Monday, 27 January 2014

Historical Mysteries

Back to work tomorrow so I wanted to take this opportunity to write a few thoughts on some of my favourite historical mysteries and also to mention some new ones that I've got sitting on my bookshelves waiting to be cracked open.

Before I get into that, it's been a weird 2014 so far. We haven't had any snow (*touch wood*) to speak of, but the past 3 weeks or so, we've had a steady influx of fog in the area. Many flights from the mainland have had to be scrubbed, or diverted due to the conditions. It's been very strange, I guess a perfect combination of just above freezing temperatures and moisture in the air to make the fog linger. Today, water has been dripping off the trees like a steady drizzle, but it's just the moisture gather on the branches dripping off, I think.

Plotting where to dig their escape hole
I've had an interesting morning with our puppies, a repeat of one the missus had last week while I was at work. Bonnie is some sort of great escape artist; we've been blocking off holes in the fence, but she just loves digging and making new ones. Just as Jo was getting ready to go out for the day, both Bonnie and Clyde disappeared from the backyard. I'm running around the neighbourhood trying to find them and Jo is calling for them to come back. Luckily, this time they only were in the neighbours yard, but last time she found them quite a distance away. Clyde doesn't really enjoy it, I don't think, but he will follow his big sister anywhere. So once again, I was out finding the new hole, this one is called Tom I think (reference to The Great Escape), and this time screwing in a two by four to block it off. We're off to Home Depot this week to get some stones to fill in the troughs, she's dug. What a dog! Of course, she is now looking out the patio window, asking to go out.. "I won't dig any holes, Daddy! You can trust me!" Hah!! ;0)

Anyway, on to the topic of this BLog; historical mysteries.

At the moment, I'm reading and enjoying very much, two historical mysteries. The Hangman's Daughter is written by German author, Oliver Potzsch and was recommended to me by friends in one of my Gooodread's book clubs. I ordered just after Xmas and received it a couple of weeks ago. I'm enjoying very much so far. It's set in Bavaria, in 1654, just after the Thirty Year's War. It deals with the local hangman of Schongau, Jakob Kuisl and his daughter, Magdalena. Orphan children are being killed and the local midwife is being accused of witchcraft in the killings. Jakob and his daughter and the town physician's son, Simon, are working to ascertain if the midwife is involved in the killings and, if not, to try and save her life and prevent other killings. It's an excellent story so far, well-written, describes the setting very well and develops the characters at a nice pace. A key point for me is the translation, this version by Lee Chadeayne, as I've read other author's works in translation and they have put me off totally. But this is excellent. I hope it continues in this vein as I think I may be trying to find the other books in the series.  At the moment, there are three other books in the series; The Dark Monk, The Beggar King and The Poisoned Pilgrim.

The other book I'm reading is The Sultan's Seal by Jenny White. Jenny White is a social anthropologist and The Sultan's Seal is her first novel. From what I've read so far, it's excellent. It is set in Turkey in 1866 and deals with the discovery of the dead body of an English governess and the efforts of the Magistrate, Kamil Pasha, to solve the murder. This murder may be related to a previous one, which occurred a few years before. Kamil must tread a fine line in his investigation as the woman and the murder may trace back to the royal palace. I'm enjoying very much so far, White writes intelligently and provides interesting details of the time period, when Turkey was going through much turmoil. At the moment, there are two others in this series, The Abyssinian Proof and The Winter Thief.

So there you have the two books I'm currently enjoying, but as I look through my various book lists, I see I've enjoyed quite a few other historical mysteries, for the most part they are series. The following are some of them -

1. The Inspector Madden mysteries by Rennie Airth. This is a trilogy of murder mysteries set in England from 1914 - 1944. They feature Inspector John Madden who finds himself solving serial murders, some related to the past war, from which he still suffers stress symptoms. At the moment, there are three books in the series; the first was a very good introduction to the character of Madden, the second even better. There is a new book due out in 2014. I look forward to reading the third; The Dead of Winter.

2. Joe Sandilands Mysteries by Barbara Cleverly - Barbara Cleverly is a British author known for her Joe Sandilands mysteries, of which there are 11. The Last Kashmiri Rose is the introduction to Inspector Sandilands of Scotland Yard. Sandilands is a British war hero and finds himself in India; the site of those mysteries I've read so far. I've read the first two, The Last Kashmiri Rose and Ragtime in Simla. I like the setting of the novels, the period from 1920 to 1930 and the locale, that of Colonial India. It's an interesting time and the stories have so far managed to hold my interest.

3. Mistress of the Art of Death (Adelia Aquilar) by Ariana Franklin - I've Blogged about this series before. I found the first book while the missus and I were in Victoria and enjoyed so very much. Adelia Aquilar is a woman medical examiner in the 12th Century who finds herself in England trying to solve the murders of a number of children in the first book. She was trained in Sicily and the King of Sicily has loaned her to the current King of England, Henry I, to try and solve the crimes and to prevent the murder of the Jews of Cambridge. It's a fascinating first book and a fascinating series; unfortunately only four books as Ariana Franklin (Diana Norman in real life) passed away in 2011. I've read all but the last one and I hope to do so this year. It will definitely be bittersweet as she was an excellent author.

4. Mary Russell mysteries by Laurie R. King. I've only read the first book in this series and must say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. I've been gathering in some of the others in this interesting series and look forward to continuing Mary Russell's adventures with her companion, Sherlock Holmes. It's an interesting concept, Mary Russell becoming the protégé of a retired Sherlock Holmes and the first mystery definitely held my interest and made me want to read more. There are currently 12 books in this excellent series. The second one in line is A Monstrous Regiment of Women and it currently resides on by TBR bookshelf, impatiently calling to me.

5. Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. I won't say much about this excellent series as Ellis Peters was one of my monthly focus authors in 2013 and I wrote this Blog about the Cadfael series at that time. I've read quite a few of the books in this series and all have been excellent and entertaining.

