Saturday, 31 December 2016

Reading Summary - December and 2016 in toto

It's the last day of 2016. Some things that took place in the past year are good to put behind. Unfortunately, they will follow into 2017. For that reason, I look forward to the new year with some trepidation. But, at the same time, you can't lead your life waiting for bad things to happen. You can only live it as best you can and make the most of it. I'm definitely looking forward to the final work being done on our old homestead. We spent a couple of hours yesterday painting our extra bedroom in anticipation of the final work to be done there. We still have a fair bit to do, but at least we made a start and got a good coat of paint on a lot of the room. Then it'll be the den. Not sure where we'll put all the furniture in that room, but when the work is done, we can reorganise. Something we've talked about for awhile now. So no bad thing.

Anyway, onto my final summary of stats on my December reading and my overall totals for the past year. I have to say, that retirement did give me lots of opportunities to read a lot and that was a very good thing. I had hoped to read 100 books this year and ended up with 150. I'm very pleased with that. So let's look at all the little stats that I've followed this year.

December / 2016 Reading Summary

                                             Dec             Sub-total        2016 Total
Books Read                          14                    136                 150      (last year 98, 2014 - 105)
Pages Read (rounded)       3750                41,375            45125   (last year 32,500, 2014 - 35,000)

Pages Breakdown
      < 250                                8                      59                  67
250 - 350                                3                      38                  41
351 - 450                                2                      19                  21
      > 450                                1                      20                  21

Author Gender
Female                                   6                       43                 49
Male                                      8                       93                101

5 - star                                   0                        18                 18
4 - star                                   6                        71                 77
3 - star                                   9                        46                 55

Fiction                                  4                         21                 25
Mystery                                8                         63                 71
SciFi                                     0                         34                 34
Non-Fict                               1                          9                  10
Humour                                0                          3                    3
Classics                                1                          6                    7

Top Three Books of December

There were no five-star books in December but still some excellent ones. My Top Three for the month are..

1. Landfall by Nevil Shute. Shute continues to be one of my all-time favourite authors. I've enjoyed every book I've read and look forward to reading many more. My review of Landfall is below.

"The more I read his work, the more I love the writing of Nevil Shute. His book, Landfall, written in 1940, falls into his 'war' period of writing. In its simplest form, you could call it a war story. Flying Officer Jerry Chambers is a pilot of Angus aircraft. His mission is flying over the English channel with his crew of 3 and, following a grid, tracking ships sailing up and down the Channel and also looking for German U-boats that might present a threat to allied shipping. One mission he sees a U-boat and sinks it.
This incident will greatly affect Jerry as it turns out that the submarine might not have been a German ship. There is an investigation and Jerry is transferred to a squadron that instead flies over Germany, dropping propaganda materiel. He does ultimately get another transfer, to an experimental unit that works out of the same area as his first squadron, working to help a scientist with unnamed experimental work that might help shift the war effort in the Allies favour. This is very dangerous work.
So that's the war story aspect. On another level, you have a romance between Jerry and barmaid, Mona, a sensible young lady who gradually falls in love with Jerry; the feeling is mutual, by the way. When Jerry is transferred, things are definitely put on hold. The interesting side-note to this romance, and it becomes key to the overall story is that the bar where Mona works is frequented by British sailors and airman. In the course of her work, she hears tidbits of information, that put together might mean the results of the original enquiry were erroneous.
It all seems kind of convoluted as I present it, but Shute is such an excellent writer. The story is presented in a gentle, logical manner and as you read through, everything fits together nicely. The characters are sympathetic, especially Jerry and Mona, both lovely people who are bound together, as many seem to have been in the War. The story is a pleasure to read, another example of Shute's ability to write interesting stories that strike a chord in your heart; everyday people doing impressive things, people you'd love to meet and know. The ending was satisfying and touched a bit of a nerve with me; leaving me nicely choked and happy. (4 stars) "

2. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte. This was the second Bronte book I read this past year, the first being my #1 book of the year, Jane Eyre. I have been pleased with the number of pre-1900 books I've read the past few years and plan to continue to explore those authors in 2017. My review of The Professor is below.

