definitely a long term one. The other travel challenge is similar to this, but set in the US and involves visiting the 50 states and Washington, DC. I started this challenge in January as well and so far have managed to visit 15 states, not a bad start overall. Some states visited include Arkansas with Shakespeare's Christmas by Charlaine Harris, Colorado with The Sign of the Book by John Dunning and New Jersey with Seven Up by Janet Evanovich. My final challenge is the Authors A-Z challenge which I started in March of 2011. I hate to say it but this challenge has somewhat gone stale for me. It involves reading a book by an author so you use up every letter of the alphabet with the authors' last name. I only managed to fill in the V's this past year with Kurt Vonnegut's Dead-Eye Dick. My remaining letters are I, Q, U, X, Y and Z. I may be able to get a couple this year; I do have an I author on my shelves.. But it will take a concerted effort of searching out books for the remaining letters. As Barney from How I Met Your Mother would say, 'Challenge Accepted!'

Top Ten Favourite Reads of 2012

Number 1 of 2012
Finishing off my review of books for 2012, below you'll find my Top Ten favourites for 2012. There were so many enjoyable reads this past year, but these ten were my definite favourites.

10. The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker (4 stars). This is the second in the Bruno Chief of Police books. It was a worthy follow-on to the intro to Bruno and his small community of Saint-Denis in France. Bruno is involved solving an arson and murder case and must also deal with an American businessman trying to establish in international wine business in the valley. Not only an excellent mystery, the story by Martin Walker provides a well-crafted, interesting description of the small community and the people who live there. I enjoyed very much, like Bruno and his dog, Gigi and also his friends. A nice mix of mystery, character development and just an excellent story.
9. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (4 stars). Book one of a great adventure, fantasy series. I was hooked from the first moment and have since read Books 2 and 3. The missus and I also have seen the first two seasons of the TV mini-series and love that two.
8. Summer of '42 by Herman Raucher (4 stars). I have enjoyed watching the movie a few times. It's an excellent coming of age movie. Having now read the book for the first time, I'm happy to note how faithful to the book that the movie was. I very much enjoyed this story. It's so very well-written. There are many laugh out loud moments, but at the same time, also poignant moments. It left me feeling somewhat sad, maybe for lost youth, lost love. Excellent story.
7. Leviathan by Scott Westerfield (4 stars). This was a fascinating story, that I bought by pure luck. I saw it on the shelf of my local used book store, the cover looked interesting and so did the plot summary. It's set at the beginning of WWI. One of the main protagonists is young Alek, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, whose parents have just been murdered in Serbia by German/ Austrian factions trying to instigate WWI. The other is a young British girl, Deryn Sharp, who disguises herself as a boy to join the British air force, so she can become a midshipman. By chance she finds herself on one of many Darwinist creations, the leviathan, a creature manipulated by pulling various animal gene lines, and creating a zeppelin type machine. If I forgot to mention it, this story is an alternate history, or as mentioned by the author, steampunk. The whole concept is fascinating, the development of the story well-crafted. I liked both of the main characters, Deryn and Alek, as well as the supporting cast; Alek's faithful friends who help him escape German assassins and also the British boffin, Nora Barlow and her Tasmanian tiger, Tazz. Even the illustrations in the book, at least in this particular edition, were excellent. All around an excellent story. Of course, there are two further books, to carry on the adventure. I will be getting them. Highly recommended! (I have since read Book 2, Behemoth and have Book 3 on my bookshelf for this year.)
6. The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies (5 stars). Entertaining, well-crafted, intelligent. The story is developed carefully and lovingly. Story is told from two characters' perspective, two narrators. Both are interesting and I enjoyed both of them. Darcourt, the priest/ professor was most interesting and Maria, the gypsy/ student wonderful and easy to see why all the male characters fell in love with her. It's been ages since I read anything by Robertson Davies and I'm glad I read this story. I look forward to reading the other stories in the trilogy.
5. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre (5 stars). A classic spy novel, classic Le Carre story. His third novel, after  Call For The Dead and a A Murder of Quality, it features tired spy, Alec Leamas, the British Secret Services Berlin organiser, who is called home for a special mission. I won't get into too many details as there are so many interesting surprises throughout the story, that I wouldn't want to ruin the story. There is a brief role for Le Carre's most famous spy, George Smiley, but the story revolves mostly around Leamas. The spy craft is interesting, the plot twisting, the story fascinating and one you will have difficulty putting down. An excellent story for those who enjoy spy dramas and also a nicely historical feel for the cold war between the West and East.
4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (5 stars). What a wonderful book! Devastatingly sad at times, but also the story of survival, love, family. Set around 4 sisters Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May Price who go with their mother Orleanna and father, Nathan Price as missionaries to the Congo in the 60s. A wilful, strong tempered father who doesn't really care for his family, more for his desire to convert the Congolese to Christianity. The mother and her daughters who must cope and try to survive in this new country. A fascinating, well written story about their lives, told from the perspective of the four girls, with introductions to each section by their mother, looking back. At times, I've found it heart - achingly sad. But I loved the story. Beautifully crafted and one that is so hard to put down.
3. HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean (5 stars). I'm left speechless by this story. A truly amazing story of heroism of men tired beyond belief fighting a war in conditions unbelievable but true. The HMS Ulysses is a Royal Navy cruiser whose crew have recently mutinied and are tasked once again to meet and escort a convoy on the Murmansk run to Russia. The crew is beaten, tired and the Captain is dying. They sail to meet the convoy of merchant ships at Iceland to take over from the warships escorting the convoy from Canada. The result is a fascinating, horrifying, touching story of this voyage; the love of the crew for their ill Captain, his love for them; the many personalities of the crew and the ordeal they must sail through. The story makes me think of my father as he also sailed to Murmansk, something he doesn't tell me much about. I've read this story before, but so long ago. I'm glad I read again.
2. The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill (5 stars). A new author for me and I'm glad I discovered him. The Coroner is Dr Siri Paiboun, the only coroner in Laos. He's a 72 year old doctor who was appointed the Coroner. He works under poor conditions, has a wonderful staff of two, Nurse Dtui and Mr Geung. Their relationship is affectionate and humorous. The cast of characters are wonderful and Dr Siri is a wonderfully drawn personality, smart, individualistic, curmudgeonly and with a lovely sense of humour. The story is well-crafted, many twists and turns as Siri tries to solve the cases he has been given. There is political intrigue and even a very spiritual aspect. It's a story that draws you in from the very first page and there will be many surprises. In some ways it reminds me of the first Number One Ladies Detective Agency book, different, fascinating and with humour and love and mystery all mixed together. I highly recommend and know that I'll be reading more of the series.
1. Chocolate Wars: The 150 Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury (5 stars). One of the most interesting books I've read in awhile. Fascinating history of the development of chocolate, the chocolate industry, the companies involved; Cadbury, Rowntree, Nestle, Hershey, etc. More than just a story about chocolate, even though, the story could not have been written without the ingenuity and imagination of people like George Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree, the story is also a history of the times; how the Quaker ideals were brought to bear in the development of the English chocolate industry, challenges from other companies, dealing with issues such as World Wars and how that might impact on Quaker pacifism, child slavery, the pressures of the current financial system on what were family businesses with 180 years of history. A very fascinating story and well - worth reading. Deborah Cadbury has researched this story exceedingly well and presented the history in a well-written, interesting manner.

So there you have, my review of a year's worth of reading. Once the New Year turns, I'll highlight some of my 2013 Challenges. I still hope to do one or two more BLogs before years end to look at a bit more music and maybe my Top ten Actresses.... Time will tell. In the meantime, Keep on reading and best wishes for 2013.

