Sunday, 1 May 2016

April 2016 - Monthly Reading Update

It's a lovely, fresh Sunday. The sun is shining and there is a cool breeze blowing into the den window. I've spent my morning reading, relaxing and watching English footie. It's been a strange exciting season, with the Big Four struggling to stay in the top four and teams like Leicester, Tottenham and West Ham making significant progress. It'll gratifying to see if Leicester and Tottenham can take the top two positions. I always enjoy cheering for the underdogs. Now if only the stupid darn Blue Jays would wake up and start hitting a baseball like they are supposed to and I'd be really happy.

I've got a couple of other BLog entries sitting on the back burner but today I'm going to do my monthly reading update. So let's get on with that April update.

Goodreads' Challenge and General Stats

Goodreads' Challenge

I had a really good April, finishing 13 books. Having said that, there were a number of short books but they were still challenging enough. I'm particularly enjoying getting into short story collections. They have been most enjoyable. So 13 books in April, with an overall total for 2016 of 45 books. I'm 12 books ahead of schedule for completing 100 books by end-year. In April, I completed 4008 pages for a yearly total of 14,349 pages. So even though I read a number of shorter books, my overall page count for April was still pretty satisfactory.

Page Breakdown
                           April                  Total
       < 250     = 6 books                  18
250 -  350     = 3 books                  12
350 - 450      = 0 books                    5
       > 450     = 4 books                  10

Author Gender
                           April                  Total
Male                    9                            30
Female                4                            15

Fiction                2                              6
Mystery/ Adv     6                             21
SciFi/ Fan           2                             10
Non Fict             2                               4
Humour              1                              2
Classics              0                              2

 5-star                 1                               8
4-star                  7                              18
3-star                  5                              19

 12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge (Canadian Literature)

I only finished one more book in this challenge, but after only 4 months, I've read 11 of the 16 books I selected. The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies was also my favourite book of April and my only 5-star rating. This is my review.

"This is the 3rd book in the Cornish trilogy. I enjoyed the first, The Rebel Angels, very much. It had been most enjoyable to get back into Robertson Davies, after a 20+ year absence. The second book, What's Bred in the Bone, while interesting, didn't hold the same level of enjoyment that the first did. So The Lyre of Orpheus sat on my shelf for a couple of years now,  awaiting my attention. I'm so glad that I dusted it off and got back into this trilogy. It was excellent. I loved everything about this, the writing, the characters, the story.

The basic story is that the Cornish foundation, run by Arthur Cornish and his lovely wife, Maria, and assisted by a loose collection of directors, agrees to use Cornish foundation money, to fund the doctoral work of a young music student, Hulda Schnakenburg. She is trying to complete an unfinished opera by Hoffman, the Story of Arthur of Britain. A concurrent story has Simon Darcourt, old friend of Francis Cornish and of Arthur and Maria, seeking to complete a biography of Francis Cornish. The investigation into this biography, to find out the missing middle of Francis' life and the development of the opera, are fascinating stories. The characters, from the main ones, as well as Schnak and the others brought in to help with the creation of the opera, were lovingly written and so interesting.

I can't say I'm an opera fan, but watching the creation and development and the ultimate presentation of this opera, was a joy to read. Throw in asides by the ghost Hoffman, throughout the story, as he watches from Limbo and waits to see what the ultimate result will be, and you've got a richly textured story. Sex, cuckoldry and just downright entertainment and you have a fantastic, wonderful story. A perfect ending to this trilogy."

Decades Challenge

I read three books in this challenge. The unfortunate thing is that two of the books were from decades where I had already read stories. I've completed 7 of 12 decades and have 3 duplicate decades overall.

1940 - 49 - This was the 2nd book from this decade. Hurrah for St. Trinians is a collection of cartoons by Ronald Searle, some which formed the St. Trinians book and movie series and others that he produced during his life. It was basically a fun read and is the second book of his works that I've collected.

1950 - 59 - The Blue Lenses and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier is one of the collections of short stories that I've read this past year. Most enjoyable. This was the 2nd book from this decade.

"An interesting collection of short stories by the author of Rebecca and The House on the Strand. The book was published in 1959 and contains 8 stories, each different and unique in its own right. I particularly liked The Alibi and The Blue Lenses; the first about a man trying to get some excitement into his life and finding that his plan takes an unexpected turn to the left and the second, almost science fiction, a strange tale of a woman seeing life through new lenses, a very strange and disturbing vision. The Pool and The Archduchess were good, but missed the mark somewhat from my perspective. But all in all, an excellent, well-written book. It's continued to whet my appetite for more du Maurier fiction."

1960 - 69 - The Pale Betrayer by Dorothy Salisbury Davis is the first book I've read by this author and it didn't turn me off trying more of her work.

