Friday, 28 June 2013

2013 - Looking Back... So Far

It's not quite July 1st yet, but while I've got a bit of time; i.e. the puppies are having their mid-morning nap and for the moment, peace reigns, I thought I'd take a look back at my reading habits for the first half of 2013.

To start off with, I'm currently reading three books, one from each of three of my various challenges and I hope to have at least one completed by end Jun -

Focus Author for Jun - C.S. Forester - Flying Colours (the third of C.S. Forester's published Horatio Hornblower novels, chronologically in the sequence of Hornblower's life, number 11 chronologically in Hornblower's life);

Alphabetical Mystery Writers - Ian Hamilton's The Water Rat of Wanchai; and

12 + 2 Reading Group Challenge - Tim Maltin's Titanic; First Accounts.

Now to get the stats out of the way. I have so far completed 50 books out of my Goodread's Challenge of trying to complete 80 books in 2013 (63%). I do have some challenging books for the rest of the year, but I think I've got a pretty good chance of reading more than 80, which would be an improvement on 2012, when I completed 81. Total pages completed so far - roughly 13,800.

Specific Challenges -

12 + 2 Reading Group Challenge - As of today, I've completed 7 out of 12 of my Reading Group Challenge. I don't think I'll manage to complete Titanic by end Jun, but you never know. My favourite book of the 7 is Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, an excellent mystery that I discovered through the also excellent TV series, starring Jason Isaacs. I still have 5 books to read (7 if you count the +2 alternates) and I will try to get them completed. I do have some challenging reads in this particular challenge, including Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence and Daniel Deronda by George Elliot, but these books might fit in with some of my other challenges. Also remaining in this group are Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks, Murder in the Central Committee by Manuel Vasquez Montalban, Rin Tin Tin, the Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean and The Far Country  by Nevil Shute.

Alphabetical Mystery Writers. I started this challenge in 2012 in an effort to try and read at least one book on my To-Be-Read bookshelves by a mystery author, starting with the authors last name and beginning alphabetically with 'A' of course. At the end of 2013, I had reached 'F'. So far in 2013, I've completed 9 in this challenge and have reached the letter 'H' with the above-mentioned book by Ian Hamilton. I have been introduced to new authors such as Michael Gilbert, Kerry Greenwood and Tarquin Hall and also revisited some favourites such as Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George, Caroline Graham, Martha Grimes and Jane Haddam. I think my favourite story so far was Winston Graham's Marnie, the psychological thriller on which Alfred Hitchcock based his excellent movie. Honourable mentions also to Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mysteries and Caroline Graham's Midsomer Mystery, The Killing at Badger's Drift. I am currently reading a new author for me, as mentioned, Ian Hamilton's The Water Rat of Wanchai and enjoying thus far.

Monthly Focus Author - One of my favourite challenges this year has been my attempt each month to focus on a different author (using one author's writings as my bed-time reading. The reason is that I've started so many series and have been unable for the most part to complete them due to the congestion of books on my TBR shelves. (Don't tell my wife.. lol.. I think she knows). While I've focused on one author each month (besides my other reading), some have been a revisiting of old favourites, rather than necessarily books I haven't read before. I put in that category, the books of Philip K. Dick and Ian Fleming. I read both many years ago and while choosing authors for this challenge, felt it would be great to read some of their stories again to remind myself why I enjoyed them so much before. I found Dick's unique SciFi stories interesting again and the adventures of James Bond a guilty pleasure once again. Also featured since January were mysteries by Ngaio Marsh (Inspector Alleyn) and Jane Haddam (ex-FBI profiler, Gregor Demarkian), the varies mysteries and fantasies of Charlaine Harris and this months visit to the high seas adventures of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower stories. It's been great fun so far and I'm looking forward to reading Edgar Rice Burroughs in July.

