Saturday, 6 April 2013

Shopping for Books in Victoria and other things...

Actually this Blog is mostly about book buying but I wanted to start off by saying we're having a really nice time visiting Victoria, BC. Our hotel room is nice and the Internet is working perfectly so far (*touch wood*). Our first night here we had a yummy takeaway from Da Tandoor; it's always one of the things we look forward to on our visits to Victoria. Last night we watched the 1 - 2 match up in the Men's World Curling Championships, Scotland vs Sweden. The score was close but misleading. Unfortunately the Scots weren't really in the game; they just seemed a bit off. And the Swedes made some great shots. This morning we're off to see Canada vs Denmark in the 3-4 match and the winner of this plays against Scotland later today to see who plays in the gold medal match against Sweden.

I took my normal walk about some of the downtown bookstores while Jo was waking up yesterday and also visited Ivy's Books in Oak Bay when we had a nice walk around there later in the day. And yes, despite my best efforts to be good, I did buy a few books. So here you go, these were my purchases.

My first purchase of the day, I found this at a little book store, cluttered with books, down on Johnston Street. It's a Berkeley Books first edition, published in 1963 and features a variety of short stories by SciFi writer J.G. Ballard. It was his fifth release, coming after two other series of short stories and The Wind from Nowhere and The Drowned World (both which I enjoyed during my university days). Amongst the stories it features:
The 1000 Dreams of Stellavista - if you live in a psychotropic house, you will find it answering to your every mood, including murder... ;
The Watch Towers - everyone knew they were watching. But what were they?; and
Thirteen to Centaurus - this voyage was the strangest space voyage ever attempted.. but was the ship's real destination its point of origin?

After that I hit a couple of comic book stores (or if you prefer, graphic novel stores) and purchased a couple of Alan Moore creations. I quite enjoy his work; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc. At Curious Comics I picked up Nemo, Heart of Ice the latest of the League series. Next door at Legends Comics I found another new series; Fashion Beast. I bought the first 8 issues and, while I still don't really know exactly where it's going, I'm enjoying the art work and the story line so far. I was thinking it was a Phantom of the Opera type story, but as I look it up, it's more Beauty and the Beast, set in the world of fashion.

Russell Books

This is the third book in Alan Furst's Night Soldiers series; a series that focuses on different people, set during WWII in Europe. I've read two stories in the series so far and enjoy his style and story telling. They are about small people caught in momentous events and how they deal with their situations; usually heroically. The Polish Officer is set in Sept 1939; "As Warsaw falls to Hitler's Wehrmacht, Cap Alexander de Milja is recruited by the intelligence service of the Polish underground. His mission it to transport the national gold reserve to safety, hidden on a refugee train to Bucharest. Then, in the back alleys and black-market bistros of Paris, in the tenements of Warsaw, with partisan guerrillas in the frozen forests of the Ukraine, and at Calais Harbour during an attack by British bombers, de Milja fights in the war of the shadows in a world without rules, a world of danger, treachery, and betrayal." Sounds like another good one.

I have a couple of the Martin Beck mysteries on my shelves; still have to read them, but I bought another in the series when I was checking out Russell Books. The is the second novel in the series. "Inspector Martin Beck of the Stockholm Homicide Squad has his summer vacation abruptly terminated when the top brass at the foreign office pack him off to Budapest to search for Alf Matsson, who has vanished. Beck investigates viperous Eastern European underworld figures and - at the risk of his life - stumbles upon the international racket in which Matsson was involved. With the coolly efficient local police on his side  and a predatory nymphet on his tail, Beck pursues a case whose international implications grow with each new clue."

I discovered Canadian SciFi writer, Phyllis Gotlieb's stories on a previous visit to Russell Books and I've enjoyed every story I've read so far. A few of her stories have featured the telepathic cats of Ungruwarkh. A Judgment of Dragons, originally published in 1980 is one of these stories. "Meet Prandra and Khreng, giant telepathic red cats from the planet Ungruwarkh. They are bad-tempered, they hold grudges, they are usually uninterested in anything that is not good to eat.. and they are the most unusual agents in the service of the Galactic Federation. Through space and across time, they go to the most bizarre and dangerous worlds in the galaxy. Even to Solthree (called by its natives Earth) where the are met with some alarm... "

John Bingham was born in 1908, the only son of Lord Clanmorris. He was well-travelled and began working as a journalist. I've previously read his Five Roundabouts to Heaven, and enjoyed. My Name is Michael Sibley was originally published in 1952 and was the opening phrase of a statement made to the police. The story deals with the murder of John Prosset, a school friend of Michael Sibley. The investigation is seen through Sibley's eyes and he slowly becomes a subject of suspicion. His depression at the thought led him into foolish subterfuges and his efforts to keep his fiancee and himself free from being involved only brought them further into the picture and ultimately to his trial at the Old Bailey. I enjoyed the first story I had read as I found Bingham had a way with analysing the internal workings of his characters. I'm sure this will be similar.

