Sunday, 24 March 2013

March 2013 Update

I'm jumping the gun a bit as it's not the end of March yet, but here is my interim update on what I've been reading this month and how my challenges are progressing. Since we spent the beginning of March travelling, I wasn't following my normal practice of having my downstairs book and bedside table book; rather, I focused on just one book at a time. I imagine it balanced out in the great scheme of things.. ;0)

Let's see. As an overall review, as of today 24 Mar 2013, I've completed 25 books so far in my Goodreads challenge of 80 books and have read approximately 6300 pages. I've completed six books in March and have two on the go. I might only finish one of those as The Phryne Fisher mysteries contains three books in one. (I have finished one of the books so far, mind you)

Genre Challenge (Modern British Classics 20th Century)

I've completed two books in this challenge so far. Graham Greene's Stamboul Train is also one of my 12 + 2 Challenge books. I do like his style generally and this story didn't let me down at all. This story focused on a number of people who get on and off the Orient Express between Ostend and Constantinople and their various interactions. It was so well-written and a most enjoyable read. I gave the book 4 stars. I've gotten back into Graham Greene somewhat again recently. I had read some of his books back in my university days and onwards, but it's been 20 years or so since I had picked up one of his books. But of late, I've completed Our Man in Havana and Brighton Rock as well and it's been  a pleasure to sit down to them.

The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham was the other book I completed in this challenge. I won't go into it again as I did mention it in my last Blog entry (which you can see here if you're interested) Suffice it to say that it's one of my favourite books of 2013 so far.

As a matter of interest, currently leading the poll for next month's Genre challenge is War/ Revolution.

12 + 2 Challenge

I had planned to complete two books in my 12 + 2 Challenge, but so far have only read Stamboul Train as I mentioned above. Maybe I'll be a bit more successful next month. My other planned read had been Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling.

Individual Reading Challenge (Focus Author - Charlaine Harris)

I've been very successful with this challenge, partly because the books are such easy page turners. I had planned to read one each of the four series that Charlaine Harris had written. I completed Shakespeare's Trollop, a Lily Bard mystery set in Shakespeare Arkansas, Definitely Dead, a Sookie Stackhouse fantasy set in Louisiana and Grave Sight, a Harper Connelly supernatural mystery, this one also set in Arkansas in the town of Sarne. At the moment, I'm in the process of reading Dead Over Heels, an Aurora Teagarden mystery set in Georgia. Charlaine Harris has such a nice way with her stories, whether the supernatural vampire/ werewolf fiction of the Sookie Stackhouse stories, or the cleaning lady cum detective Lily Bard. She has strong female leads, each with their own unique talents and issues and with a strong supporting cast. You can't go wrong with one of her stories and I've enjoyed them very much this month.

Individual Reading Challenge (Alphabetical Mysteries)

As you can see, since I started this challenge back last year, I've made my way to the G's. I had thought I might be able to complete two authors this month, but will actually be lucky to read all of Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher. I was introduced to the stories by the Australian TV mystery series of the same name and enjoyed it so much that I had to search out Kerry Greenwood's books. This particular edition has the first three mysteries; Cocaine Blues, Flying Too High and Murder on the Ballarat Train. As of today I have completed the first and am just starting the second. Maybe because I was introduced to the books through the most entertaining TV show, which stars the lovely, talented Essie Davis as Turn of the Century detective, I find the TV series to be somewhat better. However the stories so far have kept me turning the pages to see what happens next and they are full of action and entertainment. Lovely to cozy up to and experience Phryne's adventures.


I did take along one book as a travel book for our flight from Comox to Toronto and it was Bangkok 8, the first Sonchaii Jitpleecheep mystery by John Burdett. As you can guess it's set in Bangkok, Thailand. A very horrific crime that left me feeling very creepy starts off the story. But I must say, the story drew me in immediately. The characters, the locale, the culture all were so very fascinating. The movie was so well-paced and I enjoyed Sonchaii very much. I also enjoyed the elements of Buddhism that were explained nicely, the clash between the Thai and US cultures as he must work with the female FBI agent, who was also quite lovely. Everything about the book was a pleasant surprise and made me look forward to reading many more of the series.