"The Professor by Charlotte Bronte was Bronte's first book but not published until her death. I have read Jane Eyre this past year and enjoyed very much. I had an inkling about The Professor but the overall story was a nice surprise for me. I thought it was about a woman who goes to Brussels to teach and falls in love with a professor. In fact, it was probably the polar opposite.
Basically, William Crimsworth finishes school and turns down his relatives who offer him a job as a minister. He instead goes to the north and gets a job in his brother's factory as a clerk. His brother basically treats William like dirt and pays him a pittance. In the end, William goes to Brussels, receiving a recommendation of an acquaintance of his brother and obtains a job as a professor at a boy's school; teaching English. He also manages to obtain a job teaching part-time at a girl's school next door and the mistress develops a crush on him. He discovers that she is instead engaged to the master of the boy's school.
William finds himself falling for a young woman who teaches lace work at the girl's school and begins to take lessons with the Professor to learn English. The story develops, with Crimsworth leaving his jobs, Frances (the young woman) losing her job and a relationship developing between Frances and William. I won't elaborate any more as I don't wish to ruin the ending of the story.
All in all, I enjoyed the story and like Charlotte Bronte's writing style. I enjoyed how the story moved along and how the characters developed. The story ended very nicely, which was also a pleasant surprise. It ended up being very satisfying and enjoyable. I will try her other stories and I think I'll have to brave Wuthering Heights, written by her sister, again as I took that in high school and never could get into it. Suffice it to say, I've been enjoying my exploration in the Classics and hope to continue to do so."

3. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson - I'd had this book on my shelf for awhile and just never got around to trying it. I'm very glad that I finally did, quite a unique story.

"I've had Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson on my bookshelf since early last year. It looked interesting, I purchased it, then I basically forgot about it. I only dusted it off when it became one of my group's monthly Group Read challenges. I'm so glad that it was. Such an interesting story. In some ways, it reminds me of the movie, Memento, with Christine, the main character having to start her life anew each time she wakes up.
Something happened to Christine twenty-five years ago that caused her to lose her memory. Each day she wakes up, not knowing who or where she is. Her husband must tell her, guide her, get her started each day, leaving notes and hints around the house so she can function. Seem simple? Well, there are more twists and turns ahead. Christine is seeing a doctor, who is trying to help her regain her memory; she is writing a journal each night and he is reminding her to read it to start the day, so she will have some ideas about what happened in previous days.
Still want a few more twists? Is her husband telling her the truth about what happened and about who Christine is? Is the doctor more than he seems? I'll leave it at that. It's a fascinating story, and sometimes a frustrating story, but, I guess, seeing what Christine is going through, maybe that's totally understandable. The story is well-written and well-crafted. I found myself, the more I got into the story, wanting to find out WHAT HAPPENED!! I had to get to the end, at the same time, being worried that it would all be sort of anti-climactic... It wasn't.
What added to my enjoyment was that I discovered that my missus had seen the movie... there is a movie??.. so I found myself reading bits and pieces to her, telling her my ideas on what had happened, how it might all be resolved. It's always more fun to share a great book with someone else.
It wasn't perfect, but it was still a most enjoyable, readable, tense, exciting story."

My Other December Reads

4. Wycliffe and Death in Stanley Street by W.J. Burley
5. Fractured by Karin Slaughter
6. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
7. Gideon's Month by J.J. Marric
8. My Father and Other Working Class Heroes by Gary Imlach
9. Winter Study by Nevada Barr
10. To the Nines by Janet Evanovich
11. Quietly in their Sleep by Donna Leon
12. Lost Horizon by James Hilton
13. Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
14. A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King.

So there you go. My 2016 reading is finished and my first 4 2017 books are on the stool in front of me by the sofa. They are goading me to start early. Well, maybe this evening I'll get the first one started.

Happy New Year and the Best for 2017!!!


Friday, 30 December 2016

2017 Reading Challenges - The First 4 Books

I'm just in the process of finishing my last book of 2016 and then I'll summarise my year's reading tomorrow or New Year's Day. In this post, I'll highlight the 4 books I will be starting with in 2017. Then I'm off to the family room to get back to the stack of Humans that AMC is showing today.

So let's get started.

12 + 4 Challenge (Science Fiction)

1. The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Wells - I've read a few of H.G. Wells' books. The War of Worlds is one of my all-time favourite Science Fiction stories. The Island of Doctor Moreau is a very interesting book as well. I plan to read both of the stories in this book as part of my Science Fiction (12 + 4) challenge. And they are the earliest chronologically of my 12 + 4 books so I'll follow The Time Machine with The Invisible Man. But let's stick with The Time Machine. The majority of people are familiar with the premise and probably have seen one of the movie versions. Below is the synopsis.

"The Time Machine conveys the Time Traveller into the far distant future and extraordinary world. There, stranded on a slowly dying Earth, he discovers two bizarre races, the effete Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks -  a haunting portrayal of Darwin's evolutionary theory carried to a terrible conclusion."