"I'm not sure where I first heard of Dorothy Salisbury Davis, but I think The Pale Betrayer was listed in the back of another similar type story I read. The plot looked interesting so I ordered it and have finally got around to reading it. Sort of a simple plot, a scientist, a physicist who works in nuclear physics, returning from a conference in Greece is murdered on his way to his university labs to show a movie he had received from a Russian physicist. This is during the Cold War period, which adds one possible motive. As well, his friend, who may also love his wife, seems to have some involvement, as he might be being blackmailed.

The story is a slow-burn, but from the beginning I liked some of the main characters; the police investigating the crime, the young female physicist student, Anne Russo, who the lead cop, Lt Marks, is taken with. All are interesting and I liked them very much. As well, Louise Steinberg, best friend of the victim's wife is down-to-earth and adds nice colour. The story moves along at a nice pace and, ultimately, gets you hooked and as the plot becomes clearer, it is even more enjoyable. I did like this and it was worth getting through the vagueness of the first few chapters to get into the story. Well worth reading. I think I will look up more of her books now."

Science Fiction/ Horror/ Fantasy
I have read 5 of 12 planned books in this challenge now.

1. Goliath by Scott Westerfield. This is the third book in this Young Adult/ Dystopic Science Fiction story and as entertaining as the other two books. I enjoyed this series very much and kind of wish it was more than just a trilogy as there are more stories that could be told about the characters and the world in which they reside.

"Goliath is the third and final book in the Leviathan trilogy, an excellent series of YA fantasy/ steampunk. Set during WWI, it features a war between the Darwinist states (UK, France, etc.) and the Clanker nations (Germany, Austro/ Hungary). The Darwinists use genetically-modified creatures as their war weapons; Leviathan is a whale like creature that acts as a Zeppelin and its weapons feature strafing hawks and flechette bats). The Clankers use mechanical weapons. Into this mix is thrown Alek, the son of the assassinated ruler of Austro Hungary, who was rescued in the 1st book by the RAF ship, Leviathan. Also is Deryn, a young girl disguised as a boy (Dylan) so she can fly in the airship (girls can't join the Air Force), and the development of their budding relationship.

In Goliath, the Leviathan finds itself traveling over Russia to rescue mad inventor, Tesla, who claims to have built a weapon to end the war (Goliath) and the continued journey and adventures of the crew over the US and Mexico. You will meet new characters, including Tesla, and interesting adventures. Goliath has everything and is an excellent page turner and end to this enjoyable trilogy. Lots of adventure, great characters and budding romance await you. You've got to try this excellent series."

2. News from Elsewhere by Edmund Cooper. Another collection of short stories, this one from Science Fiction writer, Edmund Cooper.

"A collection of short stories dealing with space exploration, either outward by humans or inward by aliens to Earth. A nice mix, some ending not so happily, others quite humorous. I enjoyed them all, some more than others. The first two ended somewhat obliquely, but for the most part they were all excellent.  The Lizard of Woz, an alien lizard coming to Earth to make contact and his experiences on Earth was my favourite. It definitely made me chuckle. If you are a fan of speculative fiction from the '60s, give this one a try. You'll be pleasantly entertained."

Classics - I didn't read any books in this category in April so I remain at 2 of 4 completed.

Ongoing Series
I read five books in this challenge and have now completed 14 books. I didn't set a limit on this challenge. I've got so many series on the go or awaiting my initial attention that I will just read as many as possible.

1. Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas - This is the first book of the Commissaire Adamsberg mystery series. I was somewhat disappointed with it, I must say. I don't know if it was the translation or just that the author seemed to be trying too hard. It ended better than it started and some of my acquaintances in my Goodreads' book groups say that the series is worth continuing. So we'll see.

2. The Allingham Minibus by Margery Allingham. This is a collection of short stories by British crime writer, Margery Allingham, some of them featuring her favourite detective, Albert Campion. Most enjoyable.

"An excellent collection of short stories from Margery Allingham. I expected them all to feature her favourite detective, Albert Campion, but, in fact, only two of them did. Both of them were excellent, demonstrating Campion's ability to grasp the salient clues to quickly solve both mysteries. I enjoyed them very much. I was surprised, pleasantly it turned out, that there were 3 or 4 ghostly stories contained in the book. I can't say the endings totally surprised me, but I enjoyed them very much. My favourite story also happened to be the longest, A Quarter of a Million, which featured a gang of ruthless, cunning robbers who didn't mind killing to get what they wanted and an intelligent police inspector who was able to outsmart the gang, with a neat little twist at the end as he explained how he had figured things out. All in all, a most enjoyable collection."

3. Winter Frost by R.D. Wingfield. This is the 5th and 2nd last book in the Inspector Frost mystery series, everyone excellent and entertaining.

"I do enjoy the Frost series. Each story is somewhat similar, Frost bumbles and stumbles through a variety of cases, with a short - manned police station, fighting with his boss, Superintendent Mullett, trying to stay out of trouble and solve his cases. In this story, prostitutes are being raped and murdered, there are missing children, an old skeleton has been found and the 'pillow case' robber is robbing houses.

