Friday, 3 April 2015

March 2015 Reading Update

April is now upon us and it's the start of the Easter long weekend here in Canada. I was able to leave work a bit early yesterday so it's a nice break ahead. Off until Tuesday now. Unfortunately, even though it's Good Friday, it's been rainy, cool and windy today. So the missus and I are instead relaxing and taking it easy, watching some curling (later anyway), some spring training baseball and updating our online pages. Bonnie is curled up on the poof at Jo's feet and Clyde is on his pillow keeping an eye on us and waiting for a possible opening to join Jo on the easy chair.

I hope to do at least one more 'reminiscence' post this weekend, maybe two if I have the inspiration. But for today, time to look back at March and see how my reading came along.

Let's start with the statistical type info first.

According to Goodreads, I'm about a book behind schedule if I want to make my total for the year. I've managed to complete 22 of my plan to read 95 over the course of the year. I think it'll all balance out, but we'll see. In March I completed 7 books. I have one more month of full-time work and maybe after April I'll manage to get up to 8 or 9 per month. Total pages around 7,900 for the year. Here are my basic stats for the month of March -

Authors - Female (3), Male (4)
Mystery (a mix of historical (2), one set in Africa (1), one set in the US (1), and another in the UK. Well both my historical mysteries were also in the UK. Total 5;
Fantasy (werewolves) - 1
Adventure - 1
Ratings - 4 stars - 5, 3 stars - 2
These are the books I managed to complete this month -

1.  The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (Mystery USA) (4 stars). This is the first book in the Walt Longmire mysteries. It didn't disappoint, was as entertaining as the TV series based on the books. This is my review.
"Fantastic intro to the world of Walt Longmire. It brought me similar joy reading it that I found reading Martin Walker's Bruno series and Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series. You get more than just a mystery, you get a life style, wonderful characters, humour and finally a great mystery. Walt Longmire is a crusty sheriff in Wyoming, with a quirky support cast, his Cheyenne friend, Henry Standing Bear, his deputy, Vic, his secretary, Ruby, his sometime deputy and the ex-sheriff, Lucian, plus many others. It's a joy immersing yourself in this folksy world and getting to know the place and the characters. And, hey, you also get to solve an interesting mystery. Excellent story and I will definitely continue with this series. As an aside, I was introduced to the books by the excellent TV series that was on AMC and is supposedly going to be continued by Netflix. Both the TV series and the book were excellent."

2. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Jackson Brodie #2) (British mystery) (4 stars). This is the second in the Jackson Brodie books and we finally see Brodie in Edinburgh, the location of the TV series. I love Kate Atkinson's writing style, a style that is recreated quite effectively in the TV series, as well.
"This is the second book in the Jackson Brodie series and we now find Brodie in Edinburgh, which now matched up somewhat with the TV series. In this story, Brodie is only in Edinburgh because girlfriend, Julia, who we met in the first book has an acting job during Edinburgh's festival. Brodie is a retired police detective/ private detective and finds himself somewhat out of pace during this visit. He doesn't really know what to do to occupy his time but suddenly becomes involved in a road rage incident and then finds a dead body, which also manages to disappear on him. We are introduced to a cast of interesting characters; writer Martin Canning, from the road rage incident, Gloria Hatter, the wife of conman Graham and my favourite character, Detective Sergeant Louise Monroe. The story rotates from each character's perspective and moves along nicely, gradually interconnecting their individual story lines. It's an intelligent, well-written, entertaining story and I look forward to reading the rest of this series. I enjoyed the TV series immensely and the books, so far, have not let me down at all."
3. A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (African mystery) (Emmanuel Cooper #1) (4 stars). This is the first book in Malla Nunn's series, set in South Africa. It was another great surprise. I enjoyed the feel for the story and liked the characters very much.
"I picked this book by chance while looking through my local book store. The synopsis looked interesting and I hadn't read many mysteries set in Africa. I'm so glad I took a chance on it as I enjoyed the story immensely, right from the first few paragraphs. The story is set during apartheid and the plot revolves around the shooting death of an Afrikaner police captain in a small village. An English police detective is sent form Johannesburg to work the crime. He suddenly finds himself in the midst of tension with the Security services who want to find a Communist threat as the cause for the murder and also from the Police Captain's sons, hard core Afrikaners who provide a constant threat to Sgt Emmanuel Coopers well-being. The story moves along so very nicely and highlights the tensions implicit in the apartheid system; from the ruling white Afrikaners through the mixed - race peoples (the coloureds) to the blacks (the Zulu races. The characters are well-crafted, I particularly liked Emmanuel Cooper and the Zulu constable, Shabalala (excuse any spelling mistakes) and the Jewish doctor, Schneider (once again apologies for any errors in spelling). Cooper and the story itself remind me of Arcady Renko in the Martin Cruz Smith books set in Russia. Cooper also is a man in the middle, a police officer trying to solve a murder but having to deal with the tensions caused by apartheid, and the constant threats from the Security Services, even the threat of physical violence to his person. Malla Nunn has crafted an excellent story, creating tension and making you want to keep reading. My only slight dissatisfaction and the reason I gave it a 4 (actually a 4.5) was the ending. While I was satisfied with it overall, it was a bit pat. However, if you want a tense, well-written mystery story, you have to give this a try. I will move on to the next book."