My plan is to read four books at a time. I'll read one 12 + 4 challenge book as one of the four. I'll then focus on my two series challenges as books 2 and 3; one about Cops and the other about Sleuths. The fourth book will alternate between my various other challenges; Canadian fiction, Classics (before 1900), Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, etc. So my first book in the Cop section is below.

Cops (includes forensic pathologists, DA's, and those other who assist the cops)

2. Shadow Prey by John Sanford (#2 in the Lucas Davenport Prey series) - The first book in this series is Rules of Prey and I read that a couple of years ago. Looking forward to getting back to it. The synopsis is very simple -

"Lucas Davenport, "one of the best hard-case cops on the crime scene today", is back - on a relentless city-to-city search for a bizarre ritualistic killer..."
Sleuths (Private Eyes and other such investigators)

3. Trent's Own Case by E.C. Bentley (2nd book in the Trent series) - E.C. Bentley wrote only three books in this series and the final book is a collection of short stories. I enjoyed the first book, oddly called Trent's Last Case very much. This book was initially published in 1936. The synopsis is below.

"Phillip Trent returns! The hero of E.C. Bentley's masterpiece Trent's Last Case, returns when the murder of a generous but most unpleasant philanthropist brings several of Trent's friends under suspicion. Shocked by the confession and suicide attempt of Bryan Fairman, a research scientist in the victim's employ, Trent investigates. And the first clue he turns up points straight at himself!"

My fourth book will come from my Canadian fiction challenge. It features a new author for me.

4. Rousseau's Garden by Ann Charney - I had been looking for this book for awhile and decided to do a search through some of the on-line book sellers and oddly found a copy at a local retailer. I'm looking forward to the story.

"A crisp March morning in the Buttes-Chaumont park in Paris. Claire, waiting to meet her husband, Adrian, has more than a tourist's passing interest in the place. She has come to France to be with Adrian while he researches a book on French gardens, but Claire's real mission is to find out what happened to her mother, Dolly, during her last stay in Paris. A promising sculptor and ardent admirer of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dolly suffered a mysterious decline following her return home. Now severe panic attacks are forcing Claire to abandon her own work as a photographer. Is she repeating her mother's pattern? The answer, Claire believes, lies in the past.
Claire retraces Dolly's footsteps in Paris and in the nearby country-side, where Rousseau's spirit is still discernible. Claire's quest in France is filled with more than one startling discovery as she, Adrian, and their friends, navigate the tricky terrain of marriage, parenthood, friendship, and love."

So there you go. I'll continue with the main three challenges and when I finish m 12 + 4 that will allow me to work on two other individual challenges as well as the Cops / Sleuths genres. How exciting! Now back to Humans and Laurie R. King's A Monster Regiment of Women.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Top Ten Mysteries - 2016

Earlier this month, up to Christmas, I counted down my Top Ten books (any genre) and songs from 2016. Yesterday in my Mystery reading group on Goodreads, I posted my favourite (Top Ten) mysteries of 2016. I did have 4 5-star rated mysteries in 2016, but only one made it to my 'any genre' Top Ten. Since mystery is by far my favourite genre these days and since I read so many mysteries in 2016, I think it's only fair that I add my Top Ten Mysteries List to this Blog as well.

So there you go, my rationale and now my Top Ten List, counting down from #10.

Top Ten Mysteries - 2016

10. Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdette - Tattoo is the second book in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep mystery / police series, set, of course, in Bangkok. I tried the first book, Bangkok 8, out of chance as I had enjoyed other mysteries set in Asia. Bangkok 8 was excellent, leading me to continue the series. Tattoo was just as good. You've got a mixture of spirituality, action and interesting characters and stories. I now have the third boo, Bangkok Haunts, on my bookshelf and hope to read that in 2017. My review of Tattoo is below.

"This is the 2nd book in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep police series, set in Bangkok, Thailand. The first book, Bangkok 8 was excellent and this follow-up was just as good. The story is a rambling mystery, starting off with the discovery of the body of a CIA agent, who has been mutilated.
Sonchai and his boss, Colonel Vikorn, work to protect the prostitute who was with the body. The story wanders through the underworld of Thailand, with Sonchai meeting with CIA agents, Muslim 'terrorists', the Yakuza and many others as he tries to solve the murder.
There were nice surprises throughout and the story and the characters and the locale are all so interesting. Well worth following Sonchai on his journey to solve this case."

9. The Pale Betrayer by Dorothy Salisbury Davis - The Pale Betrayer was a crime story by American writer Davis (1916 - 2014). It was my first attempt at one of her stories and I thought it was great. Betrayer was published in 1965. I will have to try more of her books as she has an extensive catalogue. My review is below.