Frost works on each case, as Mullett has loaned half of his station to another detachment working on a drug case. The weather is awful, Frost gets no sleep, working around the clock, trying to deal with a bit of a wastrel on his staff and with friction from a female acting inspector who is trying to make a name for herself. He stumbles from one solution to another, often finding himself on the wrong track.

But even with that and with his sexist remarks and curmudgeonly personality, Frost draws you in. He cares about his people and about the victims. I like how cases are worked, methodically at times, with bursts of inspiration. The story moves along nicely, keeps you hooked and the result is always satisfying. Only one book left in this series. I look forward to reading it, but not finishing it."

4. For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming. This is an excellent collection of 5 short stories featuring James Bond, 007.

"I enjoyed this collection of James Bond short stories very much. Three of them feature as titles (titles only really) in recent full-length 007 movies; Quantum of Solace, For Your Eyes Only and From a View to a Kill. I enjoyed each story as they offered different perspectives on James Bond's Life.

Quantum of Solace was especially interesting as Bond appears only as an interested listener; a visitor to the British diplomats house in Bahamas and listening to a story about a married couple. Definitely not a typical Bond story, more a tale of relationships and how they can go bad. A View to a Kill is set in Paris and Bond is sent to find out why and how a despatch rider has been killed, a nice taut suspense story. In For Your Eyes Only, M asks Bond to enact revenge on a Cuban killer, who has murdered friends of M's in Jamaica. Bond goes to the US (a house in the wilderness of Vermont) to complete the job and finds himself assisting the daughter of the family, a very satisfying story. In Risico, Bond heads to Venice to assist in dismantling a drug operation and finds that there are two sides to every story. I liked this one especially. The final story, The Hildebrand Rarity, finds Bond at the end of a mission in the Seychelles and helping a millionaire find a rare fish. Of course, there are twists as the millionaire isn't very nice. Every story was enjoyable and nicely, tautly written."

5. Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser. The first book about English adventurer, Flashman.

"A good historical adventure, in the style of CS Forester's Hornblower books or Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series. Flashman originally showed up as a minor character in Tom Brown's Schooldays. He is a bounder, a coward and a ne'er do well, but he always seems to come up smelling like roses. He readily acknowledges his characteristics, of course, but others see him as a hero. This is usually because there is nobody else left around to contradict these assessments. In the first Flashman book, he finds himself deployed to Afghanistan during the English retreat, in disarray, from Kabul. Flashman has many adventures, is captured by an arch enemy and has relationships with many women, some not of a willing nature. He always manages to escape from these situations, often with the help of others, who naturally don't survive very well. Even with his faults, and they are many, he's still entertaining and interesting. Worth reading if you want an excellent adventure."

I read two books this month and now have completed 3 of a planned 6.

1. One Summer: America 1927. My wife, Jo, introduced me to Bill Bryson's work. He writes excellent travel novels and also histories.

"I was introduced to Bill Bryson by my wife when she was reading his travel books. I've read a few now and do enjoy his style of writing. One Summer: America 1927 highlights a specific period of time in American history, focusing on a number of the important public figures of the time; Charles Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic, Babe Ruth's run at his home run record, Al Capone's rise in Chicago, etc. It was interesting to see that time in history, having said that, considering the intolerance of the time, I don't know that I would have wanted to live there then. You have Sacco and Vanzetti's trial for murder; were they really guilty? It didn't seem to matter because there were Italians. You have the popularity of the Eugenics ideas; e.g. the strong race concept. You have the rising popularity of the Ku Klux Klan. It was definitely a tumultuous time and a time of great discoveries. Fascinating read."

2. Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French. This was one of those books I saw in the window of my local used book store, Nearly New Books, and it grabbed my attention right away. My initial impressions weren't disappointed.

"This was one of those opportunistic purchases; the cover caught my eye and the blurb inside sounded very interesting. Set in Peking just before WWII, when Peking was being pressured by the Japanese armies that surrounded it, it is the story of the murder of a young English girl and the investigation into her murder. The story is recreated by English writer, Paul French, as he researched through varied archives and the letters of her father.

I found the locale intriguing, the lives of the people who lived in Peking (both the Chinese themselves and the foreigners who worked and lived there). Such an exotic location; with White Russians hiding from Communist Russia, English/ Americans and other nationalities living in the Foreign Legation district and the locals as well. Peking must have been such a fascinating city, trying to cope with threats from without and also trying to live a normal life. The book follows the initial investigation by the Chinese police officer, Han, and the English Detective brought in from Tsintsen. The last half is taken from the father of Pamela Werner as he tries to continue with the investigation on his own, always suffering with the intransigence of the British ambassador. A true story and a very interesting one."

So there you go. That is my April reading. All in all, I enjoyed every book. I've got four on the go at the moment and hope May will be as successful and as entertaining.

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