4. The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth (British historical mystery) (John Madden #3) (4 stars). This series gets better with each story. The first book tweaked my interest and the next two have been superb. Thrilling and with great characters, I think anyone should give it a try.
"This is the third in the John Madden series of mysteries. The stories get better and better. I enjoyed this very much. It's more than just a mystery featuring one detective. In fact, in this story, John Madden has been retired from Scotland Yard for a number of years, now happily married and living in the country with lovely country doctor, Helen. The story is set during the final throes of WWII, during the Battle of the Bulge as Hitler's army tries a last desperate attempt to throw back the Allies. Mind you, this story is basically set in England, with a warm up from France, when a Jewish businessman is murdered. We move to England and another murder, that of a Polish girl who has been working on Madden's farm. This brings Madden into the story as he feels an obligation to help solve the murder. But the story also focuses on Deputy Inspector Angus Sinclair, Madden's old boss, and a team of police led by Billy Sykes and others. The investigation is handled nicely as they try to find a mystery man, a possible serial killer. It's such a nicely paced and choreographed story and all of the characters are well-presented. I kind of had some things figured out by the end, but it didn't matter, the story was excellent, the tension nicely built and it was an all-in-all enjoyable mystery. One more in this series, unless Mr. Airth decides to write another. Enjoy!"

5. Sharpe's Fury by Bernard Cornwell. (Historical adventure) (Sharpe #11) (4 stars). I usually try to read one or two of the Sharpe books a year. I enjoyed the TV series based on the books very much and the books are always entertaining, exciting adventures. This one was no exception.
"As always the Sharpe books are an entertaining and exciting adventure series. This is the 11th book in the series and I enjoyed it very much. I like the historical aspects of the story, the British battle at Barraso in 1811 and how Cornwell fits Capt Sharpe and his riflemen into the action. There were excellent supporting characters, including Sir Thomas Graham, who I liked very much. There is always a slight romantic interest but not quite so prevalent in this story. Sharpe has to contend with a plotting, vicious Spanish priest and a French Colonel, Vandal, who doesn't play according to the rules of war. If you like a page turner and well-crafted historical adventure, try the Sharpe books."

6. A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch (Historical mystery) (Charles Lenox #1) (3 stars). Another book I found by chance and decided to give it a go. It was an interesting mystery but disappointing somewhat. I will probably give the second book a chance as sometimes it takes the author a book to get a feel for the characters and stories.
"I don't have a lot to say about this story. Charles Lenox is an arm-chair detective and Victorian gentleman. He seems to spend a lot of time planning exotic trips and never taking them. He's somewhat fussy but likes a good  mystery. He seems able to inculcate himself into investigations with little protest from the regular police, even though there is friction between him and them. And people who are involved in crimes don't seem to mind him wandering around their homes, investigating the crime. In this story, a maid is killed and his friend Lady Jane asks him to help investigate her death. With help from his butler, his brother, who is also a Member of Parliament, and other friends, he works to solve the case. I like the era in which the story is set and overall was entertained."

7. Bitten by Kelley Armstrong (Fantasy - werewolves) (Women of the Otherworld #1) (3 stars).
This is the first book in this series and was used as the basis for a popular TV series on Space TV, especially popular with the missus and I. It doesn't hurt that it's written by a Canadian and the series is made in Canada.
"I've read a few supernatural series; the Anita Blake books, the Blood Ties books, etc. I'd started watching the TV series that is based on Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series before I read this first book. It was interesting to compare the two. There are differences, different characters, some different story lines, but all in all, both are very interesting. This story is told in the first person by the only female werewolf in the world, Elena, and she is a woman who has struggled to accept her werewolfness. She tries to live a normal life in the city, Toronto, but is called back to the Pack's home in the country at Stonehaven when the Pack is threatened by a group of mutts, unpacked werewolves. The story is slow at times, with Elena's time spent on Elena trying to discover what it is she actually wants to be. She can be frustrating at times, but the story moves along and the action picks up steadily. I did enjoy the story and I think part of the slowness can be attributed to the fact that I was comparing to the TV series. I enjoyed the story and will find the others in the series and continue to read up and see who the other women in the Otherworld might be. Looking forward to finding out."

So there you have my March summary. I've started off April by finishing the first Wallander mystery by Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers. It was enjoyable but a bit disappointing. That may have something to do with the translation. I do have a couple of others of the series on my bookshelf and plan to continue with the series.

At the moment I have these books on the go.

1. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (Classic)

2. Liberty Falling by Nevada Barr (Mystery US) (Anna Pigeon #7). This mystery finds Park Ranger, Anna Pigeon, in New York city, nervously waiting for her sister to recover from surgery and also trying to solve a mystery on Ellis Island/ Liberty Island National Park.

3. The Missing File by D.A. Mishani (Israeli mystery) (Avraham Avraham #1). Another new series for me. I'll let you know how it goes.

So hopefully some ideas for future reading for you. Enjoy your weekend and Happy Easter!

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