Wednesday, 1 June 2016

May 2016 Reading Summary

We're now 5 months into 2016. I've probably said it every month, but the year seems to be flying by. Summer is getting near, you can feel it in the air more and more. Our yard has picked up very nicely this  year. There is still lots to do, if and when we want to get around to it, but at least as I sit looking out the den window today, the grass is green and everything looks healthy. There is even the start of some pink roses on the vine that grows up this side of the house.

My reading has been progressing nicely this year. According to Goodreads, I'm 19 books ahead of my chosen challenge number of 100 books for the year. It probably doesn't hurt that I've read a fair number of short books and short story collections. I do seem to be able to go through them fairly quickly, especially since for the most part, I've enjoyed reading them very much.

As a monthly and yearly overall summary, I've completed 15 books in May and for the year, 60 books. I read approximately 4,700 pages in May and overall, approximately19,000 pages. Now on to my more complete breakdown.

Page Breakdown            May                  2016 Total
       < 250                          6                          24
250 -  350                          4                          16
351 -  450                          3                            8
        > 450                         2                          12

Author Gender               May                  2016 Total
Male                                  10                         40
Female                                5                         20

Ratings                            May                   2016 Total
5 - star                                 1                          9
4 - star                                 8                        26
3 - star                                 6                        25

Genre                               May                   2016 Total
Fiction                                 1                          7
Mystery / Adventure           8                         29
SciFi / Fantasy / Horror      4                         14
Non- Fic                              1                          5
Humour                               1                          3
Classics                               0                          2

Reading Group Challenge (12 + 4) (Canadian Lit)
I've finished another 3 books in this challenge and have now completed 14 of 16. I'm currently working on one more and hope I'll finish all 16 by end June. If I do, then I'll probably do one more 12 + 4, less the four, to complete by year's end. In my previous post, I listed 12 possible books I might choose. For May I finished the following books in this challenge.

1. The Crime of Ovide Plouffe by Roger Lemelin (3.5 stars) -
"I bought it for my mother back in 1984. At the time there was a TV series based on the Plouffe family, or, rather, they had updated an old popular series with a new mini-series on Canadian TV. My parents had watched the old series when we lived in Quebec and when I saw this book, I thought my mother would like it. My dad gave it back to me when my mom passed away a few years back.
Anyway, as I mentioned the story/ mystery is about the Plouffe family of Quebec City and this particular story is set in the 1950's, after WWII, when life is getting back to normal and everything is filled with hope. The Plouffes are also moving along, Napoleon has a booming plumbing business, Guillaume, back from the wars, is a hunting and fishing guide with his cousin and Ovide, the sensitive one, is just getting started in a new business, repairing and selling watches and jewelry with a new partner.
All looks good on the surface, but there are issues. Ovide's wife, the luscious Rita, wants excitement and finds herself sometimes working as an escort. Ovide finds himself falling for a lovely French emigre waitress, Marie. Ovide's partner, Pacifique Berthet, is jealous of Ovide and harbours deep fantasies about Rita. So, many things happening in this story. There are interesting asides about Quebec politics which provides some historical interest and are more than just a throw-in. As the story progresses, you will find murder, tragedy, suspicion and a big trial. How will it all end? It's an entertaining read and provides a nice picture of life at the time."

2. Hooked on Canadian Books by T.F. Rigelhof (3.5 stars) -
"I got this book as a Christmas gift about 5 years ago. I initially thought it was a collection of short stories by Canadian authors but, instead, it's a list of Rigelhof's favourite Canadian novels and authors from 1984 on. I took a Canadian Literature course at university back in 1976 so it seemed to be a perfect book to maybe give me some ideas for new Canadian authors to try.
It was an interesting book, more than just a list of books. Rather each section of authors followed a theme and each story / author mentioned also included thoughts on the writer's history and style. I readily admit that I've noted many of the books and have purchased some already. Some will make it to my follow-on 12 + 4 challenge."