Cyril Hare (1900 - 1958) was an English judge and crime writer. I previously read and enjoyed Tragedy at Law which followed a circuit court judge on his rounds as various activities affect the journey. I enjoyed the story very much. Death of a Sportsman was his second novel and published in 1938. "The setting is a small resort hotel in rural England. The cast is a group of dedicated fishermen and the crime is 'murder'. Inspector Mallett's shrewd resolution of the case involves the clever use of fishing lore and practice. Vintage detection from a master" Unfortunately, Hare had a relatively short career as he,  suffered from tuberculosis after World War II and died in 1958.

Sir Fred Hoyle was a British astrophysicist and also a SciFi writer. I've read and enjoyed a few of his stories, A for Andromeda, The Fifth Planet and The Andromeda Breakthrough. The Black Cloud, his first novel, was released in 1957. "A cloud of gas, of which there are a vast number in the Universe, approaches the solar system on a course that is predicted to bring it between the Sun and the Earth, shutting off the Sun's rays, causing incalculable changes on our planet. The effect of this impending catastrophe on the scientists and politicians is convincingly described by Fred Hoyle, the leading Cambridge astronomer; so convincingly, in fact, that the reader feels that these events may actually happen. This is science fiction at its very highest level."

This is one of Alan Hunter's Inspector George Gently mysteries. The first in the series came out in 1955 and he produced almost a novel a year until 1999. Death on the Heath was first released in 1981. "The tranquil seaside village of Wolmering was frequented by only the very best people. But one of them now lay dead on the lovely heath and another of them had surely done him in. It was the firm opinion of the local constabulary - who had plucked a piece of prime evidence from the victim's pocket - that the culprit was none other than the wife's lover, Andrew Reymerston. But CI Gently was not convinced; he only wished he were. Just years before, this same Reymerston had botched an important case. Here was the perfect chance to settle old scores, but Gently knew who else had a compelling reason to commit murder."

Ivy Books

This is the last of Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death series as she died shortly after it was released. It's so unfortunate, death always is, but she was such a talented writer and had only released four stories in the series until her death. I'm sure she had many more inside her. This story is set in 1176. "Henry II sends his 10-year old daughter to Palermo to marry William II of Sicily. War on the Continent and outbreaks of the plague make it an especially dangerous journey, so the King selects as his daughter's companion the woman he trusts most: Adelar Aguilar, his mistress of the art of death. Accompanying Adelia are her Arab companion, Mansur, her lover Rowley and an unusual newcomer, the Irish sea captain O'Donnell. But another man has joined the procession - a murderer bent on the worst kind of revenge. "

I saw A Train in Winter and it looked so very interesting. As it says, it's an extraordinary story of women, friendship and survival in WWII. "It covers the story of 230 French women resisters who were sent to Auschwitz. Caroline Moorehead's book is the story of these women. 49 survived the death camp and 6 were still alive in 2010 to share the story. It looks fascinating.

So there you have it. Cutting this a bit short as we're about to head off to more curling. Enjoy your Saturday!!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Curling and Puppies and Currently Reading...

This week in Victoria, B.C. one of the big happenings is the Men's World Curling Championships. And of course, I do mean the Winter sport of curling, nothing to do with hair styling.. ;0). Since it's right on our doorstep, Jo and I thought we should at least try to see some of the games, so we're off to see the finals weekend. We do enjoy the sport; I've played on and off all my life and Jo and I played in a mixed league with some friends back a few years ago. We always make sure to watch the Brier (Canadian Men's championships) and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Canadian Women's Championships) and various other tournaments over the course of the year. We were fortunate to manage to go to Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics and see quite a few of the Olympic curling events. Definitely a highlight that year.

As well, we're combining this curling adventure with a side-trip to the mainland to pick up our new miniature schnauzer puppy, Bonnie. The photo isn't of her, but she may look like that when she's all grown up. We're very excited about getting her. With any luck we'll be back there in the summer to get a male, to be named Clyde (of course). It's been a couple of years now that we've been without a doggie companion(s) and we're ready to settle down and add a couple to our household.

