Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2013 Reading Challenges

Hey, hey! It's January 1, 2013! How the time has flown. I've spent the past few posts summarising the books and some other things, music, TV shows, actresses that I enjoyed in 2012. It's time to start looking forward. I will start with some of the Reading Group Challenges that I took on for 2013, starting with The Book Addicts Reading Group Challenge, otherwise known as the 12 + 2. In that we pick 12 books, plus 2 alternates that we would like to read in the upcoming year.

This is my third year doing this challenge and I've enjoyed it very much. I think I've picked a nice mix of books this year. So here goes. I hope you find my choices interesting.

1. Hello America, by J.G. Ballard. I've read a fair number of Ballard's unique SciFi books. I saw this one in the past year and thought it also sounded interesting. This is the summary - "Following the energy crisis of the late 20th-century America has been abandoned. Now, a century later, a small group of European explorers returns to the deserted continent. But America is unrecognisable - the Bering Strait has been damned and the whole continent has become a desert, populated by isolated natives and the bizarre remnants of a disintegrated culture. The expedition sets off from Manhattan on a cross-continent journey, through Holiday Inns and abandoned theme parks, to uncover a shocking new power in the heart of Las Vegas."

2. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. I watched and enjoyed the TV series starring Jason Isaacs as Detective Jackson Brodie. So when I saw the book by Kate Atkinson, I had to get it. I've been looking forward to reading some of her work. "Investigating other people's tragedies and cock-ups and misfortunes was all he knew. He was used to being a voyeur, the outsider looking in, and nothing, that anyone did surprised him anymore. Yet despite everything he'd seen and done, inside Jackson there remained a belief - a small, battered, bruised belief - that his job was to help people be good rather than punish them for being bad. Cambridge is sweltering, during an unusually hot summer. To Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, the world consists of one accounting sheet - Lost on the left, Found on the right - and the two never seem to balance. Jackson has never felt at home in Cambridge, and his a failed marriage to prove it. Surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune, his own life haunted by a family tragedy, he attempts to unravel three disparate case histories and begins to realise that in spite of apparent diversity, everything is connected..."

3. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. I've read a couple of the Culture SciFi novels and enjoyed both The Algebraist and Matter. Quite a different sort of SciFi story. Consider Phlebas is the first in the series. "The war raged across the galaxy. billions had died; billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, coldblooded, brutal and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith, the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender. Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within the fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction."

4. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. I had to go for a couple of classics. George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans in 1819. Daniel Deronda was published first in 1876. My wife listened to an adaptation on BBC Radio and it sounded interesting. "As Daniel Deronda opens, Gwendolen Harleth is poised at the roulette-table, prepared to throw away a small fortune. She is observed by Daniel Deronda, a young man groomed in the finest tradition of the English upper classes. And while Gwendolen loses everything and becomes trapped in an oppressive marriage, Deronda's fortunes take a different turn. After a dramatic encounter with Mirah, a young Jewish woman, he embarks on a search for her lost family and finds himself drawn into ever-deeper sympathies with Jewish aspirations and identity."

5.  The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry. "Stephen Fry arrived at Cambridge on probation: a convicted fraudster and thief, an addict, liar, fantasist and failed suicide, convinced that at any moment he would be found out and flung away. Instead, university life offered him love, romance and the chance to stand on a stage and entertain. He met and befriended bright young things like Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie and (after working out how to cheat the university examination system) emerged as one of the most promising comic talents in the country. This is the intriguing, hilarious and utterly compelling story of how the Stephen the nation knows (or thinks it knows) began to make his presence felt as he took his first tentative steps in the worlds of television, journalism, radio, theatre and film. Shameful tales of sugar, shag and champagne jostle with insights into credit cards, classic cars and conspicuous consumption, Blackadder, Broadway and the BBC."

6.  Stamboul Train, An Entertainment by Graham Greene. I've begun reading Greene's stories this past while and have enjoyed his literature very much. Brighton Rock and Our Man in Havana were both excellent stories. In the past I've enjoyed The Third Man, The Honorary Consul. So I wanted to continue exploring his fiction and chose this one off my bookshelf. "As the Orient Express crosses Europe, it seems to draw a trail of lust, murder, revolution and intrigue from Ostend to Constantinople, in this early 'entertainment' by a master of the spy thriller." Stamboul Train is one of Greene's first novels, published originally in 1932.

7. Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling. I found this book at the most recent Rotary Club Book Sale and when I read the back, it sounded very interesting and I had to purchase it. "The stories in Puck of Pook's Hill were inspired by Kipling's instinctive understanding of English rural life. Two children, Dan and Una, acting out their version of A Midsummer Night's Dream in a Sussex Meadow, miraculously conjure up Puck himself. Small blue-eyed Puck, as old as Time itself, brings back the past for them to witness. He recreates a Roman centurion, a Norman knight, a Renaissance craftsman and the villages of times gone by and, in so doing, gives Dan and Una a clear sense of history and their own heritage."

8. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence. I actually had purchased this last year as part of a genre challenge. That month's challenge was Erotica. However, I ended up reading other books, including Lawrence's The Virgin and the Gypsy so this classic was returned to my bookshelf for future reading. So this is the future.. :0) I have read Woman in Love previously but that was back in the late 1970's during my university days. It's time I read some more of his work. "Clifford Chatterley returns from the First World War as an invalid. Constance nurses him and tries to be the dutiful wife but begins to feel oppressed by their childless marriage and isolated life. partly encouraged by Clifford to seek a lover, she embarks on a passionate affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. Through their liaison, Lawrence explores the complications of sex, love and class."

9. Titanic, First Accounts by Tim Maltin. I'm probably reading this book a year too late, as the anniversary of the Titanic disaster was last year. It was a book I saw in my local bookstore and it intrigued me. "Imagine a ship nearly a sixth of a mile long, seventy-five feet high at the top decks, with four enormous funnels above the decks; with her hundreds of portholes, all her saloons and other rooms brilliant with light, and all round her, little boats filled with those who until a few hours before had trod her decks and read in her libraries and listened to the music of her band in happy content; and who were now looking up in amazement at the enormous mass above them and rowing away from her because she was sinking."

10. Murder in the Central Committee by Manuel Vazquez Montalban. A new mystery writer for me. I've got a couple of his books and I'm anxious to give him a try. "At a meeting of the central committee of Spain's Communist Party, in a room both locked and guarded, general secretary Fernando Garrido is stabbed to death. But the Party refuses to believe it was an inside job. They turn to former member Pepe Carvalho. But he’s soon out of his depth in unfamiliar Madrid, where he spends nearly as much time investigating the chorizo, lamb-kidneys, and tripe, and the uninspiring selection of wine on offer, as he does murder. With time out for his signature book burning (Engels’s The Housing Question), cooking (shellfish risotto), and an ill-advised bajativo (cognac, crème de menthe) inspired romp with Gladys, Pepe Carvalho leads a wry and cynical tour through the labyrinth of post-Fascist Spanish politics amid violent jostling for power."

11. 1000 Years of Annoying the French by Stephen Clarke. I had to buy this book, it looked so interesting. "The English Channel may be only twenty miles wide, but it's a thousand years deep. Stephen Clarke takes a penetrating look into those murky depths, guiding us through all the times when Britain and France have been at war - or at least glowering at each other across what the Brits provocatively call the English Channel. Along the way he explodes a few myths that French historians have been trying to pass off as 'la vérité', as he proves that the French did not invent the baguette, or the croissant, or even the guillotine, and would have taken the bubbles out of bubbly if the Brits hadn't created a fashion for fizzy champagne. Starting with the Norman (not French) Conquest and going right up to the supposedly more peaceful present, when a state visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy becomes a series of hilarious historical insults, it is a light-hearted - but impeccably researched - account of all our great fallings out."

12. Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean. This was a Christmas present from my daughter and her boyfriend 2011. I've been looking forward to reading it. "It begins on the battlefield in France during WWI, when a young American soldier, Lee Duncan, discovered a newborn German shepherd in the ruins of a bombed-out dog kennel. To Duncan, who came of age in an orphanage, the dog's survival was a miracle. He saw something in Rin Tin Tin that he felt compelled him to share with the world. Duncan brought Rinty home to California, where the dog's athleticism and acting ability drew the attention of Warner Bros. Over the next ten years, Rinty starred in twenty-three blockbuster silent films that save the studio from bankruptcy and made him the most famous dog in the world. At the height of his popularity, Rin Tin Tin was Hollywood's number one box office star. "

Alt 1. The Waterman's Daughter by Emma Ruby-Sachs. In Johannesburg, South Africa, Peter Matthews, a Canadian water company executive, goes out to unwind with a group of local politicians and business contacts. The next morning, he is found dead in a black township, the victim of a violent attack. Zembe Afrika, a career policewoman trying to balance her commitment to the law with her deep ties to the community, is in charge of the investigation. The crime looks gang-related, but Matthews's involvement in a controversial water privatisation project suggest that his murder may have been about more than money. When Matthew's 21 year old daughter, Claire, arrives in Johannesburg, distraught and determined to find out what happened to her father, Zembe has to scramble to keep the Canadian out of her way. In an effort to distract Claire from the investigation, Zembe pressures a young anti-privatisation activist, Nomsulwa Sithu, to escort Claire during her visit. Gradually the two women find themselves drawn together in spite of their differences - and in spite of a troubling secret that could destroy more than one life."

Alt 2. The Far Country by Nevil Shute. I love his stories. On the Beach and Pied Piper are two of my all-time favourite novels. I hope this is as good. "Australia - the land of opportunity, and a place to build a new life in a new world. For Carl Zinter, the Czech doctor, the end of the war and his move to Australia signals a period of unexpected hope. It is a time for exploration - together with Jennifer Morton, young, lovely and far from her English home. But Carl is not all that he seems, and even Jennifer is not privy to his dark secret. A secret that, when exposed, threatens to shatter all his dreams and expectations."

So there you have it, my 12 + 2 challenge. I hope the books interest you. I'll try to comment throughout the year as I read them. Tomorrow I'll talk about some of the other challenges I'm going to work on.



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