6. Matthew Shardlake mysteries by C.J. Sansom - Another excellent series, this one is set during the time of Henry VIII and Matthew Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer who finds himself caught up in the intrigues of the court, no matter how much he might like to avoid them. He is a dedicated man, who works to help those less-fortunate, fight against the shadiness of the court and the church. The first story, Dissolution was very well-written and an excellent introduction to the time and to Matthew. Each story after that has been better then the previous. I've read four of the five books in the series so far and enjoyed each immensely. I'm sure you will as well.

So there you have it, some of my favourite historical mystery series. I could also mention Anne Perry's two excellent series; the William Monk murder mysteries and the Pitt's, as well as those of Maureen Jennings, the Canadian series about Inspector Murdoch, set in 1900's Toronto, which has been made into such an entertaining TV series. I haven't read many of those books, but the couple that I have were all enjoyable. Oh, yes, and don't forget the Phryne Fisher Australian mysteries, set in Melbourne, Australia after WWI.

Before I close this, I just wanted to point some other potentials for you, historical mysteries that are on my shelf, but I haven't tried. So here are a few -

1. Charles Lenox mysteries by Charles Finch - My wife bought me the first book in this series for Xmas and it sounds very interesting. A Beautiful Blue Death is the first in this Victorian mystery series and continues with another five books. *rubbing my hands with glee*

2. The Victorian / Edwardian mysteries by Robin Paige - I have a couple of books in this 12 book series, which features American adventuress, Kathryn Ardleigh and her companion, British amateur sleuth, Sir Charles Sheridan. The mysteries are set in Victorian England.

3. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl - Matthew has written 4 books, and though some characters appear in more than one book, they appear to be more standalone. I'll know better when I read them. The books are The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens and The Technologists. The Dante Club sounds most interesting - It is set during the American Civil War and deals with a number of murders. A group of poets, translating Dante's Inferno, note similarities between the murders and punishments found in Dante's Inferno. And so it begins. :0)

4. Gaslight mysteries by Victoria Thompson - This is a series of 16 mysteries set in turn-of-the-century New York, involving midwife Sarah Brandt. I currently have three on my bookshelf to read.

5. Inspector Rutledge mysteries by Charles Todd -  Charles Todd is a pen-name for American mystery writers Charles and Caroline Todd, a mother - son writing team. The Inspector Rutledge mysteries are set in post-WWI England and deal with the cases of Inspector Rutledge, a Scotland Yard inspector trying to pick up the pieces of his career after his time spent fighting in the wars. This is an extensive series of 15 books, with number 16 due out in 2014.

So there you have my non-all-inclusive list of historical mysteries that have been entertaining me and will continue to do so for many years to come. I hope you find some of them interesting enough to try out.

Monday, 20 January 2014

New Books - Gifts and Purchases

I'd like to say I've been good about buying books so far in 2014, but I'd probably be lying. I did manage to trade in about 20 books to my local used book store so I'm feeling somewhat ahead in the book trading vs book buying column so far in 2014. Having said this, I haven't necessarily bought many books, probably only about 6 or 7; the others were the final Xmas presents that my lovely missus and my daughter sent to me. They just arrived a bit late, not that I'm complaining, I was so happy to get them. So let's see, starting with gifts, these are the books I've received/ purchased this year.

1. Justin Cronin - The Passage:  A Xmas gift from my daughter, Jennifer. This is the synopsis; "An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy - abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape - but he can't stop society's collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

2. Stephen King - Under the Dome: Jennifer's other gift. I've seen most of the TV series and for the most part, enjoyed very much. It'll be interesting to read the book. It's been awhile since I've tried a Stephen King. "On a beautiful fall day, a small New England town is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and rain down flaming wreckage. A gardener's hand is severed as the dome descends. Cars explode on impact. Families are separated and panic mounts. No one can fathom what the barrier is, where it came from, and when, or if, it will go away. Now, a few intrepid citizens, led by an Iraq vet turned short-order cook, face down a ruthless politician dead set on seizing the reins of power under the dome. But their main adversary is the dome itself. Because time isn't just running short, it's running out.

3. Lynne Olson - Citizens of London: I've mentioned the first book I received from Jo in a previous BLog. The next two came in a couple of weeks ago. I've read Troublesome Young Men previously, also written by Lynne Olson and enjoyed very much. "The acclaimed author of Troublesome Young Men reveals the behind-the-scenes story of how the US forged its wartime alliance with Britain, told from the perspective of 3 key American players in London; Edward R. Murrow, the handsome, chain-smoking head of CBS News in Europe, Averell Harriman, the hard-driving millionaire who ran FDR's Lend-Lease program in London, and John Gilbert Winant, the shy, idealistic US ambassador to Britain. Each man formed close ties with Churchill, so much so that all became romantically involved with members of the prime minister's family. Drawing from a variety of primary sources, Olson skillfully depicts the dramatic personal journeys of these men who, determined to save Britain from Hitler, helped convince a cautious FDR and reluctant American public to back the British at a critical time."

4. Charles Finch - A Beautiful Blue Death: Another book that Jo pulled out of my Books I'd Like To Read book, this is the first Charles Lenox mystery - "Charles Lenox, a Victorian gentleman and armchair explorer, likes nothing more than to relax in his private study with a cup of tea, a roaring fire and a good book. But when his lifelong friend Lady Jane asks for his help, Leonx cannot resist the chance to unravel a mystery. Prudence Smith, one of Jane's former servants, is dead of an apparent suicide. But Lenox suspects something far more sinister: murder, by a rare and deadly poison. The grand house where the girl worked is full of suspects, and thought Prue had dabbled with the hearts of more than a few, Lenox is baffled by the motive for the girl's death. When another body turns up during the London season's most fashionable ball, Lenox must entangle a web of loyalties and animosities. Was it jealously that killed Prudence Smiths? Or was it something else entirely?"