"I'm not sure where I 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 book is set 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 wife of the victim 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, 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."

8. The Dragon Man by Garry Disher - This is the first book in Australian crime writer Garry Disher's Inspector Hal Challis mystery series. It's a basic police procedural, but there is so much more, excellent characters, interesting cases and a look at Australian life. I can't wait to read more of this series. In fact, I have the 2nd book, Kittyhawk Down awaiting my attention. My review is below.

"I enjoyed The Dragon Man, the first DI Hal Challis mystery, by Garry Disher very much. It's an Australian police procedural that moves along very nicely, is populated with many interesting characters and has many nice little twists and turns as the police team investigate the various cases that make up the story.
The basic story is the abduction, rape and murder of local women, but there are also other cases that may or may not be related; the woman from New Zealand who is living in the area under witness protection; a spate of arson attacks, break-ins, etc. The police investigation is lead by DI Challis, who also deals with regular calls from his wife who is in prison after trying to murder him; his current girl-friend, the local newspaper reporter; all the while working on rebuilding a damaged airplane in his spare time.
The other members of the police team are all interesting personalities, with their own foibles and issues but are also an effective investigating team. The cases, as well, were very interesting and they were tied together very satisfyingly. An entertaining page turner that I finished in a day once I stated it; excellent introduction to this series."

7. Seaweed on the Street by Stanley Evans - I found this book, well, in fact, the first three books, in the Silas Seaweed series by chance while exploring the shelves of my local used book store, Nearly New Books. It had three things going for it; an interesting cover, an interesting synopsis and it's set in Victoria on Vancouver Island (I live just up the road). So with those attractions, I tried it pretty quickly and enjoyed it thoroughly. Seaweed is a native policeman who works out of a small office in downtown Victoria. There is a spiritual element to the story and nice descriptions of the area, which added to my enjoyment and it was an excellent story. Seaweed on Ice is next in line and the series has two advantages; it can fit into either my Cop series challenge or my Canadian fiction challenge. So I'm pretty sure I can get to it in 2017. My review of Seaweed on the Street is below.

"Seaweed on the Street was a pleasant surprise. Silas Seaweed, a Victoria policeman and Salish Indian, is a combination of Travis McGee and Joe Leaphorn. Seaweed is what is known as a 'neighborhood' cop, working from a small office in downtown Victoria, B.C. His district is peopled by prostitutes, druggies and pimps, besides the normal people who live and work there. He has been a police officer for 20+ years and is a bit of a cynic, but also a man with a big heart.
Silas is asked by a lawyer, for a dying billionaire, to try and find his missing daughter, who has been missing for many years. This means searching in the past and trying to find out why and where she might have gone. Seaweed also finds himself trying to help a native acquaintance who had been falsely? accused of a murder in the past.
This journey finds Seaweed travelling around Vancouver Island, to Seattle and even to Reno as he tries to unravel the mystery. He's a man with a heart of gold, angered by the treatment of the local prostitutes by their pimp and also wanting to resolve the case of his native acquaintance, John Scow. It's an excellent tale, told in a manner that makes you keep reading to find out how it will be involved.
I liked Seaweed's character and many of the people he meets as he works the case. It was also fun to read a story set in Victoria, a locale I lived in for a couple of years. All in all I enjoyed the whole premise and story totally and look forward to reading the rest of this series."

6. Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley - Philip Trent is similar to Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, a rich playboy who likes to solve mysteries. Bentley only wrote 3 books featuring Trent, which is unfortunate as the first story was so excellent. I do have the remaining two books, Trent's Own Case and Trent Intervenes on my bookshelf. I'll try to savour them. My review of Trent's Last Case is below.

"Trent's Last Case was the first book by EC Bentley in the Trent series, which only consisted of 3 books, the other two being Trent's Own Case and a book of short stories. The book is dedicated to his friend, GK Chesterton, who wrote The Man Who Was Thursday.
Trent is an artist and sometime contributor to The Record, when requested by the owner. In this instance he is asked to investigate an interesting murder/ suicide of a rich American living in England to see if he can ascertain the culprit. The books moves along at a somewhat sedate pace, taking the time to introduce characters and the outline of the case; the victim, his associates, including his wife and others and to allow Trent the opportunity to conduct his investigation.
I liked the pace, the writing style and the investigation. There were nice little surprises, both in solving the case and the ultimate ending. Written in 1913, it still seems valid and not at all outdated. I enjoyed very much."