3. The Shanghai Murders by David Rotenberg (4 stars) -
"This is the first book in the Inspector Zhong Fong series. I've read the others out of order and I've now finished the series of five books. The books that make up the series are -
1998 - The Shanghai Murders
2002 - The Lake Ching Murders
2003 - The Hua Shan Hospital Murders
2004 - The Hamlet Murders
2005 - The Golden Mountain Murders
The series was excellent and it would probably have been better to have read the mysteries in sequence as it would have been fuller and more complete. Having said that, each story on its own, is a fascinating read. You get a perspective of the Chinese culture as China moves from a closed Communist society to one trying to open its doors to trade and foreign money. Shanghai is a very interesting city. Do I want to visit? I'm not sure, but it's fun reading about it.
In this story, Inspector Fong, head of Special Investigations in Shanghai, must try to work within severe constraints to try and solve two gruesome murders. He faces severe restrictions from his superiors, who plot to oust him, to work with the American wife of the first victim and also to cope with the ghost of his wife and the tragedy that befell her. It's a page turner and a fast - paced story.
Fong is an very sympathetic character and a superb detective. I also enjoyed his cast of supporters, especially his forensic specialist, Lily. Amanda Pitman, the American, is also an interesting character and I enjoyed the developing relationship between her and Fong. The Canadian in the mix, Geoffrey Hyland, the lover of Fong's dead wife, is brought in to provide ammunition for Fong's arrest for the possible murder of his wife. And let's not forget the killer himself, trained in Taipei to be a killing machine.
There are plots and sub-plots and all the while Fong works to solve these murders and find out who is pulling the strings and why? It's unfortunate that Rotenberg only wrote five books in this series. All are excellent and entertaining. One of my favourite series."

Decades Challenge
I finished two more decades in this challenge and have now completed 9 of 12. My favourite book of the month came out of this challenge, my only 5 - star selection.

1. The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse (1910 - 1919) (5 stars) -
This was my favourite book in May, humorous and light.
"I have to say this is a perfect little book. As I wondered what to rate it, I thought, 'well, they're nice stories, they make me feel good, they are perfectly written.....' It has to be 5-stars.
I've read a few of Wodehouse's books and particularly enjoy the whimsy of his Jeeves and Wooster stories. This collection contains one story involving Bertie Wooster, in which Bertie is sent to New York to extricate his cousin from an impending marriage with a 'dance-hall' girl. For once Jeeves play almost no role and we see Bertie at his very best. It left me feeling very happy.
The stories, for the most part, deal with relationships and you tend to leave the stories with a positive view on life. I particularly enjoyed The Mixer, two stories told from the perspective of 'the dog', in which the dog moves through life happily affecting the people around him and, for all his mishaps, landing on all four feet. Just a joy to read and I highly recommend. (I even liked the cover of this Penguin edition, with illustration by Ionicus.)"

2. The Snare of the Hunter by Helen MacInnes (1970 - 1979) (4 stars) -
"I don't believe I've ever read anything by Helen MacInnes before but after The Snare of the Hunter, I know I will search for more of her work. This was such a well-written, nail-biting thriller.
Basically, the premise is that, set in the Cold War period, a Czech national is smuggled out of Communist Czechoslovakia with the help of a group of amateurs. Her father, a renowned writer, had left many years before and she wanted to be with him.
Starting in Vienna they must get her safely to Switzerland, all the while being hunted by Czech spies, who don't want to leave any witnesses behind. Their plans seem to be known in advance so we must wonder if there is a traitor in their midst. I won't ruin this by telling you how it all turns out.
The characters, from Irina to her rescuers, David, Jo and Krieger and to the shadowy people following them are all well-crafted. I liked all the team and Irina very much and wanted so much for them to be successful. There is much tension created and I readily admit as the story draws to its conclusion, I was sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it would end. Wonderful writing and excellent story-telling."

Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror
I read three books in this challenge and have now completed 8 of 12.

1. Storeys from the Old Hotel by Gene Storey (Short stories / Science Fiction) (4 stars) -
"Storeys from the Old Hotel is a collection of fantasy/ science fiction short stories by Gene Wolfe. I enjoyed the book very much. The stories are difficult to categorise but they are interesting. The stories vary from tales about robots, other worlds and fantastical adventures, but each story keeps you on your toes. There always seems to be something just out of the corner of your eye that you are missing. There were no laugh out loud moments but there is a sense of whimsy at times. It's worth reading just to experience the different writing styles in each story. I've never read anything by Wolfe before but I will search out others of his books."

2. Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin (Horror) (4 stars) -
"I've seen the movie a couple of times and I found it was very respectful to this book. The book seemed very familiar but it didn't make it any less interesting.
Basically, Rosemary and her husband, Guy, a budding actor, move into the Bramford, an old apartment building in New York. An old friend tells them that the building has a bad history but they move in anyway. Shortly after their arrival, a new acquaintance of Rosemary commits suicide by jumping from her apartment.
The young couple make friends with the Castevets, an old couple living on their floor and strange things begin to happen. Guy suddenly starts getting successful roles. Rosemary becomes pregnant (having strange 'dreams' during the sex act).
The book has an eerie feel to it, even though it is told very matter-of-factly and this feeling gets stronger as the book progresses. Excellent story, one you won't really want to put down. Even if you've seen the movie, it's worth reading."

3. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Fantasy) (3 stars) -
"Catching Fire was an entertaining, well-paced sequel in the Hunger Games trilogy. It has that problem of being the 2nd book in a trilogy, continuing the thread from Book 1 and setting up the grand finale. It was a bit of more of the same from the first book, Katniss and Peeta once again, surprisingly though, sent to another Hunger Games competition. It is the 75th anniversary of the Games and this time the previous winners from each district are chosen. However, by the rules, they were supposed to be exempt.
The competition seems to be an attempt by President Snow to end the popularity of Katniss and to quell outbreaks that are occurring in the various districts. There are new challenges, new friends and new enemies. It was interesting and exciting. I've now got to find out how the whole thing ends so I guess it achieved its aim."

Classics (pre-1900)
I completed one book in this challenge and have now finished 3 of 4.

1. King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard (1885) (3 stars) -
"An entertaining classic featuring an adventure in the Dark Continent, Africa, South Africa to be exact. The story features Alan Quatermain and two friends journeying across the desert in search of Sir Henry Curtis' lost brother and King Solomon's treasure. Curtis' brother disappeared searching for the treasure and left a map of his route.
The journey is fraught with danger, dying of thirst in the desert, battles with African warriors and witches, etc and is very exciting. It is of its time, written originally in 1885, an excellent action-filled adventure for young boys. I'm glad I finally experienced some of Haggard's adventures and met Alan Quatermain."

Ongoing Series
I read 6 books in this challenge and have completed 20 books so far.

1. Hour Game by David Baldacci (King & Maxwell #2) (3 stars) -
"Baldacci throws everything, including the kitchen sink, at you in this action-packed thriller, the 2nd in the King and Maxwell series.
A killer stalks Wrightsburg Virginia, imitating infamous serial killers with each murder. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, two ex-Secret Service agents, working now as Private Detectives in the area are called in to help with the investigation by the local police chief. As well, they are working a separate case for a lawyer, defending a break and entering suspect. Are the two situations related?
Before they get to the crux of solving this case there will be many murders, almost daily and their lives will be threatened. But they plug on, working to solve the case.
It's an easy, exciting read. I wish Maxwell was more than just the physical presence in the partnership, but that's a minor complaint. You have to suspend disbelief somewhat, but that was easy to do. I enjoyed the writing, the pacing and the steady action. Looking forward to getting into the 3rd book, Simple Genius."

2. Black-lands by Belinda Bauer (Shipcott #1) (4 stars) -
"Stephen Lamb, a 12 year old boy, from a damaged family wants to put it back together. Many years ago, his uncle, Peter, a young boy, disappeared (maybe murdered) and his body never found. Stephen's Nan sits at the window every day hoping Peter will come home. Stephen's mom, Lettie, realising she will always be 2nd place in her mother's heart, wanders from relationship to relationship.
Stephen feels that if he can find the body, believed to be buried somewhere on the Moors, he can bring the family back together and he spends his days digging on the Moors. At some point, he thinks that the person who can help him find the remains is the man in prison for the murders, so Stephen begins a secret correspondence with him. And from there the story takes off.
Very dark but engrossing. Stephen is a quiet but smart boy, picked on by the 'hoodies', the bullies in his school. Avery, the child killer, is a sociopath who has spent 18 years in prison and has his killing instincts aroused by Stephen's letters. Well worth reading. Belinda Bauer has written other stories set in the town of Shipcott, UK. I'll have to find them as I enjoyed this very much."

