Saturday, 1 October 2016

Reading Summary - September 2016

It's been awhile since my last post. I get on these reading tangents and at times resent taking the time to sit down and visit my BLog. It's unfortunate in a way as I do enjoy yakking here. We are now in October. Egads! Today is a typical Fall day, drizzly and cool. I've spent the first part of the morning reading and watching the Premiership, oh, and dozing.. Another of my favourite past times.

This isn't a political BLog but I must admit I've been very distracted by the US election coverage. The missus has taken to dragging me away from the computer as I start another rant on an article about the lowlife (excuse my editorializing) GOP candidate, Trump. He makes all men look bad and I shudder as he starts another attack on someone who has somehow ticked him off. I'll stop there except to say I hope the rational people in the US outnumber those radicals supporting Trump, when voting day arrives. *sigh*

Back to books. With a new month upon us, I do like to sit back and do my monthly review of my previous month's reading. I'm very satisfied with what I accomplished in September, especially that I enjoyed all the books I read. My numbers will seem a bit higher than normal and that's partly because in my UK Book Group, the September genre was graphic novels (or, in other words, comics). I read six, so if you subtract those, I actually read pretty well my normal amount. Having said that, the graphic novels were each between 100 and 200 pages.

Onward to Stats.

September Summary                         Sept                        2016 Total
Books Read                                           18                               116
Pages (Approx.)                                   4,500                          34,500

Page Breakdown
      < 250                                                  9                                   51
250 - 350                                                  5                                   30
351 - 450                                                  4                                   18
       > 450                                                 0                                   17

Author Gender
Female                                                      2                                   33
Male                                                        16                                   83

5 - star                                                       1                                  15
4 - star                                                     13                                  62
3 - star                                                       4                                  39

Fiction                                                       2                                  19
Mystery                                                     6                                  52
SciFi                                                          9                                  28
Non - Fic                                                   0                                    8
Humour                                                     0                                    3
Classics                                                     1                                    6

Top 3 Books
1. The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak - 5 stars
2. Memory Book by Howard Engel - 4 stars
3. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - 4 stars

Reading Group Challenges

Reading Group 12 + 0 - Canadian Lit - This was my second attempt at this challenge, continuing with a theme of Canadian Lit. I finished it this past month.

1. Memory Book by Howard Engel - This is one of the later Bennie Cooperman mysteries. My review is below.

"I read some of the early Benny Cooperman mysteries back a few years and I enjoyed Benny and the stories. For the most part they were set in the town of Grantham, Ontario, just down the road from Niagara Falls. Benny is a private investigator; his cases are interesting and he is an interesting character. In 2000, the author, Howard Engel , suffered a mild stroke, which left without the ability to read, without major effort and therapy, even though he could still write. The condition is known as alexia sine agraphia.
In 2005, he wrote this book. It starts with Benny waking up in a hospital in Toronto, after having been discovered in a dumpster. Benny was struck in the head and because of this, he finds that he has the same condition. He has great difficulty reading, remembering names and what happened yesterday. He can write and remembers things that happened earlier in his life. While in the hospital, Benny enlists the aid of his girl-friend, Anna, to continue investigating; the case Benny was actually involved with, and to find and interview many of the people involved. At the same time, Benny works to develop techniques to improve his mental state and to find techniques to assist him; the Memory Book being one of them. As well, he continues his investigation from his hospital bed.
It's a fascinating concept and interesting story, peopled with great characters. The mystery is almost secondary to Benny's experiences in the hospital. All in all, an excellent, well-written, entertaining story. (4 stars)

2. How Like an Angel by Margaret Millar. This book continued my love affair with Millar's writing. She has written some of my favourite mysteries.

"The more I read the books of Margaret Millar, the more I appreciate and enjoy her writing. How Like an Angel was an excellent mystery. It starts off with Joe Quinn, a private investigator, who has lost his money gambling in Vegas, getting a ride to a town in Southern California, to try and get some money from a friend. He is dropped near a religious commune and, from this point, the mystery begins.
Quinn is paid by one of the members, Sister Blessed to try and locate a certain Patrick O'Gorman. He doesn't know why and originally he plans to take the money back Vegas to gamble with. However he finds that he likes Sister Blessed and also that he seems to have a conscience, and, instead he heads off to O'Gorman's last known location to try and find out about the man.
The story involves murder and embezzlement. The mystery deepens as Quinn begins to question more people. This may sound a big convoluted, but actually, Millar writes in such a clear-headed manner, that everything falls into place easily, even with a nice surprising ending.
I love how she lays out the plot and I love how each character sounds realistic and how she draws you into their personalities. Quinn grows and becomes more and more likeable as the story develops and I liked so many of the characters; from Sister Blessed to Margaret O'Gorman and Willie King. No matter the importance of the role they play, they are fleshed out and interesting. Excellent story and a nicely written mystery. (4 stars)"

3. The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper. This was my second Pyper book and I enjoyed much more than the first. Very disturbing story.