So there you have it. With luck, I'll finish my Charlaine Harris mystery and also Flying Too High. Then, I'll be planning my April reads. A bit more travelling planned for the beginning of the month; a weekend in Victoria to see the finals of the Men's World Curling Championships (with maybe a side trip by me to some of my favourite bookstores) and then over to the mainland to pick up our new miniature schnauzer pup.. Pictures next month maybe.. So excited.

For now, enjoy your reading experience and Keep on reading!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

I've Been Away.....

The missus and I just returned from our travels to Ontario. We had a very nice two weeks, visited my daughter and her boyfriend in Kingston, my Dad and sister in North Bay, then finished off our trip to London where we enjoyed the World Figure Skating Championships. Stayed in a very nice B&B in Ingersoll and had a mere 30 minute drive into the event each day. It was pretty darn perfect. We ate well, visited family, saw some of Ontario, met new friends at the Championships and basically enjoyed the trip. However, it's always so nice to step in our front door and settle down in our comfy home. (The only bad thing that came out of the trip was that I managed to catch a head cold, now I've got a sniffly nose and sore throat..) :0(

Even though we were travelling I did manage to read a few books and also visited a couple of used book stores in Kingston and in London. It always makes a trip that bit more enjoyable if I can wander through a couple of bookstores and find some good books.. So let's see what did we find??

Kingston - Jo and I wandered around the center town area one day and found quite a few nice places. We started in an antique/ collectibles place called Turks on Princess Street. Unfortunately, the store is closing down after many, many years in business. It's hard times for the antique business. I bought a few books there as they did have a section at the back with some excellent books -

The Razor's Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham. I found this particular edition of The Razor's Edge in the store. I wasn't familiar with Maugham's writing but since one of my Goodread's Book Groups was featuring modern British classics, I thought this might be appropriate. I liked the age of the book, which was published in 1945 by Blakiston's and just the overall feel of the book. I decided to read the book as well for the genre challenge and must say, it is one of my favourite books of 2013 (heck, one of my favourite books ever). Maugham has such a flowing style and tells a great story. I'm so glad I found it and bought it.

Leave it to PSmith, by P.G. Wodehouse. I did like the look of this book. I have read some of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books and enjoyed his humour. It was first published in 1923 and, as I've since discovered, is the fourth and final installment of the PSmith stories. The synopsis of the story is as follows -

"A debonair young Englishman, Psmith ("the p is silent, as in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan") has quit the fish business, "even though there is money in fish," and decided to support himself by doing anything that he is hired to do by anyone. Wandering in and out of romantic, suspenseful, and invariably hilarious situations, Psmith is in the great Wodehouse tradition."

Can You Forgive Her, by Anthony Trollope. This was a book the missus found and liked the look of. I've never read any Trollope so if and when I do, I'll be having a new experience. :0) The story synopsis is -

"Can You Forgive Her? (1864-5) is the first of the six famous Palliser novels which, as a group, provide us with the most extensive and contradictory expose of British life during the period of its greatest prestige. In Can You Forgive Her? Trollope inextricably binds together the issues of parliamentary election and marriage, of politics and privacy. The values and aspirations of the governing stratum of Victorian society are ruthlessly examined and none remain unscathed. Above all Trollope focuses on the predicament of women. 'What should a woman do with her life?' asks Alice Vavasor of herself, and this theme is echoed by every other woman in the novel, from the uncomfortably married Lady Glencora to the coquettish Mrs Greenow and Alice's clear-headed cousin Kate."

Novel Idea, Kingston, ON

Parade's End, by Ford Maddox Ford. Jo and I watched the HBO / BBC series based on the book and were drawn in and enjoyed it so very much. I had added the book to my TBR list and while checking out other bookstores in Kingston, I found this copy, a Penguin edition published in 2012. I purchased the copy and do look forward to reading it and seeing how much I enjoy the book.
"Ford's masterly story of destruction and regeneration follows the progress of Christopher Tietjens as his world is shattered by the Great War. In four volumes - Some Do Not . . ., No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post - Parade's End traces the psychological damage inflicted by battle, the collapse of England's secure Edwardian values and the new age, embodied by Tietjens' beautiful, selfish wife Sylvia. It is an elegy for the war dead and the passing of a way of life, and a work of amazing subtlety and profundity."