Genre Challenges - This has been a continuation of an ongoing challenge that we started over again due to its popularity. Since January we've covered respectively Historical stories, Crime/ Detective/ True Crime, Modern British Classics (20th Century), War & Revolution, Award Winning and Fantasy. I enjoyed all of the books that I read for these challenges, including The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King, The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves, Bridge on River Kwai by Pierre Boulle, The Ship by C.S. Forester, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and Puck on Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling. My favourite of this challenge was The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham for the Modern British Classics genre. This was my first exposure to Maugham and I loved his ability to develop and progress his story. It was just excellent. Next month looks to be Short Stories and I already have a few choices in mind if that ends up being the genre chosen.

The Time Traveller's Challenge. This is the newest challenge I've participated in. Basically, we'll visit various eras in history and read books set in those eras. We started with Ancient Times, e.g. the Roman Empire and others around the same time frame. I chose a book I'd read as a youngster, The Eagle of the Ninth, this time the complete trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff. It was most enjoyable to read it again. I had no recollections of the story and it was very interesting. Next month we move on to the Middle Ages; The 100 Years War, The Crusades, etc. Once again, I've a few books in mind. The nice thing about this challenge is that it lasts for 3 months so you tend to have a nice amount of time to read one or two books covering the particular period. And I need the time.. lol

Also I've managed to squeeze a couple of freebies in between all of the challenges. All in all, it's been a great six months so far. So let's see, what are my Top Ten favourites for the first half of the year?

Top Ten So Far

10. Puck on Pook's Hill - Rudyard Kipling (4*)
9.   Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles - Rosemary Sutcliff (4*)
8.   The Spy Who Loved Me - Ian Fleming (4*)
7.   Bangkok 8 - John Burdett (4*)
6.   Marnie - Winston Graham (4*)
5.   The Woman in Black - Susan Hill (4*)
4.   Cast Histories - Kate Atkinson (5)
3.   The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick (5*)
2.   The Ship - C.S. Forester (5*)
1.   The Razor's Edge - W. Somerset Maugham (5*)

Next BLog I'll try to take a look at my plans for July. :0)

Keep on reading!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

July 2013 - Focus Author - Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs
1875 - 1950
 Another month is winding down and it's time to start thinking ahead to see what's on the reading list for July 2013. Firstly, my Focus author for July will be American writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of such classic series as Tarzan of the Apes (26 books) and John Carter of Mars (11 books). I have previously featured the John Carter of Mars series as it has been one of my favourite series for many a moon. If you wish to read my BLog on that, go to the highlighted link.

Burroughs wrote over 80 novels during the span of his life; besides the two series mentioned previously, he also wrote the Pellucidar series (adventures at the Earth's core, 7 books), the Venus series (5 books), to name a few. If my books hold together (I've had them for quite awhile now), I plan to revisit the John Carter books. However, before I do that, I do have two newish Burroughs stories that I've never read before. I'll start with those. So if I find the time, I will read -

The Mad King was originally published in two parts; The Mad King (1914) and Barney Custer of Nebraska (1915). This edition was published by Ace Books. It tells the story of Barney Custer, gentleman - farmer in the once wild west. "Offered the chance to make the long voyage to the land of Lutha, he took it and encountered more adventure in a few months than most people find in a lifetime. A crumbling kingdom, a black-hearted regent and his diabolical cohorts, a beautiful princess trapped in a dark and dismal dungeon, sinister plots and harrowing escapes - this is what Barney Custer found." All familiar themes in Edgar Rice Burroughs worlds of fantasy and adventure. It will be interesting to see what other adventures Burroughs explored in his lifetime.

