Thursday, 1 September 2016

August 2016 Reading Summary

B & C from a year or so ago, but just as scruffy
It's a rainy day and the pups were supposed to be spending the afternoon at the pet groomers. They were very excited to go for a car drive with daddy, but unfortunately when we arrived, it turned out that our booking hadn't been noted. So after all the excitement, especially from his highness, Clyde, who maybe thought he was going back to the vet, we returned home and they are still scruffy. However, it's a short reprieve as our groomer was able to reschedule for Saturday. Tee hee. Won't Bonnie and Clyde be surprised!

Now on to the business at hand. My August 2016 Reading summary. The month started off a bit slow as I had some heavier books on the go at the beginning of August, but overall I'm quite satisfied with my reading results. I'm within 2 books of reaching my overall total of 100. I'm looking forward to finishing off with a flurry. Here are my totals for August and overall for 2016.

Books Read     August - 11               Total - 98
Pages Read      August - 3,900          Total - 30,000

Pages Breakdown
       < 250         August - 5                  Total - 42
250  - 350         August - 1                  Total - 25
351  - 450         August - 2                  Total - 14
       > 450         August - 3                  Total - 17

Author Gender
Female             August - 4                   Total - 31
Male                August - 7                    Total - 67

5 - star             August - 2                    Total - 14
4 - star             August - 4                    Total - 49
3 - star             August - 5                    Total - 35

Fiction            August - 5                     Total - 17
Mystery          August - 2                     Total - 46
SciFi               August - 2                     Total - 19
Non-Fic          August - 1                     Total -  8
Humour          August - 0                     Total -  3
Classics          August - 1                     Total -  5

Now onto my specific challenges and what books I read -

Reading Group 12 + 0 (More Canadian Fiction)

1. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (4 stars).

" The Penelopiad: the Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood was one of a series of books released in 2005, the others by other acclaimed authors; e.g. Alexander McCall Smith, Philip Pullman, etc., featuring a modern retelling of various myths, either Greek, Celtic, Christian, etc. The Penelopiad is a retelling of the tale of Odysseus, his courting of Penelope, his dashing off to the War on Troy and his return journey, this time from the perspective of his wife Penelope. Penelope remains in Ithaca and must keep his estates in good order and also fend off the suitors who are gorging her food and courting her to try and get their hands on her estate. Penelope tells this story from the future, her spirit now living in Hades. The 12 maids that Odysseus executed on his return act as a Greek chorus, fleshing out Penelope's story. It's an interesting retelling of this tale, with allusions to the present, conversations with Penelope's cousin, Helen (of Troy) and makes the adventure and myth accessible and enjoyable to read. Margaret Atwood is always an excellent story-teller and intelligent author and this book lives up to her standards. I may have to check out the other stories in this series.

2. Solomon Gursky by Mordecai Richler (5 stars).

"What a joy to read! How do you describe Solomon Gursky Was Here? In its simplest form, it's the story of Ephraim Gursky, a minor crook and forger, who escapes from prison in England and tricks his way onto the ill-fated Franklin expedition, and manages to survive the disaster. He roams the Arctic, becomes a religious leader to a band of Eskimos; in some way he persuades them they are one of the 12 tribes of Israel. He eventually finds his way to Saskatchewan, starts a family and then the story follows his three grand-children; Solomon, Barney and Morrie and their children. The grand-sons found successful liquor business, built partly on smuggling booze to the US during their prohibition; then settle in Montreal. The other aspect of the story follows one Moses Berger, son of poet LB Berger, who worked for the Gursky families. Moses goes through this story trying to find out the truth about Solomon Gursky; a trickster like his grand father, who died in a plane crash in the North of Canada. That is the story in its simplest form. It meanders from the past, following Ephraim, then his grand sons and their kids; also following Moses, now drunk, a failed writer as he explores the Gursky family. There are so many lovely tidbits, humour; just great, entertaining story-telling. It's an entertaining read and it winds up in such a satisfying manner; it was a pure joy to read. I highly recommend. It's been many years since I read something by Mordecai Richler and I'm going to have to find Barney's Version next."