Monday, 24 December 2012

More Year End Review - Individual Challenge

It turns out this might be my last BLog for a few days. The missus surprised me with a Xmas trip to Calgary to visit my daughter, her boyfriend and their family. It might also be a relatively short post as I need to get up stairs and start packing.. lol

One of my challenges for 2012 was to focus on my mystery / thriller/ spy novels. I decided to work through my authors alphabetically, from A - Z, reading one book per author. Little did I realise how many mystery writers I have on my book shelves. Over the course of the year, fitting in my other challenges and trying to read a couple of freebies a month, I managed to work my way up to the G's, reading 39 books.

5 Roundabouts to Heaven
I started while we were still in England visiting family and friends for Xmas. So my first book actually was a B - author, John Bingham as I didn't have my whole library with me.. ;0). From there it's been a journey, so many different styles, countries. Some books have disappointed, but for the most part I've enjoyed immensely.

Below is my list -
with -
1. John Bingham - Five Roundabouts to Heaven (finished 10 Jan 2012, 3 stars)
2. Rennie Airth - The Blood-Dimmed Tide (finished 12 Jan 2012, 3 stars
3. Margery Allingham - Black Plumes (finished 21 Jan 2012, 4 stars)
4. Karin Alvtegen - Shadow (finished 28 Jan 2012, 4 stars)
5. Kingsley Amis - Riverside Villas Murder (finished 3 Feb 2012, 4 stars)
6. A.C. Baantjer - DeKok and the Death of a Clown (finished 12 Feb 201, 3 stars)
7. Nevada Barr - Track of the Cat (finished 19 Feb 12, 3 stars)
8. Mark Billingham - Buried (finished 25 Feb 2012, 4 stars)
9. Nicholas Blake - A Tangled Web (finished 03 Mar 2012, 4 stars)
10. M.C. Beaton - The Potted Gardener (finished 8 Mar 12, 3 stars)
11. Giles Blunt - By the Time You Read This (finished 12 Mar 12, 4 stars)
12. John Buchan - Greenmantle (finished 24 Mar 12, 4 stars)
13. Jan Burke - Sweet Dreams, Irene (finished 4 Apr 12, 3 stars)
14. W.J. Burley- Wycliffe and Death in a Salubrious Place (finished 10 Apr 12, 3 stars)
15. John le Carré - The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (finished 15 Apr 12, 5 stars)
16. G.K. Chesterton - The Secret of Father Brown (finished 22 Apr 12, 3 stars)
17. Lee Child - 61 Hours (finished 27 Apr 12, 3 stars)
18. Agatha Christie - The Mysterious Affair at Styles (finished 17 May 12, 4 stars)
19. Barbara Cleverly - The Damascened Blade (finished 21 May 12, 4 stars)
20. Michael Connelly - City Of Bones (finished 25 May 12, three stars)
21. Joseph Conrad - The Secret Agent (finished 3 Jun 12, 4 stars)
22. Colin Cotterill - The Coroner's Lunch (finished 15 Jun 12, 5 stars)
23. John Creasey - Death on the Move (finished 23 Jun 12, 2 stars)
24. Elizabeth Daly - Arrow Pointing Nowhere (finished 28 Jun 12, 3 stars)
25. Lionel Davidson - A Long Way to Shiloh (finished 18 Jul 12, 3 stars)
26. Jeffery Deaver - The Bodies Left Behind (finished 18 Aug 12, 3 stars)
27. Len Deighton - The Ipcress File (finished 28 Aug 12, 3 stars)
28. Arthur Conan Doyle - A Study In Scarlet (finished 22 Sept 12, 4 stars)
29. John Dunning - The Sign Of The Book (finished 27 Sept 12, 3 stars)
30. P. N. Elrod - The Dark Sleep (finished 06 Oct 12, 3 stars)
31. Janet Evanovich - Seven Up (finished 9 Oct 12, 3 stars)
32. Elizabeth Ferrars - :The Crime and the Crystal (finished 17 Oct 12, 3 stars)
33. Karin Fossum Don't Look Back (finished 22 Oct 12, 4 stars)
34. Ian Fleming - Live and Let Die (finished 21 Oct 12, 3 stars)
35. Ariana Franklin - Grave Goods (finished 1 Nov 12, 4 stars)
36. One More River - Nicolas Freeling (Didn't finish, stopped reading 3 Nov 12, 2 stars)
37. Night Soldiers - Alan Furst (finished 17 Nov 12, 3 stars)
38. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner (finished 25 Nov 12, 3 stars)
39. Deception on His Mind - Elizabeth  George (started 18 Dec 12)