3. The Dark Monk by Olivier Potzsch (Hangman's Daughter #2) (4 stars) -
"This is the 2nd book in the Hangman's Daughter series, a historical mystery series set in Bavaria in the mid-1600s. This 2nd book was just as entertaining and interesting as the first.
We follow the Shongau hangman, Jacob Kuisl, his daughter, Magdalena and her lover, the son of the town doctor, Simon, as they investigate the murder of a parish priest from a neighbouring town. Involved in this murder might be the secret order of Templars, a long-disbanded organisation, who may have left a secret treasure somewhere nearby.
Hounded by shadowy figures who also seek the treasure and also sidetracked by outlaws that threaten the town's merchants keeps the trio very busy and makes for an exciting story. Each character follows their own path; Magdalena off to Augsburg, Simon with the dead priest's sister, searching for more clues to the location of the treasure (to the consternation of Magdalena) and Jacob, hunting bandits, at the direction of the town's clerk. All their lives are at risk by the shadowy group that follows their every move.
It's a rich, exciting mystery, as well-written and translated as the first book. Most enjoyable. I can't wait to see what happens in the next book, The Beggar King."

4. Death Times Three by Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe) (4 stars) -
"Even though this was the last published book of Rex Stout's work featuring Nero Wolfe, it was still my introduction to the famed detective. Death Times Three features three short stories/ novellas; Bitter End, Frame-up for Murder and Assault on a Brownstone.
I didn't really have any sort of clue about Nero Wolfe and was interested to find out more about him and his assistant Archie Goodwin, who is, in effect, Wolfe's arms and legs. Wolfe never leaves his brownstone in New York and uses the investigations conducted by Archie to analyse and solve the cases brought his way.
Wolfe is a curmudgeon, doesn't like his routine upset (breakfast, morning with his orchids, office work in the afternoon, then more work with his orchids, etc). He doesn't like women clients for some reason (maybe I'll find out more as I further explore his other cases), doesn't really need the work, but seems to take them on when his routine is disrupted or his character is called into question (at least in the three cases in this book.)
The stories were nicely varied; an invasion by Treasury officials in the last, a case involving quinine in Wolfe's paté and the murder of a fashion designer. I enjoyed the cases, the dynamic between Archie and Wolfe and the interruptions by Inspector Cramer and how Wolfe works the information to solve the cases. Enjoyable reading and I'm looking forward to finding out more about this detective."

5. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie (Short stories with Hercule Poirot and also Miss Marple) -
"An entertaining collection of short stories, with all but one featuring Hercule Poirot. The final story, Greenshaw's Folly is a Miss Marple story. I recognised the basic plots of some from the TV series but the stories and results were for the most part nice and fresh. Every story was enjoyable. I liked the investigations and the solutions. It's been so nice to get into Christie's works and mysteries. I don't know why I didn't sooner. If you want a nice quick, enjoyable selection of mysteries, this is the book for you."

6. Mr. Campion: Criminologist by Margery Allingham (Albert Campion) (4 stars) -
"This is the 2nd collection of Allingham's short stories I've read this year and both were excellent. In this collection, every story features her favourite sleuth, Albert Campion, a gentleman who likes to get involved with interesting cases.
Each story is presented as an entry in Campion's casebook and as you see with one of them, the casebook is written by the author, Margery Allingham, sort of presented as Campion's secretary. This book features 7 of Campion's cases and for the most part, they also include his friend, Scotland Yard inspector, Stanilaus Oates.
I enjoyed how Allingham presented the cases. I liked her writing style and I like Campion, somewhat like Dorothy Sayer's, Peter Wimsey, a confident, wealthy gentleman, who likes mysteries. The stories show how quickly he grasps the facts and how he is able to solve the cases, each of which was interesting and different. I've read a few of the Campion books now and find that I'm enjoying them more and more."

I didn't read anything in this category although I am working through The War that Ended the Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan. When I finish that, definitely in June, I will have completed 4 of 6 in this challenge.

So there you have it, my summary for May 2016. At the moment, as June starts off, besides my non-fiction selection, I have 3 others on the go -
- Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, a dystopic fiction story in my 12 + 4 challenge;
- A Touch of Strange by Theodore Sturgeon, a collection of short stories in my Science Fiction category; and,
- The Envy of the Stranger by Caroline Graham (a standalone mystery by the author of The Midsomer Mystery series). This fits into my Decades challenge.

I hope some of the books above tweak your interest. I've enjoyed them all.

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