The Moon Men contains the 2nd and 3rd books in the Moon Men Lost World series. It contains The Moon Men and The Red Hawk (copyright 1925). The Moon Men was originally set in Soviet Russia (Under the Red Flag), with the Bolsheviks as the villains, but due to pressure from his publishers, Burroughs changed it to a Science Fiction setting with the Communist-like Kalkars taking over the moon and then the Earth. As it states in the preamble to books, "The Earth has been conquered by the strange beings from the Moon's hidden interior. Suffering under the tyranny of these terrible masters, rebellion is sparked by the descendant of the original lunar explorer. the story of Julian 9th, told in The Moon Men, is constant excitement. Equally thrilling is the story of Julian 20th, The Red Hawk, whose determination to bring to a successful victory the smouldering struggle started by his remote ancestor, makes the second complete novel in this volume.

As mentioned at the start of this post, I plan to revisit the John Carter books as well and hope to at least read the first two books in the series; A Princess of Mars (1912) and The Gods of Mars (1914).

Then we'll see what happens after that. Very much looking forward to this month's focus.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

June 2013 Focus Author - C.S. Forester

June Focus Author - C.S. Forester
(The Hornblower Books)

C.S. Forester was an English novelist who lived from 1899 to 1966. He is probably known most for his Horatio Hornblower series of books (this is my focus this month), but his writings were definitely limited to this series. Possibly his most famous, since it was used for the excellent movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, was The African Queen, published in 1935. Forester wrote mysteries, stories about the World War II; the Peninsula War and so many others.

In the past few years, I've read -

 1. A Ship of the Line (1938) - This was my first Forester book and at the time I didn't realise that it wasn't the first of the Hornblower books; in fact, it's the seventh in the Hornblower chronology, following Hornblower as he Captains his own ship. I wanted to read the series as I'd enjoyed the BBC series based on Forester's books so very much. I read this one Jan 2010. I recall not liking Hornblower all that much after reading the story. There was just something about his personality, the way he treated his wife, that rubbed me the wrong way somehow. Having said that, the story was interesting, the adventures that Hornblower found himself involved in were well-written and I did leave the story wanting to read more.

2. Payment Deferred (1926) - This was Forester's 2nd novel and an excellent mystery. I found this at my local used book store and since I've been very much focused on mysteries of late, thought it would be interesting to see how he approached mysteries. I enjoyed very much; it's a very tense psychological mystery. I now have two other mysteries he wrote and look forward to reading them as well. The story focuses on a bank clerk who is constantly having financial problems. I won't say how, but by his actions, he acquires considerable money and with some financial wheeling/ dealing becomes quite rich. However, as his family begin to want more from the improved finances the psychological issues of dealing with how he acquired the money begins to prey on him. You really should read to get the full impact, but suffice it to say, I quite enjoyed.

3. The Ship (1943) - I read this recently and it is by far my favourite Forester novel to-date. Set in WWII, it follows a British light cruiser, part of a convoy trying to provide relief to Malta, as it engages an Italian fleet set upon stopping the convoy. Such an excellent story. This is the review I provided to my goodreads page. "Excellent naval war story. Forester sets his story in the Mediterranean on HMS Artremis, a British cruiser part of a convoy of ships trying to relieve isolated Malta. Each chapter starts as an excerpt from the Capt's log with the chapter detailing the actions that make up this simple entry. Forester explores the ship, the crew as he tells his story. A simple story, but one of heroism, one battle against an Italian fleet. So well written, smoothly paced to keep the pages turning. Excellent story. I rank it up with Alistair MacLean's HMS Ulysses in great naval war stories." I highly recommend.

June Focus - The Hornblower books

I have a few Forster novels on my book shelf, The African Queen, Plain Murder and The Pursued, but I want to try and reduce the number of Hornblower stories I have yet to read. The series featured 12 books and besides A Ship of the Line. I have 7 others and with any luck I will manage to complete at least 4 in Jun. Unfortunately, I don't have the complete sequence, but I will read in chronological order of Hornblower's life and adventures as much as possible.