"I much preferred The Killing Circle to Andrew Pyper's Lost Girls. It seemed more polished and maybe straight-forward. I liked the tension and the creepiness. Patrick Rush, a single father and frustrated writer, joins a writing group. While the group doesn't actually inspire him, one story, by Angela, draws in all the budding authors.
It tells the story of The Sandman, a killer who stalked a small town killing children. Is Angela telling a story from her past? In either case, killings begin in Toronto, members of the group notice a presence following them. Rush begins to see this stalker as well.
Is the group in danger? The story progresses at a steady pace with Rush wandering between reality and fantasy? Or is it all reality? There are many typical horror elements in the story. Why doesn't Rush tell everything to the police? Why does he feel he should investigate on his own? However, it is a horror, thriller, so these are expected. Pyper has a nice grasp on the way to build and hold tension. Very entertaining and spooky story. Well worth reading. (4 stars)"

Decade's Challenge. This was my second attempt at this challenge as well and I am currently reading the last book to complete it. I finished 3 books in the challenge this past month.

(Editor's Note - I just returned from the doggies' pre-lunch 'abbreviated' walk and I have to say that my earlier comment about it being a drizzly Autumn day was a bit understated. It is actually a very rainy Autumn day and the dogs, who were not best pleased, returned in a drenched, bedraggled state... Now returning to your previously scheduled BLog)

4. 1960 - 69. I Want It Now by Kingsley Amis. I have enjoyed the books I've read by Amis.

"I've enjoyed the Kingsley Amis books I've read. I especially enjoyed The Riverside Villas Murder. I Want it Now was not my favorite of his, but still enjoyable.
Cynical TV presenter, Ronnie Appleyard wanders from relationship to relationship, hoping to find a wealthy woman to marry. When he meets Simona, the daughter of a wealthy American, he thinks he might have finally found her. Instead, he finds that he loves this troubled young woman and thus begins his efforts to break down her issues and also persuade her domineering mother that he is worth becoming her future son-in-law.
The writing is sparse, satirical, at times, but also entertaining and the main characters become quite sympathetic. I've still got a few more Amis books on my shelves. Looking forward to the next. (3 stars)"

5. 1970 - 79. The Blackheath Poisonings by Julian Symons.

"This is the first time I've read anything by Julian Symons and I enjoyed this first exposure. I found that The Blackheath Poisonings: A Victorian Murder Mystery was a bit of a slow developer, but it got more and more interesting as I got into it.
Basically, the story revolves around a wealthy Victorian family who live in Blackheath; sharing two estates. They manage a toy factory and as the story progresses, one of them, Roger Vandervent, the manager of the business, dies. The circumstances are curious but, ultimately, the family doctor writes off the death as due to a gastric problem.
His son, Paul, suspects that his father might have been murdered. The disappearance of letters belonging to his aunt cause further suspicion and the police get involved in the investigation. With the occurrence of a second death, the investigation becomes more involved, with the arrest of a suspect.
The development of this story was excellently done and the characters are all interesting, even if they aren't necessarily all likable (I mention the 'Caterpillar' in this context). As I delved more and more into the story, I found the book difficult to put down and also found the ending a nice surprise and also nicely satisfying. Well worth reading. (4 stars)"

6. 1980 - 89. People Who Knock on the Door by Patricia Highsmith. I've read a few of Highsmith's books. She is one of the more unique writers I've ever read.