Old favourites
 It was nice to refresh my memories on many old favourites. Authors such as Nevada Barr (the Anna Pigeon US Park Ranger series), Canadian Giles Blunt with his Cardinal series set in my old home town of North Bay, WJ Burley's Wycliffe mysteries set in England, Barbara Cleverly's Joe Sandilands mysteries set during the Raj in India, John Dunning's Bookman series, featuring not only  a good mystery, but also book shops and hunting for antique books, Janet Evanovich's humorous Stephanie Plum adventures in New Jersey. So many familiar and enjoyable books that I don't often get an opportunity to read as I've so many other books on my shelves to pull down and enjoy.

There have been a few new authors to try out as well. I honestly have tried to avoid starting new series, but when how can you resist when you go to a book store and start wandering around the book shelves. And watching mysteries on TV as well and discovering they are based on mystery series; it makes you want to read them as well. Some of my favourite new series/ authors included; Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne mysteries, set in London; MC Beaton's Agatha Raisin books, a nice chuckle and a great parlour mystery; Lee Child's larger than life Jack Reacher adventures;and Karin Fossum's Swedish mysteries.

But my favourite mystery of the year; both as a new series and just for pure enjoyment was Colin Cotterill's The Coroner's Lunch, featuring Dr Siri Paiboun, the Chief Coroner of the new Communist Republic of Laos. The story was interesting, humorous, with an abundance of wonderful characters. I got the same feeling from it that I did from The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency when I read it for the first time. I look forward to reading more of Dr Siri Paiboun's mystery adventures.

It's been a great year of reading. I plan to continue with this challenge in 2013. I'll highlight some of the authors and books in a future Blog, when I look forward to 2013.

To all, have a wonderful, peaceful Xmas and I wish you the very best for 2013.   Now off to wake the missus and start packing.. ;0) 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Something Musical - Canadian Songs on my USB

For the Xmas before Sunday, a musical list this time. I've updated my USB stick a few times this past year. I love going for a drive and listening to it as a cruise along; it's always been a favourite thing to do. I hardly ever listen to the car radio these days; either Jo or I have our USB stick plugged in. That means it's all songs we both like. Well, for the most part anyway, we so have somewhat varying taste; that's what makes life interesting.

I thought I start by listing my Top Ten Favourite Canadian songs (They aren't necessarily new songs, but just those that I tend to like most when they are played).

1. Tegan and Sara - (This is a group that my daughter Jennifer introduced me too. This is a new song from them that I heard the other day when I did in fact have the radio on on the computer) - Closer

2. Bryan Adams - This is an old classic, a long-time favourite of mine. I love the soaring instrumenalization. Run To You

3. Rush - They've put out some of my favourite songs. This is a particular favourite.. Limelight

4. Nickelback - For all that they seem to be panned for their music, Nickleback pump out song after song that I can listen to easily and enjoy. I do like Chad Kroeger's voice. Trying Not To Love You.

5. Gino Vanelli - I'm kind of jumping back and forth here, newish song, then back for an older classic. At times I think Gino Vanelli sounds like David Bowie. This is a favourite. Black Cars.

6. Carly Rae Jepsen - What can I say, I like this girl's music. Call Me Maybe is probably my favourite song of the year, unless it's Good Time, that she sings with Owl City. I just don't get tired of listening to them. But of course, I'm going to pick a different song, one of her most recent. Curiosity. (I hope she can keep it up)

7. Cowboy Junkies - They formed in 1985. Margo Timmins has a haunting, sensual voice. My favourite song. A Common Disaster.