Recent Purchases - When I turned in a few books this past weekend, I thought I'd look for a few replacements. :0)

1. John Sandford - Shadow Prey: One of Jo's friends, who knows that I like mysteries, recommended the Prey series. I was able to find one at my local. This is the second book in the series. "A slumlord is butchered in Minneapolis. A politician executed in Manhattan. A judge slain in Oklahoma City. All killed by a relentless assassin, a ritualistic, far from ordinary, serial killer."

2. Ruth Rendell - Murder Being Once Done: I've been slowly collecting the Inspector Wexford mystery series. This is the seventh book in the series, published in 1972. "In a vast, gloomy, overgrown London cemetery, a girl is found murdered. A girl with a name that isn't hers, and little else that is. A girl with no friends, no possessions and no past. Chief Inspector Wexford has been sent to London by his doctor for a rest, no late nights, no rich food, no alcohol and, above all, no criminal investigation. To add insult to injury, it is Wexford's own nephew, Howard, who is leading the massive investigation into the macabre mystery. Even though Howard and his subordinates think he's out of his league, and even though his doctor wouldn't approve, Wexford can't resist just taking a look at things for himself."

3. Tana French - faithful place: I started off 2014 reading In the Woods by Tana French and enjoyed it very much; one of my highlights of this early 2014. This is the third book in her Irish Murder Squad series. "In all your life, only a few moments matter. I was lucky. I got to see one of mine fact to face, and recognise it for what it was. The course of Frank Mackey's life is set by one defining moment when he was nineteen. The moment his girlfriend, Rosie Daly, failed to turn up for their rendezvous in Faithful Place, failed to run away with him to London as they had planned. Frank never heard from, or of, her again. Twenty years later, Frank is still in Dublin, working as an undercover cop. He's cut all ties with his dysfunctional family. Until his sister calls to say that Rosie's suitcase has been found."

4. Agatha Christie - The Clocks: I readily admit it, I'm getting hooked on Agatha Christie. I read a few of her books back when I was much younger and over the past year and a bit, I've started reading her stories again, enjoying them very much and wondering why I never read more when I was that much younger person. Ah well, better late than never, eh? The Clocks is about the 29th Hercule Poirot mystery and was originally published in 1963. I've seen the TV version of this story and enjoyed very much. "Master sleuth Hercule Poirot has time on his hands: four clocks, all set at 4:13 and all left at the scene of a murder. In the tidy sitting room, Detective Inspector Hardcastle examines the assembled witnesses for clues; a blind lady, a young secretary and an innocent passer-by. Poirot must find them first, but will he have time?"

5. Lee Child - Tripwire: I've only read one of the Jack Reacher books so far, but after being pleasantly surprised by the Tom Cruise movie, starring Cruise as Jack Reacher, I've managed to get the first two in the series. Tripwire is book number two, "Jack Reacher's anonymity in Key West is shattered by the appearance of a private investigator who's come to town looking for him. But only hours after his arrival, the stranger is murdered. Retracing the PI's cold trail back to New York City, Reacher is compelled to find out who was looking for him and why. He never expected the reasons to be so personal, so dangerous and so very twisted."

6. Mark Billingham - Bloodline - I've enjoyed the DI Tom Thorne books I've read so far, gritty, interesting, well-paced thriller mysteries. Bloodline is the eighth in the series and was published in 2009. "It seems like a straightforward domestic murder until a bloodstained sliver of x-ray is found clutched in the dead woman's fist; and it quickly becomes clear that this case is anything but ordinary. Throne discovers that the victim's mother had herself been murdered 15 years before by infamous serial-killer Raymond Garvey. The hunt to catch Garvey was one of the biggest in the history of the Met, and ended with seven women dead. When more bodies and more fragments of x-ray are discovered, Thorne has a macabre jigsaw to piece together until the horrifying picture finally emerges. A killer is targeting the children of Raymond Garvey's victims. Thorne must move quickly to protect those still on the murderer's list, but nothing and nobody are what they seem. Not when Thorne is dealing with one of the most twisted killers he has ever hunter."

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Odds and Sods for a Rainy Saturday

It's a rainy Saturday and the missus and I are relaxing with the puppies, watching various sporting activities on the TV; Premiership footie earlier (Go Everton!!), Skins curling match at the moment, then the Canadian National Figure Skating Championships afterwards. A nice way to spend a gloomy, breezy Saturday.

So let's see, what to talk about today? Let's start with a book update. I finally managed to finish off my first two books of 2014. I don't think I've been as dedicated to my reading, what with enjoying my time with Jo, work, blogging, playing with the dogs, etc, but I've enjoyed the two books I've read so far.

Reading Update

1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Published in 1926). This was the first of two Agatha Christie selections I plan to start the year with. It features renowned detective Hercule Poirot. Having read this, I regret not having read more Agatha Christie novels in the past. I've only barely touched the bases with her writing. She has such a lovely style, the journey of getting to the solution is more important than the actual solution, itself. This was a most enjoyable story, the characters were all interesting, the plot diverting and the solution was a pleasant surprise. Even for Agatha Christie, I found the solution surprising and unexpected. Loved her style and the story. (4 stars)

2. In the Woods by Tana French (published in 2007). This was the first novel by Irish writer, Tana French, and, of course, my first experience with her writing. I enjoyed this story very much, for its intelligence and thoughtful approach to an interesting murder mystery. At times I wondered if the story was somewhat too long, over 500 pages, but ultimately, I found it satisfying and was glad I'd read it. There are two mysteries at play in this book, one that took place 20 years prior and the current murder. Police detective, Rob Ryan, was one of three children involved in the 'abduction/ murder' of two of the children 20 years ago, and, now as a detective, is called to solve the murder of a teenage girl in the same location. He and his partner, Cassie Maddox investigate the current murder and try to tie into the earlier crime, of which Rob has no memories. The case is tangled, wanders through many possible solutions; the investigation is interesting in itself, the development of the characters proceeds nicely and the ultimate solution is somewhat surprising (I had an idea about part of it.). Excellent story and highly recommended (4 stars)

Currently Reading

1. N or M? by Agatha Christie. (published in 1941). This is my second Agatha Christie and features intrepid couple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, ex spies for the British government. Tommy and Tuppence have appeared in a couple of the BBC Agatha Christie series, mainly as part of the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot enterprises. In this story, the couple are trying to get the British government to let them help in anyway possible, the British war effort. They are finding their willingness to serve thwarted due to their middle-agedness. But their old boss asks them to go to the Sans Souci hotel on the coast and investigate, undercover, the possibility of German spies working there. I'm enjoying so far, the two are intelligent and dedicated. Liking this story.

2. Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith (published in 1957). I just started this book this morning. This is the synopsis. "In the small town of Little Wesley, intellectual publisher Victor Van Allen decides to discourage his wife Melinda’s many lovers by hinting to them that he may have killed her previous beau, Malcolm McRae. However, the game turns sour when strangers begin to grow wary of him, thus denting his social esteem and also blurring the line between fiction and reality; after a while, Vic wonders if he may really have blood on his hands."

Thoughts on Music

I was updating my usb yesterday while the missus was out. (as an aside, it's been one of the most successful things we've ever purchased. I love plugging it in to the car and just letting the music flow, either mine or Jo's). I've got about 550 songs on it so it takes awhile to listen to all of the songs. There are a few that I always look forward to hearing, no matter how many times they come; I never delete them when I update my song list. So, here I am, looking for an excuse for a Top Ten List, this is my list of ten of my favourite usb selections, in no particular order (if you click on the song title, it should take you to the song) -

1. Belinda Carlisle - Sun I do like Belinda Carlisle's music, whether with The Gogos or as a solo artist. This was her last release as a single, released in 2013. I like the song and the lyrics.

2. Lisa Stansfield - Face Up There had to be a Lisa Stansfield song in my list as she's been one of my favourite artists this past few years. Love her voice, the music, everything about her music. This song was one of the songs on her Face Up album from 2001.

3. Sarah Harmer - Almost Sarah Harmer is a Canadian singer-songwriter and this song came out in 2004. It's got an interesting instrumental and I like the way the song flows. It suits her voice to a tee. Excellent song.

4. Thin Lizzy - Dancing in the Moonlight I heard this song for the first time in 2013 even though it came out in 1977. My only real experience with Thin Lizzy music was their 1976 song, The Boys are Back in Town, a great driving song. But this was so different, it's really caught my attention and I like the music, the jazzy/ rock style. Excellent song.

5. The Stranglers - Golden Brown - This song came out in 1982 and was one of those I had not heard until recently. The keyboard is fantastic and the beat grabs me. Lovely song.

6. The Veronicas - This Love The first song I heard by the Veronicas was Untouched and I loved it, especially the orchestration, it was very powerful. Since then they've become one of my favourite groups, they have such a versatile style. This song is such a lovely ballad. The two sisters are very talented.

7. Thea Gilmore - Love Came Looking for Me I heard Thea Gilmore first in 2013 and fell in love with her voice, her lyrics, her music. Beautiful song.

8. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Dear Prudence One of those groups I had heard of but never checked out back in the '70's, but discovered in the past few years. Such a unique sound and I really like the way this song soars.

9. Shakespears Sister - Stay Love how this song builds, quite simple at first, but then the voice just soars as does the music.. love it.

10. The Source, with Candi Staton - You've Got the Love A super combination of a great DJ and a fantastic singer. Love this song.

So those are my Top Ten for the moment. I'll finish off with a couple of new songs for me, the start of my 2014 list. :0)

1. Pharrell Williams - Happy Pure joyousness. Finger - snapping good.

2. Bebe Black - I'll Wait  Another great voice

Have a great January!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Favourites - Fantasy / Science Fiction Series

I'm just starting a nice Monday off. I should probably be reading, trying to finish off my first couple of books of 2014 or doing laundry or something. But I'm sort of in 'list-making' mode at the moment. While I was out walking the dogs last night, I started thinking of some of my favourite Science Fiction and Fantasy series. I've read a few in my 58 years so I think I can come up with a list of favourites. Obviously many excellent series will be left out, but it's more to the fact that I didn't get around to trying them, rather than they didn't make it to my list. Nonetheless, I think the list below contains some excellent series by a group of very talented authors and also is varied enough to cover both Sci Fi/ Fantasy/ Sword and Sorcery, etc. I hope you like it or find it interesting enough to give some of them a try. I've made a Top Ten, but they aren't in any particular order. Here goes.

Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Sword & Sorcery Favourites

Incarnations of Immortality
1. Piers Anthony - Incarnations of Immortality

Piers Anthony is a Sci Fi/ Fantasy writer, born in Oxford in 1934, but whose family emigrated to the US when he was six years old. He is a prolific writer, having published over 140 novels from 1956. He had created a great number of series, including, the Chthon series, the Apprentice Adept (excellent) and the Xanth books. Of those I have read, my favourite is the Incarnations of Immortality series; based on the seven Supernatural offices (Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil and War.)  The seven books were written between 1983 - 1990. I notice that another was written in 2007, Under a Velvet Cloak, featuring the adventures of the incarnation of Night. I wasn't aware this one had come out, so will have to see if it's available. :0)