Currently Reading

Of course, the main purpose of the Blog is to talk about books.. I do like to digress though; it is my Blog after all.. ;0) I'm currently enjoying one of my 12 + 2 Reading Group Challenge books for 2013, Stephen Fry's The Fry Chronicles. Stephen Fry is roughly my age (mid-50's) and is an English actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter, etc. Yes, you've got it, the classic underachiever. I bought this book for Jo for Xmas a couple of years ago, but also wanted to read it myself. I enjoy Fry in so many things; Blackadder, QI, his talk show (although we generally have to wait to watch it when we visit family in England) and especially, his TV legal drama, Kingdom, which we managed to catch on Vision TV when it was shown here. It was such an excellent series. So when I saw his autobiography, I wanted to see what he had to say. Basically, he writes like he speaks; he's educated, well-written, self-deprecating (to a fault) and just a pleasure to read. The book, so far anyway, highlights his university career (Cambridge) and his early acting / writing/ show business career, with many forays down other alley ways. I've really had difficulty putting it down, when I pick it up and must say it's been a pleasure to read so far.

My bed-time book is the first from my April Focus Author challenge (Jane Haddam) . I won't discuss it too much as I highlighted the books I hoped to read in my previous Blog. Suffice it to say, I'm enjoying getting back into the Gregor Demarkian mysteries. Jane Haddam has a unique story-telling style that is a pleasure to sink into. She develops her story at a nice pace and keeps ex-FBI profiler on the periphery while the story unfolds. Gregor is an interesting detective, who seems to wander through his mysteries absorbing information until it all sort of gels into a solution. It's been too long that I've read one of Haddam's mysteries and it'll be a pleasure to read 4 or 5 of them this month. In case I manage to finish both of my currently reading books this weekend on the road, I've brought along the second book from my Haddam list, Feast of Murder. However the next book I'll pick up will be -

Bridge on the River Kwai, by Pierre Boulle. I found this edition, a Fontana / Collins 22nd impression published in Mar 1972, at the annual local Rotary Club Book Sale. The book was initially released in 1952. I first read it in High school and have seen the movie with Alec Guinness many times (one of my favourite war movies). So there's the preamble to say, I'm looking forward to reading the story again. Conveniently, my UK Book Club is featuring War / Revolution as the April genre, so it fits in quite nicely. It's an excellent story, set in World War II and uses the construction of the Burma railway as its theme. The story deals with British prisoners-of-war, forced by the Imperial Japanese army to build the railway. The story focuses on one camp, led by British Army Lt Colonel Nicholson and his conflict with the Japanese Camp commander, Colonel Saito. So many conflicts/ issues are covered; Nicholson's efforts to keep up the morale of his demoralised troops by giving them something positive and productive to work toward; that being the railroad, his efforts to get the Camp Commandant to respect his personnel; his struggles to deal with discipline and so many other issues, not the least his own internal struggles to deal with the conflict of his troop morale and the fact that as prisoners-of-war, should they be helping the Japanese war effort. I recall it being an excellent book and look forward to reading again.

Anyway, there you have it. I'm looking forward to our weekend adventure; and I didn't even mention our planned takeaway curry that we'll surely have from Da Tandoor (one of our favourite restaurants), while we're in Victoria, plus hopefully I'll squeeze in a couple of visits to Victoria bookshops when we're not at the curling events.. Should be great. I'll provide photos of Bonnie when we get her home.. So exciting!

Have a great weekend!

Monday, 1 April 2013

April 2013 - Focus Author - Jane Haddam

Jane Haddam
Jane Haddam is an American mystery writer. She was born in Bethel Connecticut in 1951 and published her first novel, Sweet, Savage Murder, in 1984. Her mysteries feature retired FBI profiler, Armenian - American detective, Gregor Demarkian. Forced to retire, as he'd reached his retirement age, and also due to the death of his wife, Gregor returns to his childhood neighbourhood, Philadelphia  and settles down with his childhood friends. Somewhat to assuage his boredom, he takes on the occasional mystery and these mysteries form the basis of the Gregor Demarkian series. He is often assisted by his friends; Tibor Kasparian and fantasy writer, Bennis Hannaford.