London ON - The Book Dealer. During one of the breaks from the Figure Skating, Jo and I went our separate ways and I checked out a couple of neat used book stores. At The Book Dealer I found the following books.

Russian Hide and Seek, by Kingsley Amis. Over the past couple of years, I've found a few Amis books and discovered that I enjoyed his humour and style of telling stories. I particularly enjoyed The Riverside Villas Murder. So when I saw this book and the excellent condition it was in, I took a chance on it. The story, itself, sounded very different.

"The scene is England 50 years after its conquest by the Soviets. The plot is to turn the occupying government upside down. A handsome and highly sexed young Russian cavalry officer, Alexander Petrovsky, joins the plot and learns to his regret that politics and playmates don't mix."

Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers. I've been slowly gathering the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and adding them to my shelves. I still have to read one, mind you, but each story sounds interesting and I will get to them. This is the second in the series -
"Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt -- until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket and was Lord Peter's brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey's own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn't enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be -- a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt...a grieving fiancee with suitcase in hand...and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey."

Time Out of Joint, by Philip K. Dick. Dick's unique SciFi stories are very hard to find in used book stores. (I look in each and every one.. lol). As I was paying for the other two purchases, I mentioned another author to the lady behind the counter (H.P. Lovecraft, that is) and she laughed and said they couldn 't keep Lovecraft on the shelf. Shepointed out this particular story that was on the shelf behind the cash. Yup, I had to get it and add it to my Philip Dick collection. (I did a Blog on him earlier this year as he was a feature author for me.) I enjoyed rereading my stories and look forwad to reading this one.
"Ragle Gumm, mathematical genius, earned his living in a queer way, solving complicated puzzles in the daily newspaper. But soon, imperceptibly, his vast network of equations began to go out of control...everything was out of its natural order...and the world and time were out of joint! "

City Lights, London, ON

The Moon and Sixpence, by W. Somerset Maugham. It was sort of fitting that I ended my journey by purchasing another Maugham novel. I enjoyed the first so very much that when I saw this in City Lights (such a neat store), I bought it too. It's listed as one of Maugham's top three novels.
"The Moon and Sixpence, published in 1919, was one of the novels that galvanized W. Somerset Maugham's reputation as a literary master. It follows the life of one Charles Strickland, a bourgeois city gent whose dull exterior conceals the soul of a genius. Compulsive and impassioned, he abandons his home, wife, and children to devote himself slavishly to painting. In a tiny studio in Paris, he fills canvas after canvas, refusing to sell or even exhibit his work. Beset by poverty, sickness, and his own intransigent, unscrupulous nature, he drifts to Tahiti, where, even after being blinded by leprosy, he produces some of his most extraordinary works of art. Inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin, The Moon and Sixpence is an unforgettable study of a man possessed by the need to create—regardless of the cost to himself and to others."

So there you go, not only did Jo and I have a great trip, I also managed to add a few books to my collection. I did read a few books during our travels as well. I'll try to talk about those next time.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Individual Reading Group Challenge - Focus Author for March

So far in 2013 I've focused on two authors; January being Australian writer Ngaio Marsh and last month being American SciFi author, Philip K. Dick. For March, I've chosen American mystery/ fantasy author, Charlaine Harris. I first noticed her writing as I was getting near the end of another author's books, the Anita Blake fantasy series by Laurell K. Hamilton. As I looked for the next book in the series, I remember noticing Ms. Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series; the series which eventually became a hit HBO TV series, True Blood. I read a few of the Deep South series and enjoyed it very much. It was similar in some ways to the Anita Blake books, in that Sookie Stackhouse has powers and also ongoing relationships with a vampire, Bill, and a shape shifter, Sam Merlotte. Other than that the books have their own unique qualities that make them worth reading. Over time as I've been going through my mystery author phase, I've discovered that she has also written a number of mystery books, featuring differing main characters. However, let's get down to basic facts first. Charlaine Harris was born in 1951 in the Mississippi river delta and now resides in Arkansas. This does help to explain some of the locales used in her stories. She's been a prolific writer who is best known for the Southern Vampire Books, aka the Sookie Stackhouse series. I've also enjoyed some of her other series, especially the Lily Bard mysteries which are set in the town of Shakespeare Arkansas and have been introduced to her Aurora Teagarden books and the first  Harper Connelly series. So that is my plan for March; to touch base with her various series once again and clean up some of her books from my To Be Read (TBR) shelf. Below is my tentative plan -