The first seven books in the series were -

1. On a Pale Horse (1983) - Incarnation of Death. It tells the story of Zane, a photographer, who accidentally kills Death and must assume his Incarnation. The title comes from the sixth book of Revelation, in which one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death, rides upon a pale horse.
2. Bearing an Hour Glass (1984) - Incarnation of Time. In this story, Norton assumes the Incarnation of Time and must live his life backwards.
3. With a Tangled Skein (1985) - Incarnation of Fate. In this story, Niobe agrees to assume one of the three Incarnations of Fate in order to help thwart Satan's plans.
4. Wielding a Red Sword (1986) - Incarnation of War. Mym, an Indian prince, defies his father's plans for an arranged marriage, instead joining a travelling circus. He meets Orb, who teaches him to overcome his own handicap of a terrible stutter through song. He is soon discovered, and his father arranges for him to marry a princess by the name of Rapture of Malachite. After fighting against this for days on end, he finally realises that Rapture is worth loving, and so concedes to the marriage. However, a plot to separate him from her results in his decision to become the Incarnation of War.
5. Being a Green Mother (1987) - Incarnation of Nature. Orb assumes the Incarnation of Nature after having a child and is told that she may have to marry Satan.
6. For Love of Evil (1988) - Incarnation of Evil. Parry assumes the Incarnation of Evil.
7. And Eternity (1990) - Incarnation of Good. Three women must try to obtain objects from the 7 Incarnations of Day, including that of the Incarnation of Good.

I found this to be a fascinating series. It's been a long time since I read them, probably back when they first came out. I recall the first taking a little to get into, but once I did, I read each voraciously. Even though each story relates specifically to one of the Incarnations, they do tie together and the characters do appear in others of the stories. I'm amazed that Piers Anthony can produce such excellent series. One of the most interesting aspects of the versions I had of the books was at the end of each story, Anthony told what was going on in his life, his inspirations for the books, the various books he was also working, such an interesting life.

The Culture Series
2. Iain M. Banks - The Culture Novels. This is the most recent series with which I've involved myself. I started reading in 2010. I started with the 8th book in the series, Matter, as I saw it on the shelf of one of my local book stores and the plot summary sounded fascinating. I've got to say that what attracted me first was the book cover. Shades of orange and rust always attract me and this made me read the synopsis and then I was hooked. "In a world renowned even within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one man it means a desperate flight and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for his sister, even without knowing the full truth, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever. But the sister  is not what she once was; Djan Seriy Anaplian has changed almost beyond recognition to become an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, charged with high level interference in civilisations throughout the greater galaxy. Concealing her new identity - and her particular set of abilities - might be dangerous strategy, however. In the world to which Anaplian returns, nothing is quite as it seems; and determining the appropriate level of interference in someone else's war is never a simple matter."

I enjoyed the first book very much. It wasn't an easy read as it had a complex plot and took some getting used to the new worlds and peoples created by Banks, the idea of the Culture and other worlds of that particular universe. But it was fascinating as I got into it. I like strong female characters and Djan was one such. I liked the technology, the drones, the various peoples and overall the story. I've since read The State of the Art (Culture #4), a series of short stories elaborating the Culture universe and Consider Phlebas (Culture #1). All were excellent and I look forward to reading more of the series. I currently have two others on my bookshelf, Surface Detail (Culture #9) and a signed copy of Excession (Culture #5).

The complete Culture universe set of books consists of -
1. Consider Phlebas (1987) set in 1331 A.D
2. The Player of Games (1988) set in 2083 A.D.
3. Use of Weapons (1990) set in 2092 A.D.
4. The State of the Art (1991) various
5. Excession (1996) set in 2067 A.D.
6. Inversions (1998) unspecified
7. Look to Windward (2000) set in 2170 A.D.
8. Matter (2008) set in 2087 A.D.
9. Surface Detail (2010) set in 2970 A.D.
10. The Hydrogen Sonata (2012) set in 2375 - 2567 A.D.

Sadly, Iain Banks passed away in June of 2013. The world has lost a talented writer. The Culture series is an excellent series, but Banks also wrote many other books, try also The Wasp Factory or Matter, both also excellent.

The Uplift books
3. David Brin - The Uplift (Earthclan) novels

David Brin was born in 1950 and is a US scientist and novelist. Besides the Uplift saga, he is also noted for, amongst others, Postman (turned into a movie starring Kevin Costner) and The Heart of the Comet (which he wrote with Gregory Benford). I first discovered the Uplift books when o purchased the edition featured in the book cover photo above. I bought through the Science Fiction book club as the synopsis sounded so interesting. The book consists of StarTide Rising (published in 1983) and The Uplift War (published in 1987).  I enjoyed these first two books, which actually are books two and three of The Uplift Stories. The basic premise of the series is that Earth humans have been uplifted by a race called the Progenitors, one of the oldest of the universes' races. Earthlings have, without permission, also uplifted other mammals of Earth, such as chimpanzees and dolphins. They are now considered 'wolflings' by other races of the universe and either hunted by some or protected by others. That's probably it in its simplest form. A number of the stories concern the voyage of the Earth ship Streaker as it is hunted by many of the nations of the Civilisation of the Five Galaxies. It's an enthralling adventure, fascinating creatures and strong human/ chimp/ dolphin characters that make you want them to survive and beat the odds. The Uplift novels include -

1. Sundiver (1980)
2. Startide Rising (1983)
3. The Uplift War (1987)
4. Brightness Reef (1995)
5. Infinity's Shore (1996)
6. Heaven's Reach (1998)

John Carter of Mars
4. Edgar Rice Burroughs - The Barsoom Books

I won't get into this series again, suffice it to say, it is a series I've read more than once, have worn out my first copies and hope that my second copies of the books survive or I'll have to search and find new copies. I read the first two books last year to refresh my memories and may read 3 and 4 this year as one of my reading challenges. More info can be found on the series on a in November 2010 and here it is.

Conan the Barbarian
5. Robert E. Howard - Conan the Barbarian

Robert E. Howard lived only from 1906 - 1936, was a writer of pulp fiction and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery genre. The series I will discuss is the Conan series, a fantastic sword and sorcery adventure; following the adventures of Conan in various guises, the Barbarian, the Freebooter, the thief, of Aquilonia, etc as he wanders through the Hyborian age, fighting wizards and demons and saving voluptuous, lovely women. My collection of Conan books are from the Ace edition, the first being printed in 1983. After reading the first in my particular series, I proceeded to obtain the other 12 books in the series. To get a feel for the Conan series, this is the synopsis of the first book, Conan, "Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom in the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet."