I'm currently reading and almost finished Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, which is the first, chronologically, following Horatio from Jan 1794 - Mar 1798 as he experiences his first adventures in Her Majesty's Royal Navy. As a matter of interest, the stories that make up the book are used for the most recent BBC series on Horatio Hornblower. I will follow up this book with Hornblower and the Hotspur (Apr 1803 - Jul 1805), which follows Hornblower's career when he is promoted to Commander and receives his own ship, The Hotspur. Marriage also finds its way into his life, an issue that Hornblower must deal with. Book 3 will be Flying Colours (Nov 1810 - Jan 1811). This follows A Ship of the Line and finds Hornblower a prisoner of the French and being taken to Paris to be tried as a pirate. Hornblower and his companions escape and this is the basis of this story. Book 4 will be Commodore Hornblower (Apr 1812 - Dec 1812), in which Hornblower is asked out of retirement to command a Squadron of ships to the Baltic and try to entice the Russians into the war against Napoleon..

I do look forward to reading these Hornblower novels and also acquiring the complete series. I'm enjoying Midshipman Hornblower very much. I like Forester's writing style, how the stories flow off the page and the adventures, themselves.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

May Summary

No prison will hold me!!!
Well, there you go, another month has passed us by. It's been a relatively busy month; lots of work to do, yard work accomplishments,  a new puppy to get used to (that would be Bonnie, who is so funny and cute. Can't wait for Clyde to come along in June. I still managed to get in a bit of reading, even with all the activities, although it was a bit of a flurry of completions at the end of the month.

I very much enjoyed my Focus Author, Ian Fleming, he of James Bond fame. I managed to finish five of the books in the series. For the most part these were rereads from my teen years (I won't say how many years ago that is, but suffice it to say, most of the books seemed new to me.). Of the books on my shelves (I've slowly been acquiring the Bond books this past 5 or 6 years - still a couple to get), I managed to read Moonraker, Dr. No (the movie with the iconic scene of Ursula Andress arising from the waves like Venus), Goldfinger (I'm still afraid of Odd Job), Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me. Of them, I think I enjoyed The Spy Who Loved Me the most. It was the most different of the stories (not at all like the Roger Moore movie, which only borrowed the title). It was more of a hard-boiled detective novel, the story of Vivien Michel, threatened by two thugs, with Bond showing up in the last half, the mysterious avenging spy. Loved it. All in all, each story was excellent and it was great fun to reread them.

For the rest of the month, I read 1000 Years of Annoying the French, history made fun by Stephen Clarke. It was an easy read, it covered English/ French history from William the Conqueror to present day and highlighted French/ English wars, differences and just overall historical facts. I was never one to enjoy history all that much in school, in fact, at the first opportunity I had, when it was no longer mandatory, I dropped it from my curriculum. But of late, I find myself drawn to well-written history books and this one was no exception. I enjoyed the novel very much, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys history.

The genre challenge for May was Award winning books. I chose The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, written by Canadian author Alan Bradley. It won him the British Crime Writer's Association Debut Dagger Award and others. It tells the story of Flavia de Luce, a bit of a throwback to those great Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mysteries I enjoyed as a kid. Flavia lives in England with her father and two sisters and must try to keep her father out of prison for murder. She is a source of aggravation to the people she investigates and a source of amazement to the police. I enjoyed the story, at times more than others, but overall I ended up liking it very much. I also liked how the mystery was tied up in the end. I think I'd like to read more of the Flavia series to see how she grows.

My other books for May were tied into the Time Traveller challenge, from April to Jun, Ancient Times. I chose The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles, which consists of three young adult stories about the Aquila family who settle in England as part of the Roman legions. I read the first two stories, The Eagle of the Ninth (one I'd read as a teen) and The Silver Branch, in May. I enjoyed them both very much. I liked the setting, Ancient Rome and England; I liked the characters and I liked the stories overall. The first story has been adapted for both TV and film, most recently The Eagle, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. I'm currently reading the 3rd story, The Lantern Bearers and it's as good as the first two; quite an excellent series by Rosemary Sutcliffe.

Overall, it was a satisfying month and I'm well on the road to satisfying my challenges. Looking forward very much to June.
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