Shakespeare's Trollop, Lily Bard #4. I've enjoyed the other books in this series very much. There are 5 in the series, the last which was written in 2001. Lily Bard is a previous entitled Southern girl who suffered a traumatic experience in the past and who moved to Shakespeare Arkansas to escape her past and to rebuild her present. She is a fitness nut and the town cleaner (so-to-speak), making her living hiring out her cleaning services. As well, she gets involved in solving murders that have taken place in town. It's a very interesting series and I've enjoyed watching Lily grow and change and try to open up as the series progresses. The write up for this story reads as follows - "Shakespeare, Arkansas is home to endless back roads, historic buildings, colourful residents--and the occasional murder. It is also home to Lily Bard, the local karate expert/ cleaning woman hit a particular knack for finding skeletons in closets. But when Deedra Dean - the local woman of ill repute - is found murdered, her promiscuous lifestyle leaves more than a few suspects. And being familiar with Deedra's dirty laundry could make Lily the next Shakespearean to die....." Unfortunately when I finish this Lily Bard story, one that I have started the month with, I'll have completed the series and that will be a sad day as I've enjoyed the stories very much.

Definitely Dead, Sookie Stackhouse #6. The Southern Vampire books are most definitely Charlaine Harris' best-known series. It has been made more famous by the success of the True Blood series, with its graphic sex and violence. I discovered the books before the series was created and enjoyed the books so very much. They had a great quality, Lily was an excellent protagonist and her ongoing, developing relationships and the growth of her powers (basically she hears what other people are thinking) made the stories even more interesting. I enjoyed the setting, small town Louisiana, with wanderings through other Southern locales and I also liked the many other beings that populated the stories. I didn't read them in any sequence, and while it would have been better reading them from Book 1 in order, I don't think my enjoyment suffered any by not doing so. The write up for Definitely Dead is as follows - "As a person with so few living relatives, Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse really hated to lose one. But she never guessed that it would be her cousin Hadley—a consort of the Vampire Queen of New Orleans. After all, technically speaking, Hadley was already dead. And now, as unexpected heir to Hadley’s estate, Sookie discovers the inheritance definitely comes with a risk. Someone doesn’t want Sookie looking too deeply into Hadley’s past—or for that matter, Hadley’s possessions. And they’re prepared to do anything in their power to stop her. But who? The range of suspects runs from the Rogue Weres who reject Sookie as a friend of the Pack to the Vampire Queen herself, who could be working through a particularly vulnerable subject—Sookie’s first love, Bill." This is a series that seems to hold Charlaine Harris' interest as there are 12 books in the series. Unfortunately it appears that the next one will be the last. Bummer....

Grave Sight, Harper Connelly #1. I'm not as familiar with this series, in fact, although I highlighted it as having been read previously, I don't think I did. So I was going to read Book 2 in the series, but I don't think that would be fair to my enjoyment. If I have previously read Book 1, well, it'll be a fresh read and reintroduce me to the characters that populate the series. The series started in 2005 and features Harper Connelly, a young woman who after being struck by lightning, is able to locate dead bodies and see their last moments. The write up for Grave Sight is - "Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver are experts at getting in, getting paid, and then getting out of town fast, because the people who hire Harper have a funny habit of not really wanting to know what she has to tell them. At first, the little Ozarks town of Sarne seems like no exception. A teenage girl has gone missing and Harper knows almost immediately that this girl is dead. But the secrets of her death, and the secrets of the town, are deep enough that even Harper's special ability can't uncover them. With hostility welling up all around them, she and Tolliver would like nothing better than to be on their way. But then another woman is murdered. And the killer's not finished yet..." There are only 4 books in this series. It was supposedly optioned as a TV series in 2010 but nothing seems to have come of it yet.\