This gives you the scope of the world created by Robert E. Howard, sometimes with editing or assistance by other sword and sorcery writers, Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. It's a fascinating world, one you can soak yourself in and just close your eyes and imagine the adventure. The books I have are -

1. Conan Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
2. Conan of Cimmeria Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
3. Conan the Freebooter Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp
4. Conan the Wanderer Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
5. Conan the Adventurer Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp
6. Conan the Buccaneer A complete novel by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.
7. Conan the Warrior Robert E. Howard
8. Conan the Usurper Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp
9. Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard
10. Conan the Avenger by Robert E. Howard, Bjorn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp
11. Conan of Aquilonia by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
12. Conan of the Isles by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter
6. Laurell K. Hamilton - Anita Blake Vampire Hunter

The first book in Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series came out in 1993. Laurell Hamilton was born in 1960 and the Anita Blake books is one of two successful fantasy series that she writes. The Anita Blake series is one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, it's sexy, creepy, full of action/ supernatural creatures, adventures and gets you hooked from the get-go.  I first saw this series when I was still living in Ottawa, during a trip to the Mall with my two girls, I think at the small Coles Books at the St Laurent shopping centre. We always stopped at the book store, so I could pick up something new and they could buy some books too. I saw the first few of the series on the shelves, liked the flashy covers and the first story intrigued me so I tried it.. "My name is Anita Blake. Vampires call me The Executioner. What I call them isn't repeatable. Ever since the Supreme Court granted the undead equal rights, most people think vampires are just ordinary folks with fangs. I know better. I've seen their victims. I carry the scars.. But now a serial killer is murdering vampires - and the most powerful bloodsucker in town wants me to find the killer..."

Yup, I was hooked. I already enjoyed the Buffy The Vampire TV Series and this seemed more adult and of a similar vein. I liked it, there was lots of action, creepiness and I liked the overall concept. Anita Blake raises the dead for a living, for families trying to resolve wills, etc. She also works for the St Louis police supernatural squad, assisting them in solving unique murders and she is also a licenced executioner and can act when supernatural beings kill humans. The story was well-paced and a page turner and the characters were unique and well-developed. Luckily for me, there were a number of the books already available in print so I could get into the series quickly and voraciously. It was fascinating, although each book got somewhat more graphic, both in the sex scenes and the violence, still made for fascinating reading. I paid the series forward, got my oldest daughter and many friends hooked, my daughter hooked her friends and so on. It also made me check out similar series, such as Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series and P.N. Elrod's Vampire Files series. But this is still my favourite if the genre. The later books haven't held my interest quite so much, but if you start the series, you'll be hooked. Trust me. You might also try Hamilton's Meridith Gentry series, which focuses on the Fae world, also quite excellent. These are the books in the Anita Blake series (remember, they're not for the faint of heart) -

1. Guilty Pleasures 2. The Laughing Corpse 3. Circus of the Damned 4. The Lunatic Cafe 5. Bloody Bones 6. The Killing Dance 7. Burnt Offerings 8. Blue Moon 9. Obsidian Butterfly 10. Narcissus in Chains 11. Cerulean Sins 12. Incubus Dreams 13. Micah 14. Danse Macabre  (now getting into unread territory for me) 15. The Harlequin 16. Blood Noir 17. Skin Trade 18. Flirt 19. Bullet 20. Hit List 21. Beauty 22. Kiss the Dead 23. Affliction 24. Dancing. (Yup, she's prolific)

The Well of Souls Series
7. Jack L. Chalker - Saga of the Well World

Jack L. Chalker was an American Science Fiction writer who lived from 1944 until 2005. I discovered his Well World books in the early 1980s while I was living in Ottawa. I found the whole concept of the Well World to be one of the most unique ideas I'd read in a very long time. The Well World is a world made up of hex worlds, each hex representing different races. If you enter the well world, you are transformed into a being of one of the races represented on the Well World. Each story stands alone, but there is a connecting thread, that being the character of Nathan Brazil who tracks through each story. In every story there is the uniqueness of meeting different races that make up the Well World and the difficulties of traversing the various hexes as each is unique in its own right. A fascinating series. This is the synopsis of the first book, Midnight at the Well of Souls, as a teaser. "Who was Nathan Brazil and what was he doing on the Well World? Entered by a thousand unsuspected gateways - built by a race lost in the clouds of time - the planet its dwellers called the Well World turned beings of every kind into something else. There spacefarer Nathan Brazil found himself companioned by a batman, an amorous female centaur and a mermaid - all once as human as he. yet Nathan Brazil's metamorphosis was more terrifying than any of those.. and his memory was coming back, bringing with it the secret of the Well World. For at the heart of the bizarre planet lay the goal of every being that had ever lived - and Nathan Brazil and his comrades were.. lucky?... enough to find it."

