Friday, 1 July 2016

Mid-Year 2016 - Reading Group Challenge Update

Today is July 1st, Canada Day for we Canadians. There will be celebrations all across the country, with the biggest probably in the nation's capital, Ottawa, Ontario. I think I'll just hunker down at home with the missus and dogs and have a nice relaxing day. It's started off here a bit drizzly and cool, but the sun seems to be peeking through. A few moments ago, I could hear one 19 Wing Comox's Cormorant Search and Rescue helicopters fly over the house. I presume it was heading downtown for a flypast for the local July 1st parade. The Air Force is very popular on such holidays, requested for flypasts all over the country.

Well, anyway, I've rambled on enough. Now on to my monthly book reading summary. Since it's now half way through the year, before I get into the books I completed in Jun, below is my half year summary. I've been very pleased with my progress this year. I'm way ahead of my planned total of trying to finish 100 books. I've finished 74 books so far, partly will credit that to finishing a number of books below 250 pages long; mainly short story collections. Still, that will give me lots of leeway in my selections for the rest of the year. OK, so let's go. First off, here are my top three selections so far this year.

I've had 11 5-star ratings up to now. The below three are probably my favourites. Two are Science Fiction, the other humour.

1. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville. This was a fantastic surprise. I've since purchased another of his books, The Scar, and hope to read that this year. Here was my review.

"Wow! My first exposure to China Miévielle's writing and I'm so very impressed. Call it a combination science fiction/ fantasy. China has created such a unique world in New Crobuzon and populated it with wonderfully described and written characters and species. New Crobuzon is a city that is built beneath the ribs of some ancient creature. It is filled with humans, other species, remade creatures (a form of punishment) and also mechanical creatures. It's basically a dictatorship masked as a democracy.

Crime is rife, the city is a maze of districts and it's all so interesting. The story is a slow - burn at first; rebel scientist Isaac is asked by a Garuda (a flying creature) to help him get his wings back, as they had been removed as a punishment. Isaac's girlfriend, a Khedri (an insectoid - type creature) is an artist who has been commissioned by the city's biggest criminal, to do a statue of him/ her (he is a remade to the extreme). Isaac, while exploring theories of flight, has a petty thief find him specimens of as many flying creatures as he can, including eggs, so he can explore flight and see how he can help the Garuda. Unfortunately, one of the eggs contains a slake moth (one of the most horrific fictional beasts you will ever read about, I think) and when it hatches, it escapes and sets in motion the rest of the story.

The City governors have had 4 other adult slake moths as prisoners. When they all escape, the whole city is in danger. This leads to the 2nd half of the story, a fascinating chase by Isaac, Derkhan, another friend and my favourite character, and the Garuda to try and stop the Slake Moths. I hope I haven't told too much of the story; just suffice to say it's fascinating and worth the read."

2. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I've had this book for a little while now and finally got around to reading it. Another excellent Science Fiction/ Dystopian future by this Canadian writer.

"I loved Station Eleven. It was one of those books that I wanted to finish to see how it ended, but, at the same time, I wanted to continue exploring the lives of the characters. Does that make sense?
It brought out so many emotions; sadness, anger, tears (in both a good and bad way), happiness, encouragement, etc. In some ways it reminded me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but it wasn't so consistently dour and scary. Probably part of the reason for that may be that Station Eleven had more characters and it also didn't just situate itself solely in the dystopic (am I spelling this right?) future.
I particularly liked how the story moved along, starting in their present (our future), introducing the Travelling Symphony and highlighting the new way of life of people trying to survive, then wandering to other characters, explaining where they were when the Georgia Flu caused this world-wide destruction and following their adjustments to the post-flu life.

I liked how the main characters are slowly linked up, such as how Kirsten came to be in possession of Miranda's comic, Station Eleven, even how this comic may have impacted The Prophet. The Prophet introduced a very scary element into the whole story. Was he not utilized enough? Maybe but, personally, I think his appearances were just sufficient enough to provide a negative counterpoint to those trying to live safe lives. More of him might have put a completely different tone to the overall story. How people coped with this new future is what was most interesting.

There were so many nice touches. I liked Kirsten especially but every character was excellent and their personalities developed just to the right amount. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, it's an excellent story and well worth reading. I think the ending left the story open - ended enough to provide a continuation story to show us how the future continues to unfold, should Emily St. John Mandel so desire. Maybe?? Please.."