Dead Over Heels, Aurora Teagarden #5. The Aurora Teagarden series was Charlaine Harris' first. She wrote the first in 1990 and finished the series in 2003 after 8 books. I've read one book in the series previously and enjoyed it. It is a change of pace from her other books, with a more light-hearted tone. I'm obviously not reading in sequence, but the series has been difficult for me to find in my local new and used book stores. The write-up is as follows - "What's the world coming to when you can't relax with a glass of ice-cold beverage in your own backyard without a body falling from the sky into your garden? Part-time librarian and amateur investigator Roe Teagarden has good reason to ask herself this question when the remains of one of the Lawrenceton, Georgia police department's finest catapults into her flower bed. The mystery deepens as two federal agents arrive to investigate the murder. Its only when Madeleine the cat provides a clue that Roe begins to realise that using her yard as a temporary landfill may have been no accident and that Roe herself could be in terrible danger."

So there you have it, my tentative reading plan for my Charlaine Harris series. I hope to have the time to read at least these four books in March. Should my luck be even better, I do have a few others on my shelves to fill the gap. Wish me luck.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The February That Was - Monthly Update

Well, there you go, another month passed. They seem to go faster all the time. Ah well.. I had a positive month in February, work was busy what with them granting up to 16 days if we wanted them. A few visits upcoming to the Base so we've been busy getting all the details and support finalise. Makes for a profitable, busy time. Jo and I have been keeping track of a schnauzer breeder as her puppies have been having babies and in the next few months we hope to be getting a boy and a girl. The puppies are so cute. This a link to her website.. It's been awhile now since Nikki and Norman passed away and we're ready now to get some new puppies. We were thinking of names last night.. lol

Anyway, as to the purpose of this Blog, I also had a successful month on the reading front. I managed to complete  books, bringing my years total up to 19, 24% of my Goodreads challenge of 80. I've also read about 4600 pages overall. So I'm pretty satisfied so far. I know that there will be months when I'm reading more challenging books that I'll not complete so many. But ultimately, it's about enjoying the reading and that I do, so very much. The challenges are just a fun add-on; especially as they let me make more lists.. :0)

So this is a bit of a summary of my February readings, broken down by my various challenges.

12 + 2 Reading Group Challenge - I completed two books from this challenge, which brings my total to 3 of the selections. Of the two selections, both of which I enjoyed very much, my favourite was Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. It was a well-written, fascinating mystery. Jackson Brodie is an interesting protagonist, a weathered private detective and the various cases he becomes involved with in the book introduce quirky, neat characters and cases that in some ways tie together nicely and satisfyingly. I will be reading more of Kate Atkinson's stories. This was a five - star book. Loved it. The Water Man's Daughter by Emma Ruby-Sachs was quite a different story. It is set in South Africa, a locale that is most unfamiliar to me and it added a definite flavour to the novel. Interesting story, 3 women, a police officer, a local civil activist and a Canadian girl who goes to South Africa to find out why her father was murdered there. I had purchased the book on a whim as it looked interesting and the write-up was interesting. It didn't disappoint. I enjoyed discovering more about South Africa, even if just a small portion and the story moved along nicely. Quite interesting. I gave it 4 stars.

