Sunday, 30 December 2012

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.

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