3. The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories by  P.G. Wodehouse. I've read other books by English humorist, Wodehouse and enjoyed his light touch. This was an excellent collection of short stories.

"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, 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 of 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.)"

It was difficult to pick this three as all of my 5-star rated books were excellent. But that will give you a bit of a flavour of the fun I've had this year with my overall selections. Now to move on to some stats.

Total Books - 74
Total Pages - 22,500

Page Breakdown
       < 250     30
250 - 350      21
351 - 450      10
       > 450     13

Author Gender
Male       -     48
Female    -    26

5 - star     -    11
4 - star     -    37
3 - star     -    26

Fiction                                            -      9
Mystery / Thriller / Spy / etc         -    37
SciFi / Fantasy / Horror                 -    15
Non-Fiction                                   -      6
Humour                                          -     3
Classics                                          -     4

I've updated some of my various challenges due to how many books I've read so far, such as adding another Decades Challenge and adding a couple of books to my Classics challenge. I guess retirement is suiting me; I have enjoyed this past year's reading.

Just to finish off the challenge, these were the books I read in the month of June. I finished 13 books in June. I also completed my 12 + 4 Canadian Reading Group Challenge and decided to start a new one, limiting myself to 12 + 0 Canadian books this time. I read 5 books in this challenge in June. I've listed them below.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (SciFi) 5 - stars.
2. Dead Cold by Louise Penny (Mystery/ Inspector Gamache #2) 4 - stars.
3. Scar Tissue by Michael Ignatieff (Fiction) 4 - stars.
4. Never Saw it Coming by Linwood Barclay (Thriller) 4 - stars.
5. The Rules of Engagement by Catherine Bush (Fiction) 4 - stars.

Decades Challenge (1900 - Present)
I finished this challenge and have made a new one, basically to catch some of the overflow and see what other books I can read from the various decades. I read three books in this challenge in June.

1. 1980 - 89: The Envy of the Stranger by Caroline Graham (Mystery) 4 - stars.
2. 1990 - 99: Blind Date by Frances Fyfield (Mystery) 4 - stars.
3. 2010 - Present: Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon (Spy) 4 - stars.

Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror
I finished two collections of short stories in this challenge. I've read 10 of 12 anticipated books in this particular challenge and am currently reading my 11th. I imagine I'll increase this by another few books when I finish.

1. A Touch of Strange by Theodore Sturgeon (4 - stars).
2. Dark Side of the Earth by Alfred Bester (3 - stars).

Classics (Pre - 1900)
I read one book in this challenge in June and thereby finished my planned total of 4 Classics for 2016. I've increased this challenge by 2 books and hope to attempt 2 more before year's end.

1. Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1819 / 20) 4 - stars.

Ongoing Series
I've not really set a limit on this challenge as I've got so many series on the go. I hope I might attempt at least 40 - 50 of them. So far, I've completed 22 books and have one on the go. I think it looks good. In June I read 2 more books in this challenge.

1. Silesian Station by David Downing (Spy) (John Russell #2) 3 - stars.
2. Petrella at Q by Michael Gilbert (Mystery) (Inspector Petrella #3) 5 - stars.

Non - Fiction
I hope to read 6 books in this challenge and so far have completed 4, with one read throughout May and June. It was an excellent history book by Margaret MacMillan, the second book I've read by her.

1. The War that Ended the Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan (History leading up to WWI) 4 - stars.

So there you have it, my mid - year and June update. It's been an excellent, enjoyable year so far, both from a reading perspective and just life in general. I'm looking forward to the rest of the year. Just for your update, these are the 4 books I've started July with.

1. Helsinki Noir by various authors, compiled by James Thompson - a collection of mystery short stories set in Helsinki, Finland.
2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - a dystopic futuristic young adult book, somewhat à la the Hunger Games and Divergent series, amongst others.
3. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (Grantchester #1) - The first season of the Grantchester mystery series on PBS was based on this book.
4. Seaweed on the Street by Stanley Evans (Silas Seaweed #10 - a mystery series set in Victoria, B.C., Canada featuring police detective Silas Seaweed.

If you're Canadian, enjoy your Canada Day weekend and if not, just enjoy your normal weekend.. :)

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