Individual Reading Group Challenge - Alphabetical Mystery Writers. I also completed two books in this challenge. I'm working through the 'G's at the moment, winding them down in fact. This month I completed the first book in Caroline Graham's Midsomer Murder series (In fact I had previously read another, but that was a whole ago and  in this challenge, I do like to try to read the authors as much as possible in a chronological order). Anyway, I've always enjoyed the Midsomer Murder mystery TV series and have wanted to read the books too. The Killing at Badger's Drift was an excellent intro to Chief Inspector Barnaby. I think he's a little crustier than the TV series, but it's a most enjoyable, comforting mystery series. It didn't let me down; the mystery was interesting and also the characters. (4 stars) The pleasant surprise in this challenge was Winston Graham's Marnie. I found the book at the annual local Charity Book sale and picked it up so I could compare it to the movie. I liked the movie, didn't love it. So I read the book with some trepidation. However it was an excellent surprise. The Alfred Hitchcock movie follows the story for the most part. There are obvious differences, Hitchcock sets the movie in the US whereas Graham sets it in England. There are some different characters in the book and also the story develops differently. However, it's an excellent story; Marnie herself is an interesting character with deep-rooted issues. I enjoyed it very much, such a nice surprise to find a book like this. (4 stars)

Individual Reading Challenge - Focus Author - Philip K. Dick. My February focus author was SciFi author Philip K. Dick. One of my favourite novels of all-time has been his The Man in the High Castle. It's a book I've read a few times and it never disappoints. I also had a couple of other novels of his on my shelf that I bought back in the late '70's/ early '80s but I couldn't recall the stories. So I thought the challenge lent itself to my rereading the books to see what I thought. I started with The Man in the High Castle and enjoyed it again as much as always. It's an excellent alternative history novel; the scenario being that Germany and Japan have won WWII and now occupy/ share the US and the rest of the world. However in a twist on the alternative history genre, a book is making the rounds in the US which presents another history, one in which the US and allies actually won the war. How to reconcile this. It's a fascinating story and I enjoyed it immensely and it reminded me why I had given it a 5 star rating. The next choice was A Maze of Death, a more 'traditional', and when you say traditional in the context of a Philip Dick novel, you are using the term somewhat loosely, outer space story. A group of people are transferred to a planet, not knowing what their mission is. There is a mysterious building on the planet; over a very short space of time, a number are killed and the rest try to solve the mystery. So you have an outer space adventure with an Agatha Christieish 'And then there were Ten' type mystery thrown in and a few other twists and turns. Very interesting story and a surprise ending to boot. (4 stars). My third book in this challenge was The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Here we explore the future, planetary expansion and drug-use of a sort. What is reality, what isn't? An interesting concept and thoughtful story which can leave you confused. I liked this one too. (3 stars). My final choice was Dr. Bloodmoney or How We Got Along after the Bomb. I do like a well-written post-apocalyptic disaster book; some of my favourite books, The Chrysalids, War Day, World War Z, The Road etc have all dealt with man's efforts to survive a cataclysmic disaster of some sort. Dr. Bloodmoney is such a story. The story is set in California and deals with a group of people who have survived such an event; a freak, a young girl with an interesting condition and various others. The story drew me in immediately, just so interesting. I had to see how it would end and was overall so very satisfied with how it was developed to its very satisfying final pages. Excellent! (4 stars)

Genre Challenge - Mysteries/ Thrillers. Many of the previously mentioned books would have fit this challenge, but I also specifically selected Ann Cleeves The Crow Trap for the challenge. It is the first in the Inspector Vera Stanhope mysteries. My wife, Jo, had read about a TV series starring Brenda Blethyn as Vera Stanhope and when I discovered it was also a mystery book series, I purchased the first one so I could try it out. I had enjoyed the episodes I'd watched with Jo; Brenda Blethyn portrays a crusty, at times grumpy, Vera, solving murders in her Northumbrian county. I had seen The Crow Trap and as usual was interested in comparing the book with the show. Both had their own manner of presenting and developing the story; the TV series was obviously more Vera-centric, whereas the book took time to develop the other characters and the events leading to the murder before even introducing Vera. It was a most enjoyable read. I gave the story 4 stars. Ann Cleeves has also written mysteries featuring other protagonists besides Vera. I've also got Raven Black, the first in her Shetland Island Quartet which I'm looking forward to reading. I'm always glad to discover a new author to add to my bookshelves (much to Jo's chagrin as I add more books.. lol) and Ann Cleeves is one such author.

So there you have it, my February summary. Next up will be my planned March readings.. Can't wait!!
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