3. The Wives of Bath by Susan Swan (4 stars).

"I'm not sure exactly what to say about this book, except how much I enjoyed reading it. Susan Swan is a new author for me. I decided to try and find this book based on a recommendation in a book about Canadian Literature. I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked it up; the various comments varied from 'A haunting new novel...' to 'Extremely funny... a thoroughly modern tale of shifting sexualities...'... So with that information, I started The Wives Of Bath. I don't want to spoiler the book as there is a very interesting 'twist', if you want to call it that, even though throughout the story there are hints about how it might end. It is the story of a young teenage girl, Mary Beatrice Bradford, aka Mouse, who is sent to a boarding school for girls, on the outskirts of Toronto. Mouse has a slight deformity in her back and is shy about it. She is the narrator of this tale and uses various forms of communication to impart this interesting unique story; letters to JFK (a man she admires greatly), conversations with her back (nicknamed Alice), and straight story-telling. The focus of her story is her room-mate, Paulie Lewis, an orphan who the headmistress is trying to help. The other room-mate is Victoria, who is in love with Paulie's brother, an older boy who works at the school. There are twists in this tale I won't tell you about, but suffice it to say, that the story is so well-written and interesting, that you will be drawn in and eventually, won't be able to put it down to find out the ending. There are fascinating relationships; with Mouse and her father and stepmother, with the various girls, with Mouse and Paulie, with Mouse and the headmistress. I guess this could qualify as Young Adult, but a mature Young Adult. A pleasant surprise and I highly recommend."


4. 1910 - 19. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (3 stars).

"I read Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford two years ago and it was one of my favourites of the year. I remember taking The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion in a university course and not finishing it back then. So I figured that I should give the book another chance when I found it at one of my local book stores a few months back. Well, unfortunately, it didn't do it for me.
The basic story is about the narrator, a self-sufficient American, John Dowell, his wife, Florence and their acquaintances, the Ashburnhams, Edward and Leonora. They meet in Europe where  Dowell and Florence, are at the baths in Nauheim. Both Florence and Edward have heart problems and going to the baths is helpful.
They become friends and Florence begins an affair with Edward. This isn't the first affair that Edward has had. Dowell only finds out about it after many years. There is so much more to the story than this basic outline, it meanders from the past to the present, as the narrator tells the story in his own way, discussing the various relationships of Edward, his own marriage to Florence, their interactions.
In the preface, Ford, in a letter to his wife, states that he feels this is his best story. From my own limited perspective, I disagree. I just couldn't grasp the story. It's very much a tragedy, but Dowell is a diffident narrator. He's a man of leisure who doesn't bring a lot of emotion to his story-telling. I think it's worth reading, even if just to gain an appreciation of Ford's writing style. But I much prefer Parade's End to The Good Soldier. I'm sure many others might disagree."

5. 2000-09. The Coffee Trader by David Liss (3 stars).

"There were things I liked about the story and things I didn't. I enjoyed the setting, Amsterdam in 1659 and the look at the mixture of cultures; the Dutch, the Portuguese Jews living there to escape the Inquisition in Portugal; the description of the city and how the people lived their lives. I didn't always like the characters; difficult to empathise with even the main character, but they were all interesting and well-drawn. It's a book about intrigue and plotting, focused on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange and how the characters try to manipulate each other to gain advantages. Miguel, a Portuguese Jew, struggles to get out of debt and trusts nobody, a feeling that is often reciprocated. He is encouraged to manipulate the coffee trade by a Dutch widow, Geertruid, and must work against his brother, as well as a leader of the Portuguese Jewish community, Parido. But there are so many other people with their fingers in the plot, it's difficult for him to know who is for him and who is against. His actions cause untold troubles to friends and business acquaintances. All in all, it's an interesting story and worth giving a look at, even if just to get a picture of what it might have been like to live in that time."

Science Fiction / Horror / Fantasy

6. The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (3 stars).

"This is the 2nd book in The Strain trilogy and just like the first book, it was action-filled, tension-filled and an entertaining read. The story follows the old man, Abraham Setrakian and his group, Eph (head of the CDC), Nora, Fet (the vermin exterminator cum vampire killer) and Zack as the continue their fight against the Master as he plots to make the world a vampire haven. The book is centred on New York City, although from intimations made, you know the rest of the world is also being attacked. We also get a visit into Setrakian's past, during his time as a prisoner in Treblinka during WWII and his introduction to the vampire menace. We learn that the other Old Ones (the grouping of Vampire masters) are fighting the Master as well and we get introduced to their fighters, Gus and his gang. The story is a definite page turner and an interesting twist on the vampire mythology. Well worth trying. I won't wait as long this time to pick up the finale, The Night Eternal."

7. The Lotus Caves by John Christopher (3 stars).

"I imagine The Lotus Caves by John Christopher would be classified as Young Adult now, but either way it's an interesting little SciFi story. It features Marty and Steve, two teenagers who have grown up on the Moon in the Earth settlement there. Marty's best friend has been recently sent back to Earth for school, so Marty begins to hang out with Steve, an orphan.
They get in trouble for a prank they perform in the Bubble, where the colony resides, and then decide to take a Crawler out to explore one of the early settlements. This leads them to explore further and they crash their vehicle and find themselves in contact with an alien mind in an underground cave system.
Is the mind benign or threatening? What will happen to Marty and Steve? That you have to find out. All in all it was a readable, interesting Science fiction novel, nothing outstanding but an easy, entertaining read. I enjoyed. 
Christopher was a prolific writer and I'll keep looking for his books. The Death of Grass looks especially interesting."