The books in the series include -

1. Midnight at the Well of Souls (1977)
2. Exiles at the Well of Souls (1978)
3. Quest for the Well of Souls (1978)
4. The Return of Nathan Brazil (1980)
5. Twilight at the Well of Souls (1980)
6. The Sea is Full of Stars ((1999) (haven't read)
7. Ghost of the Well of Souls (2000) (Haven't read)

(In 1993/ 94, Chalker also wrote a Watcher's at the Well of Souls series of 3 books that was set in the same world and also quite interesting)

Chronicles of Narnia
8. C.S. Lewis - The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis, who lived from 1898 - 1963 wrote the Chronicles of Narnia between 1950 and 1956. Although I think it can fall easily within the Young Adult fiction genre, I do think it is a classic of the Fantasy genre as well. I read the books while I was at university in the mid-70's, had not heard of them prior to that and I loved the stories. A wonderful world was created for Peter, Lucy, Edmund and Susan to live out the terror of the war years. This wonderful world, Narnia, was accessed in the first story through a clothes closet and once in the world, the children meet fascinating creatures, from Aslan, the brave lion, hero of Narnia to the evil White Witch. The children find out about themselves and become heroes, even Kings and Queens in their own right. A lovely, fascinating series that needs to be read. These are the books that make up this series -

1. The Magician's Nephew (1954) - a prequel
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
3. The Horse and his Boy (1954)
4. Prince Caspian (1951)
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
6. The Silver Chair (1953)
7. The Last Battle (1956)

A Song of Ice and Fire
9. George R.R. Martin - A Song of Ice and Fire

I've been hooked on this series since I started the first book, A Game of Thrones, 1 year and a half ago and also started watching the HBO mini-series. Martin started the series in 1996 and probably had no idea how much impact the series would eventually have on people. He has created a fascinating world of knights, magic, dragons, creatures from the frozen north and put them together in an epic tale. The characters are fascinating, even though Martin seems to have no loyalty to them, no qualms about killing off anybody, no matter how major a character. The world is so very interesting and the story pulses with action and adventure. I have only read the first three books so far but know I'll continue the series this year and hope to be caught up with the TV series by year's end. We'll see. It's a must-read for any fantasy lover. These are the books in the series, so far -

1. A Game of Thrones (1996)
2. A Clash of Kings (1999)
3. A Storm of Swords (2000)
4. A Feast of Crows (2005)
5. A Dance with Dragons (2011)

Book 6, The Winds of Winter, and Book 7, A Dream of Spring, are forthcoming.

The Chronicles of Amber
10. Roger Zelazny - The Chronicles of Amber

Roger Zelazny was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction who lived from 1937 - 1995. I bought the first compendium of the The Chronicles of Amber, Volume 1 from the Science Fiction book club and found to be unique and interesting. The Chronicles comprise 2 distinct sets of five novels that tell of the adventures of Prince Corwin of Amber and then of his son, Prince Merlin. The stories take place on the two true worlds, Amber and the Courts of Chaos and a number of shadow worlds, including Earth. Access to and from these worlds is gained by traversing the Pattern for the Royals of Amber and by the Logrus for the Lords of Chaos. The Ten Amber novels were written between 1970 and 1991. Zelazny demonstrates that he is an excellent story teller and able to create fascinating worlds, intrigue and interesting personalities. I loved this series, it drew me in and held my attention from the first book to the last. I recommend it highly. These are the ten books of the series:

The Corwin Cycle

1. Nine Princes of Amber (1970)
2. The Guns of Avalon (1972)
3. Sign of the Unicorn (1975)
4. The Hand of Oberon (1976)
5. The Courts of Chaos (1978)

The Merlin Cycle

1. Trumps of Doom (1985)
2. Blood of Amber (1986)
3. Sign of Chaos (1987)
4. Knight of Shadows (1989)
5. Prince of Chaos (1991)

So there you have it, my Top Ten list. I would like to mention a couple of honourable mention series as well. They include Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. This is only an honourable mention as I haven't read enough of the series. I've enjoyed both the TV series and the few books I've read so far. I'm looking forward to exploring this series more. I also recommend Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need which consists of only two books (not properly a series); The Mirror of her Dreams and A Man Rides Through, an excellent 'mini-series'. I'd recommend The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by the same author as it is a fascinating series, except it was so depressing and I never ever really liked the main character. Still worth a read for its scope. Finally, I would like to recommend H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy books. I really liked this series, but once again it's almost two short. It is an excellent Science fiction series consisting of - Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and other People.

I think I'm going to have to reread some of these series.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Looking Ahead, Next Reads

I'm enjoying 2014 so far. I'm still working on my first two books, but I've got a couple lined up for my next couple of reads.

Bed Time Reads

I planned to read two Agatha Christie stories to start off my night-time reads. I'm currently reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and enjoying very much. I have a few extra Christie mysteries on my bookshelf to choose from; The Seven Dials Mystery, Peril at End House, and They Came to Baghdad to name a few. I've decided my next book will be a Tommy and Tuppence mystery, N or M? which was originally published in 1941. I've enjoyed the couple of TV mysteries which featured the Tuppence's so want to see how Christie presented them in her books. The synopsis of this story is as follows -

"The war has not changed Sans Souci, the prim seaside boarding house; it is still patronised by retired army men, gossipy old ladies and young people in love. But one of them is a spy: the leader of the 'fifth column' of highly-paced traitors who will seize power when Hitler invades England. So the irrepressible Beresfords, Tommy and Tuppence, come to live at Sans Souci..."

Alphabetical Mystery Writers Challenge

I finished off 2013 with this challenge, reading Mo Hayder's, Birdman, which I quite enjoyed. I may have to try others of her mystery fiction. I've decided to start 2014 with the next 'H' author before I drop to the bottom of the alphabet for my next pick. Next in line is Patricia Highsmith, American crime writer, who lived between 1921 and 1995. I've previously read her Strangers on a Train, an excellent psychological thriller. I've got others of her books on my bookshelf, Ripley Under Ground and This Sweet Sickness but I've decided to read Deep Water, her fifth novel, written in 1957. This is the synopsis -

"In the small town of Little Wesley, intellectual publisher Victor Van Allen decides to discourage his wife Melinda’s many lovers by hinting to them that he may have killed her previous beau, Malcolm McRae. However, the game turns sour when strangers begin to grow wary of him, thus denting his social esteem and also blurring the line between fiction and reality; after a while, Vic wonders if he may really have blood on his hands.