8. Matthew Good Band - Matthew Good had so many hits, both with his band or as a solo artist. Hello Time Bomb and Load Me Up come to mind immediately. Or this next song. Excellent stuff. Everything is Automatic.

9. Simple Plan. Moving up to more current music, this is song also features the wonderful vocals of Natasha Bedingfield. Jet Lag.

10. Northern Pikes. I love everything about this song, the beat, the guitar work, the vocals.. I never grow tired of it.. Teenland.

So there you have it, another list for 2012. I hope you enjoy the songs.. I do. :0)

Saturday, 22 December 2012

2012 Year End Thoughs/ Reviews...

Well, it's that time of year when you look over the past twelve months and see what you've accomplished and then take a look at what you might expect in the new year, that being 2013 this upcoming one. On a personal note, the year was a most enjoyable. The missus and I travelled a bit, the highlight being 3 weeks spent in England, visiting family and friends, watching the Olympics on the BeeB, even driving to Manchester to watch the footie match between the US and Canadian women. It was an excellent trip, most enjoyable. We haven't done a lot of other long distance travelling, but have travelled down island (that being Vancouver Island) to Combs, Victoria ( a couple of times), just for a change of scenery. It's always nice to hop in the car and take a small trip for a weekend. Victoria is one of my favourite places for book shopping, some of my favourite used book stores to wander around. And Jo and I always take advantage of our trip there to get a takeaway curry from one of our favourite restaurants, Da Tandoor on Fort Street. It's always nice to stop in and be remembered, even if it's just once or twice a year. Back to book stores, on our last trip to Victoria, we discovered that an excellent book store, Grafton Books in Oak Bay had closed its doors. Very sad as it was one of the highlights of that area of town.

Moving on to the subject of books, 2012 was a nicely successful year for me. I took part in various challenges in my various Book Clubs in Goodreads and for the most part completed them. For the 2012 Goodreads Reading Challenge I picked 75 books as my number to read during the year and as of today, I've completed 80. I have two books on the go at the moment, Elizabeth George's 9th Inspector Lynley mystery, Deception on his Mind and George R.R. Martin's 3rd Game of Thrones Book, A Storm of Swords and plan to have them finished by years end. I may have the chance for one more book, if I do, it'll be a freebie, maybe a book from a new author for me, Frances Fyfield. Continuing on, I've so far read 80 books and according to the Goodreads stats page that makes approximately 26,000 pages. On the other side of the fence, while I've read 80 books, I've also managed to add about 200 books to my TBR shelves. (Don't tell the missus!)

Onto my challenges -

1. In the UK Book Club, each month we voted on a different genre to read. This was a continuation from the previous year and we ran out of genres in October. We've updated out list and in 2013 will start afresh. To warm us up for the January Challenge, we picked a holiday book for December 2012. I finished two books for that December Challenge; Shakespeare's Christmas by Charlaine Harris and Tied Up In Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh, an Inspector Alleyn mystery.

Over the remainder of 2012, the genres and books chosen were -
January - Non - Fiction - The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman
February - Travel/ Exploration - Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World by Ewen MacGregor & Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire by Simon Winchester (much preferred)
March - Romance/ Erotica - The Virgin and the Gypsy, D.H. Lawrence; Summer of '42, Herman Raucher;
April - Psychiatry/ Madness - Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
May - War - HMS Ulysses, Alistair Maclean
June - Western - The Captive Witch, Dale van Every
July - Poetry - The Poetical Works of Mrs. Browning by Mrs. Browning
August - Lesbian/ Homosexual - Further Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
September - Chemical Fiction - A Scanner Darkly by Phillip K. Dick
October - Self Help - The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

I have to say that I'm still working on The Poems of Elizabeth Browning, I don't find poetry very easy. Of the books above, my favourite of the year was HMS Ulysses, an excellent heroic war movie. I thought it was fantastic.

I'll stop for today or this morning anyway. More to follow over the Xmas week; Top Ten books of the year, my favourite actresses, challenges for 2013, all sorts of fun. Enjoy your holiday week and keep on reading!
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