8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (5 stars).

"Great story. I had great difficulty putting it down. Jane is a fantastic character; strong, intelligent, independent. I liked how she stood up to her cousin, how well she did at the boarding school she was sent to (as an outcast) and how she performed at Rochester's home when she became governess to his ward, the lovely Adelie. Even with the 'plot device' as my wife calls it, which kind of makes you go, 'yeah right', it's a fantastic story; a love story, a Gothic romance at times, an adventure (Jane's life is an adventure) and just a great work of fiction. There were characters I liked very much; Mrs. Fairfax (Rochester's house keeper), who treats Jane so caringly, after a life of much tribulation for Jane; St. John's sisters, Diana and Mary, both lovely, who take Jane and make her part of their family; even the headmistress of the boarding school, who loves her charges, even under the strictures of the school's Master. The scenes with Rochester's 'wife' are quite intense and even spooky. The description of the north of England, where the story takes place, is well - described. The story is excellent, the characters well-developed and I'm glad that I read it finally. I guess I'll now have to try Charlotte Bronte's sisters, Wuthering Heights again now.."

Ongoing Series

9. The Black Echo by Michael Connelly (4 stars).

"The is the first book in the Harry Bosch mystery series. I have previously read one other but will have to try it again and read the series in order. I enjoyed this very much. I liked the methodical way the crimes were investigated; I like Harry Bosch; he's an old style cop, a smoker and a coffee inhaler, but he has strong values of right and wrong. He has been moved to Hollywood division as a punishment and finds himself investigating the murder of an old companion from the Vietnam War; a fellow tunnel rat. His investigation leads him to an old bank robbery and involved with the FBI, especially Agent Eleanor Wish. He is also being tracked by the LAPD's Internal Affairs as they try to find something to discredit him with. The case is interesting, it provides details about Bosch's past, his time in the Vietnam War and how it might relate to this case. Lots of tension, interesting characters and storyline and many twists and turns. Harry, from the TV show, and Harry in the book are similar and you develop great empathy with the character. I enjoyed this story very much and look forward to further exploring Harry Bosch's mysteries."

10. A Mind to Murder by P.D. James (4 stars).

"A Mind To Murder by P.D. James is the second book in the Inspector Dalgliesh mystery series. In this mystery, Dalgliesh and his assistant, Sgt Martin, investigate the murder of the Administrative Officer at a London psychiatrist facility. To all intents it appears that the murder is an inside job. As with the other PD James books I've read, I'm impressed with how intelligently James writes. The story is a methodical police investigation, but I enjoy how she lays out a story, the methodical investigation, the development of all of the main characters; Dalgliesh and suspects alike. Dalgliesh is a thoughtful investigator, Martin, with is more down-to-earth way of looking at things, a perfect assistant. It's a pleasure to read such a well-crafted story and satisfying to discover the conclusion. I look forward to reading the next book in this series."


11. The King's Grace (1910 - 1935) by John Buchan (3 stars).

"I've read a few books by John Buchan, but they've been fiction; the John Hannay adventures. It was interesting to find one of his non-fiction books. The King's Grace covers British history from 1910 - 1935, with a focus on the impact of the King. There was less focus this that I believed. It dealt more with the period before WWI, the war itself and the aftermath and how England was impacted. It especially talked about the various governments and at times talked about how the King impacted on the battlefield and also on the lives of his peoples. It was an interesting historical perspective; I've read a few books about this time and enjoyed seeing how an individual who lived through it, perceived things. Buchan has a unique perspective. Besides being a well-known writer, shortly after this book was published, he became the King's representative, the Governor - General of Canada. Interesting book."

My Top Three

It's probably easy to decide which of the books are my top three from the rating but just in case you missed, here they are:

1. Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler;
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; and
3. A Mind to Murder by P.D. James.

Currently Reading

I've finished one book (graphic novel) for September. This is for a Genre challenge in another book group of which I'm a member. The Rising Stars series was written by J. Michael Stracyzinski, the creator of Battlestar Gallactica.

I'm also reading:

1. The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper;
2. The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith;
3. I Want it Now by Kingsley Amis; and
4. The Borribles - Across the Dark Metropolis by Michael de Larrabeiti.

I should be able to finish off my Canadian challenge this month, no later than October anyway. I have one more Classic to pick to finish off that challenge and I've only got another 3 or 4 for my 2nd Decades challenge. So I anticipate that I will be able to make a good stab at my ongoing series until the end of the year.

Hope you get a few ideas from my reading list. Have a great September.
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