"Highsmith writes well but I've enjoyed others of her books more. In some ways I just didn't get her point with this book. Teenager, Arthur Alderman, begins dating Maggie Brewster. They have sex a few times. She becomes pregnant and with the support of her parents, has an abortion. Arthur's father, in the meantime, has found God, as a result of an illness of his other son, Robbie, who is cured, his father thinking it was God's intervention.
Arthur's father disagrees with the concept of abortion and does everything in his power to persuade Arthur, Maggie's parents and Maggie, to change their minds. The incident causes tension in the Alderman family, which builds throughout the story, with Arthur on one side, Richard and son Robbie on the other and Arthur's mom in the middle. The story starts a spiral with a surprising ending, which I won't tell.
As I said at the beginning, I'm not totally sure where the story wants to go. Is it a comparison between Arthur's and his father's values and those of the Brewster's? I found the subject depressing but, also realistic, not that I've personally experienced anything like it. Highsmith writes well and I did find myself wanting to see where the story led. The story is interesting especially, in that it starts down paths you think the story might be following but then leaves that path or turns in other directions. All in all, not my favourite, but interesting (3 stars)"

Science Fiction

7. The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis by Michael de Larrabeiti. This is the final book in the Borribles franchise.

"The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis|585269] by Michael de Larrabeiti is the third and final book in the Borrible trilogy. I'd read the first two many years ago and, at the time, didn't realize there was a third book. I found it just last year and after rereading the first book, decided to give this one a try.
Borribles are children who never grow up; distinguished by their pointed ears. They live in the shadows, surviving by nicking food and goods for their homes. This third book continues the journey of the Adventurers, 10 Borribles we meet in the first book, who were involved in the Great Rumble Hunt. The group are chased by the London Police, a special group, the SBG, led by the nasty Sussworth and his assistant Hanks.
The Adventurers are trying to avoid them and also to get a horse, who helped them in their adventures, to a place of safety so he can live his final years in peace. Sussworth's plans for Sam, the horse, are to catch him and take him to the slaughterhouse. He also wants to catch the Borribles and have their ears snipped; this makes them forget about Borrible life and also grow up. The story follows the Adventurers all across London; we meet further enemies and also new friends, other groups of Borribles. It's not necessarily a light and fluffy fantasy; you'll find it very gritty at times. A sad and also happy ending to the trilogy. Glad I found it. (3 stars)"

8. The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak. This was my favourite book of September.

"Back in my university days, I took a Science Fiction novel course. One of the books we read was City, a story of the future where all that remains on Earth are dogs and robots. A beautiful, engaging, touching story. For some reason, I've never read another Simak book, until this past week. The Werewolf Principle, written in 1968, was a lovely surprise.
In the future, mankind sent ships into space to search the universe for habitable planets. Along with the ships were two unique humans (maybe telling you their uniqueness might take some of the joy of discovering it for yourselves, so I won't elaborate). Suffice it to say, that one of them returns to Earth, discovered in hibernation in a capsule.
Andrew Blake arrives, suffering from amnesia. Slowly he discovers himself and how he has changed over this 200 year journey. He is now more than Andrew Blake. Discovering how he has changed is part of the joy of this book; such an imaginative concept. I found myself saying 'Wow' many times. The book is thoughtfully crafted, intelligently written and the story and characters are all interesting and engaging.
It's so nice exploring Science Fiction again, the imagination and the stories. I do like how Simak views the future, some concepts like the 'living homes' are fascinating, and, yet, people still use coins and public phone boxes. I also liked the Brownies, the beings from another world who have settled on Earth and keep an eye on things. Everything about this story was fascinating. I had originally given it 4-stars, but as I write about it and think about it, it deserves more than that. It intrigued me, brought out emotions, both happy and sad, and just totally grabbed me from beginning to end. It won't take me 40 years to read another Simak story. (5 stars)"

The Classics - Pre 1900. I finished this challenge in September but I may still read another Classic before the end of the year.

9. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

"The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle is a collection of 11 mysteries/ adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It contains the final case of Sherlock, the one Doyle penned when he wanted to finish the Holmes' adventures. I enjoyed this collection very much.
They featured Holmes' unique skill at solving his mysteries. They introduced his brother Mycroft, who Sherlock claims is smarter than he is except that he doesn't like to make the effort to follow through on his deductions. We are also introduced to Moriarty, in the Final Chapter, which surprisingly to me, is quite a short, simple, but touching story.
Watson clearly loves his dealings with Holmes. Even after he marries and moves to his medical practice, he readily drops everything to head off on an adventure with Holmes. Doyle created an excellent detective and displayed a skill at the short story, quickly getting into the mystery and providing an excellent solution. I've enjoyed getting back into the Holmes' mysteries and will continue this journey. Excellent stories! (4 stars)"

Ongoing Series. This is one of my open-ended challenges. I'm just hoping to touch on as many series, new and old, over the course of the year. I've tried over 30 so far.