So there you have it, my probably next two selections. I'll keep you posted. Now back to reading In The Woods.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Curently Reading and New Books

A new year is on us, 2014. It's been a lovely start to the year for us on the West Coast. Not so good for those in the East, what with the heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures. It's cool and clear here, but was a nice morning for my first morning run of the year. Stars bright in the sky, temperature frosty. I hope I'll be a bit more consistent with the running this year. Now that the puppies are settling in to our home routines, I should be able to.

So how's the year started off in regards to my reading challenges. I'm currently reading the following two books:

Currently Reading

1. In the Woods by Tana French. Tana French is an Irish writer and this is her first book,  a mystery novel set near Dublin. It's a book that quite a few of the other members of my Goodreads' clubs have read. I finally picked up a copy at my local Courtenay Used Book store back in March of last year. I decided to read it as one of my 12 + 4 selections in 2014 and thought it would be a good book to start the year off with. This is the synopsis on the back page.

"You're twelve years old. It's the summer holiday. You're playing in the woods with your two best friends. Something happens. Something terrible. And the other two are never seen again. Twenty years on, Rob Ryan - the child who came back - is a detective in the Dublin police force. He's changed his name. No one knows about his past. Even he has no memory of what happened that day. Then a little girl's body is found at the site of the old tragedy and Rob is drawn back into the mystery. For him and his DI partner, Cassie, every lead comes with its own sinister undercurrents. The victim's apparently normal family is hiding layers of secrets. Rob's own private enquiries are taking a toll on his mind. And every trail leads inexorably back.. into the woods."

I'm about 25% of the way into the story so far and enjoying very much. Tana French writes thoughtfully and intelligently and is developing the story and characters very nicely. I'm very impressed with this so far as a first novel. If it ends as well as it starts, I will definitely continue to read her books. Next in line is The Likeness, which features Rob Ryan's partner, Cassie.

2. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie originally wrote this novel in 1929. My edition is a Pocket Book published in 1986. It is the third story featuring Hercule Poirot, who has retired from detective work to King's Abbot to raise marrows. This is the synopsis of this mystery -

"The peaceful English village of King's Abbot was stunned. First the attractive widow Ferrars died from an overdose of veronal. Then - twenty-four hours later - Roger Ackroyd, the man she planned to marry, was murdered in his own study. Hercule Poirot the redoubtable Belgian detective, questioned Abbot's nearest and dearest, one by one. 'You will find,' he said slowly, 'that all such cases resemble each other in one thing: everyone has something to hide...."

I'm so glad to be getting back into Agatha Christie's mysteries. They are like a comfortable sweater or warm socks, they feel so good to curl up with. The story flows nicely and I already can't wait to see how  Monsieur Poirot will solve this case. I'm reading the Christie's as part of my bedtime nightstand challenge. Reading two books by the same author as my bedtime read. Not sure what my second Christie will be, but I'm looking forward to it already.

New Books (Xmas presents)

I received three new books for Christmas, two from my sis-in-law Sue and her husband Rob and one from my lovely wife. Supposedly there are still a couple more from the missus and one from my daughter in the mail. :0) These are the three I've received so far.

1. The American Boy by Andrew Taylor. Andrew Taylor is a prolific British mystery/ historical fiction writer. The American Boy is one of his historical novels and came out in 2003. The synopsis looks very interesting -

"England 1819. Thomas Shield, a new master at a school just outside London, is a tutor to a young American boy and the boy's sensitive best friend, Charles Frant. Drawn to Frant's beautiful, unhappy mother, Thomas becomes caught up in her family's twisted intrigues. Then a brutal crime is committed, with consequences that threaten to destroy Thomas and all that he has come to hold dear. Despite his efforts, Shield is caught up in a deadly tangle of sex, money, murder and lies - a tangle that grips him tighter even as he tries to escape from it. And what of the strange American child at the heart of these macabre events - what is the secret of the boy named Edgar Allan Poe?

2. The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor. This is the second Andrew Taylor book I received from Sue and Rob. It was published in 2013 and is another of Taylor's historical mysteries.

"August 1778. British-controlled Manhattan is a melting pot of soldiers, traitors and refugees, surrounded by rebel forces as the American War of Independence rages on. Into this simmering tension sails Edward Savill, a London clerk tasked with assessing the claims of loyalists who have lost out during the war. Savill lodges with the ageing Judge Wintour, his ailing wife, and their enigmatic daughter-in-law Arabella. However, as Savill soon learns, what the Wintours have lost in wealth, they have gained in secrets. The murder of a gentleman in the slums pulls Savill into the city's underbelly. But when life is so cheap, why does on death matter? Because making a nation is a lucrative business and some people cannot afford to miss out, whatever the price..."

3. Mr Standfast by John Buchan. My wife got me this for Xmas, purchasing it from a book dealer in Winnipeg, Canada. I have been collecting the Mr Hannay adventures by British writer, John Buchan and this will now complete my collection. It's an excellent Penguin edition, published in 1960. The five books in the series are - The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), Greenmantle (1916), Mr Standfast (1919), The Three Hostages (1924) and The Isle of Sheep (1936). I've previously read the first two, The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of my favourite adventure thrillers. This is the synopsis of Mr Standfast -

"Richard Hannay - now a Brigadier - General - is again taken from active service to become entangled in the most dangerous and mysterious secret service. A group of pacifists is working against the war effort and agitating in countless ways - underhand and open - to stop the war. In this seemingly sincere movement, Hannay detects something deeper and more sinister, and with the help of his friends (and some of his opponents) and of The Pilgrim's Progress, reveals a plot, covering Europe as well as Britain, to bring victory to Germany. The attempt by their leader to win the love of Hannay's fiancée complicates the political issues, and in the breaking of the conspiracy Hannay and his friends take great chances and undergo grave risks. The setting ranges from rural and suburban England to the battlefields of France, and the Highlands and Islands of Buchan's beloved Scotland. Buchan captures the uncertainty and fear that haunt the minds of the characters as well as he describes the warfare on the Western Front."

So there you have it, my first update of 2014. Have a great year!
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