The mysteries are excellent. I read my first Demarkian mystery n 2007 and since then have read 7. Not in any particular order I have to say. The stories often revolve around religious themes, Gregor has been hired by various diocese in his cases and there is a holiday theme for a number of books. So far I've completed:

1. Not a Creature Was Stirring (#1) - Christmas (1990)
2. Bleeding Hearts (#11) - Valentine's Day (1995)
3. True Believers (#17) - (2001)
4. Murder Superior (#8) - Mother's Day (1993)
5. Quoth the Raven (#4) - Hallowe'en (1991)
6. A Stillness in Bethlehem (#7) - Christmas (1993)
7. A Great Day for the Deadly (#5) - St Patrick's Day (1992)

In the month of April, I plan to feature the Gregor Demarkian mysteries as my bed-time book and with any luck, I hope to read another four at least. I still have 7 or 8 in the series on my bookshelves to read and it's been awhile since I have read one. They are always enjoyable, the cast of characters are interesting and both the themes and the crimes are often very different.

I've started with Precious Blood, Gregor Demarkian #2, as my first book. It is one of the Holiday mysteries, Easter being its setting. The story is set in Colchester, NY and this is the book blurb: "Former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian is doing a friend a favour when he shows up in Colchester, NY. The Cardinal Archbishop has a problem: A young woman has been mysteriously murdered, and one of his parish priests had the strongest of reasons for wanting her dead. But Father Andrew Walsh isn't the only one with a motive. It seems that quite a number of parishioners shared a damning past with the diseased. Something happened twenty years ago. Something that's leading a desperate soul to break the deadliest commandment. And when the good Father himself keels over in the middle of High Mass, Gregor knows he needs a miracle."

This is my plan for the rest of the month; if I manage to be successful completing my challenge.

Feast of Murder, Gregor Demarkian #6. This is a Thanksgiving murder mystery. "Wall Street wizard Jonathan Edgewick Baird has some very good reasons for hauling friends, family and flunkies out for a Thanksgiving week cruise on his lovingly crafted duplicate of the good ship Mayflower, not the least of which are the fortuitous death of an embarrassing business associate and his own recent release from prison for insider trading. But why did Baird invite former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian, a noted murder specialist, along for the ride? And who put strychnine on the menu for their first dinner at sea? Add two wives - on ex, one current - with unusual appetites, a son who's a little too eager to fill Daddy's shoes, a brother with an adding machine for a soul, and a yuppie couple whose Saab story may have them losing the car and the condo, and it soon falls to Demarkian to determine which of the blue bloods really came to give thanks.. and which one is really out for blood.

Dear Old Dead, Demarkian #9, Father's Day Mystery. "Media mogul, Charles van Straadt could have picked a better time for an unannounced call on the uptown health-care centre he supported. A gang war rages across Harlem, making for wall-to-wall stretchers in the emergency room, and photos of the centre's saintly director have been splashed all over the front pages after a vice charge arrest. it was an inconvenient time to drop in.. and an even worse time to drop dead. Former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian is called in to investigate van Straadt's messy demise. Was it a premature Father's Day gift from one of the millionaire's grandchildren, hoping to head off a rumoured change in the old man's will? Did the clinic director have a falling out with his prickly, uptight patron? Or did the smiling nun with a will of steel send Charlie to his Heavenly Father? Soon Demarkian has a Father's Day gift of his own, even more unwanted than a gaudy tie.. another corpse."

Festival of Deaths, Gregor Demarkian #10, Hanukkah.
"Eight nights of murder. That's what Hanukkah in Philadelphia shapes up to be this year, as a killer stalks America's most outrageous talk show host from New York to the City of Brotherly Love - bailiwick of ex-FBI agent, Gregor Demarkian. The good folks on Cavanaugh Street have cajoled Gregor into appearing on Lotte Goldman's always controversial TV show. The topic: Sex and the Serial Killer. But Gregor is soon drawn into a jungle of behind-the-camera politics and off-the-set malice. He'll have to out bluff a murder.. before death lights a candle for them all."

Of course, even if I do manage to read these four in April, I still have these others in the hopper..

Fountain of Death, Demarkian #12
Baptism in Blood, Demarkian #14
Deadly Beloved, Demarkian #15
Skeleton Key, Demarkian #16
Glass Houses, Demarkian #22
Living Witness, Demarkian #24

It's an excellent series. I'm looking forward to re-acquainting myself with Haddam's excellent series. You might want to check it out yourself, if you like a good, well-paced, interesting murder mystery series. Give it it a try.
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