10. The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith.

"This is the second book in the Leo Demidov mystery series. Demidov is an ex-KGB officer, who, after the last book, was allowed to form a Criminal Investigation division, as he tries to make amends for his work as a KGB officer.
The story starts with an incident from Demidov's past, an incident where he infiltrates a local priest and causes his arrest and that of the priest's wife. As we move to the present, these events come back to haunt him, everything instigated by a secret letter from Khrushchev, that turns the country on its head. Demidov must race to save his adopted daughter and his family from the vengeance of these people from his past.
His journey takes him to the Gulags in the frozen North and to Hungary during their revolution against Soviet rule. My mood changed over time as I read this story. I like Demidov, even with his past. He is a lot like Arcady Renko in the Martin Cruz Smith books. I had difficulty with some of the other characters, especially his adopted daughter. Even considering her hatred for Demidov, who was involved in the deaths of her parents, she was hard to like. I could be sympathetic, but that was the extent of my feelings.
Having said that, as the story progressed, I found myself being drawn more and more into it. It was tense, with lots of action and I couldn't put it down as the story drew to its conclusion. There are broken people, living in a society I can't fathom, but there are people who are trying to make the most of their lives. It was a nice surprise and I enjoyed very much. (4 stars)"

11. The Reckoning by Rennie Airth.

"The Reckoning is the 4th and, at the moment, final book in the John Madden mystery series. Madden is a police inspector with Scotland Yard and in the later books has retired to the country south of London. However he is often called in to assist with investigations, either because of his own involvement with the suspects/ cases, or because the cases occur in his home county. In this book, a man is murdered and it comes to light that he had written a letter asking for contact information for Madden.
Why would he do that? The case becomes linked with another murder in Scotland and the search is on to find out how the cases are related. Billy Sykes, Madden's ex-partner, and newly promoted DC Lily Poole, conduct most of the investigation, with Madden assisting and providing counsel. It's in intriguing case, relating back to events which took place during WWI, and with which Madden had an involvement.
I enjoy Airth's writing style, his characterizations, his development of the plot and the investigation and his story telling. I like the main characters; Madden, Sykes and Poole, but even the minor characters; Helen (Madden's lovely wife), Sinclair (Madden's ex-boss) and the others. All in all in interesting mystery and an enjoyable story. It appears that a new Madden mystery is coming out in 2017. Looking forward to it. (4 stars)"

12. Bones of Betrayal by Jefferson Bass.

"Each book in this series gets better and better. ones of Betrayal by Jefferson Bass, the 4th book in the Body Farm, forensic series, was no exception. This book finds the head of University of Tennessee's Body Farm, Bill Brockton, and his assistant, Miranda Lovelady, heading off to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the site of the nuclear laboratories of WWII fame, to work on a body frozen into an abandoned hotel's swimming pool.
They are in for a shock as it turns out the body died of radiation poisoning and others will be infected. The story involves a search into the history of the Oak Ridge facility as the body belongs to one of the scientists who worked their during WWII. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story and, as always, I liked the main characters, Brockton and Miranda.
For all its tension, the story has a nice folksy quality to it, that brought about by these characters. The mystery itself was interesting and well-developed. I had an idea of those who would be involved in the murder(s) but the reasons were still a surprise. The books have all been enjoyable and very readable. The Bone Thief is next and is sitting on my bookshelf awaiting my attention. Excellent series. (4 stars)"

Freebies for the Rest of the Year. Since I've finished most of my challenges, most of my selections until the end of 2016 will fall into this category. The six books I read in September that fit here were all for my graphic novel genre challenge. Three were by Alan Moore from his Top Ten series and the others were by J. Michael Straczynski from his Rising Stars series. It was fun reading these again. The stories and the artwork were all excellent. I probably preferred the Top Ten series but I enjoyed them both.

13. Rising Stars Vol 1 Born in Fire (4 stars)
14. Rising Stars Vol 2 Power (4 stars)
15. Rising Stars Vol 3 Fire & Ash (4 stars)

16. Top Ten: The Forty-Niners (3 stars)
17. Top Ten Vol 1 (4 stars)
18. Top Ten Vol 2 (4 stars)

So there you have it, the extent of my September reading enjoyment. October is Halloween month so my Book Addicts group has started a horror challenge. I've got enough horror books on my shelf that I will probably read two or three before end month. At the moment these are the books I've started the month with.

Currently Reading

1. Under the Dome by Stephen King
2. The Bird's Nest by Shirley Jackson
3. China Delaney by Meg Gardiner
4. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.

Next entry will feature the books I purchased in September. Take care.

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