5. The Black Echo by Michael Connelly - This is the first book in the Harry Bosch mystery series. I had read one previously, one of the later books, City of Bones, and remember enjoying but not being overwhelmed by it. Then the missus and I watched Season 1 of Bosch, based on the books, and I was hooked. I wanted to give the series another chance and also wanted to start at the beginning. It was excellent, a really entertaining read. The next two books, The Black Ice and The Concrete Blonde await my attention. My review of Echo is below.

"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 and 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 a companion from the Vietnam War; a fellow tunnel rat.
His investigation leads him to an old bank robbery and he becomes 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."

4. Petrella at Q by Michael Gilbert - This is my first of two mysteries by English mystery writer, Michael Gilbert. He lived from 1912 to 2006. Petrella at Q was written in 1977 and is a collection of short stories featuring Michael Petrella. My review is below.

"This is the 2nd book by Michael Gilbert that I've attempted. It was excellent. The basic premise is that the book follows Detective Chief Inspector Patrick Petrella, of London's Patton Street Police Station over the course of a year.
It is a collection of short stories, each a different case, but, at the same time, some that follow one on the other. There are some mundane cases and as you get into the stories, some that create a great deal of tension. The last couple of stories, especially, where Petrella and his team are involved with the local heavy - hitter underworld, had me on the edge of my seat.
I quite enjoyed the investigation process, how Petrella and his inspectors follow leads and sort through issues. It reminded me of the process that Law & Order followed as the police investigate the particular crimes. I also liked the personalities of the various team members and the bursts of inspiration that come from Petrella. He knows his local area and the people there and uses his smarts in sorting through the chaff to come up with solutions. Excellent, perfect little book. It turns out that Gilbert also wrote 4 other books featuring Petrella. I will have to check them out."

3. The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer. Heyer is another British mystery writer I've discovered the past couple years and The Unfinished Clue was my first stab at her writing. She lived from 1902 - 1974 and also wrote historical fiction. My review of The Unfinished Clue is below.

"A most enjoyable mystery, my first by Heyer and I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a cozy mystery, involving the murder of a cantankerous man, unloved by pretty well everybody associated with him. Inspector Harding is called down from Scotland Yard to investigate and ultimately solves the crime.
I liked his character very much and also that of his plodding Sgt. There were also other characters I liked very much, especially Miss Fawcett. No reliance on fancy CSI-type technology, basically interviews and following up on questions, but so totally satisfying of a story.
The ending was also satisfying and had a little twist I didn't really see coming. Not a book I'll think about for years to come, but just a perfect, enjoyable read. (5 stars). Always nice to discover a new author that you want to read more of."

2. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert - This is the second Michael Gilbert book. It was written in 1950 and was his fourth book, all featuring a favourite detective, Inspector Hazelrigg. I loved this story. My review is below.

"I've read a couple of other books by Michael Gilbert and have enjoyed them all so far. Smallbone Deceased ranks up there with Petrella at Q as my favourites of his so far. Smallbone is a perfect little mystery. It's billed as an Inspector Hazelrigg mystery and, indeed, the good Inspector does play a prominent role.
But the supporting cast also adds very much to the story, especially poor Sgt Plumptree who has to wander around London interviewing possible witnesses. He is an inexhaustible man, a credit to the London Police Force. As well, there is Henry Bohun, the newest member of the offices of Horniman, Birley and Craine, who finds himself helping Inspector Hazelrigg with his investigation to a great extent.
The basic story is that a body, that of Mr. Smallbone, a client of the firm, is found in one of the firm's deed boxes, having resided there for a few weeks. This starts up the investigation, which I enjoyed following very much. There was an interesting steadiness to the investigation; I've mentioned Sgt Plumptree already, but the rest of the team of investigators are all excellent. I'll highlight Mr. Hoffman who works through the paperwork, checking the firm's finances to try and find reasons for the murder.
The investigation moves at a nice, steady pace, allowing all of the characters time to inculcate themselves into your memory. They all are enjoyable; there is a nice humour at times that keeps the story light. All in all, the book was so very enjoyable, even the ending was satisfying. I will definitely continue to find more books by Gilbert to enjoy."

1. Beast in View by Margaret Millar - Canadian writer, Margaret Millar, ranks right up there as one of my favourite mystery writers. I've enjoyed quite a few of her books and Beast in View is one of my favourites, along with The Soft Talkers. This book was in my overall Top Ten for 2016, but I'll provide my review once again.

"Beast In View was a true gem. I've enjoyed a couple of her other books in the past few years, when I've been able to find copies. The Soft Talkers was one of my favourites of last year. Beast in View is another 5-star read.
It's such an interesting story. I love how Millar develops her plots. Is it about Helen Clarvoe, who lives alone in her apartment, isolated from the world about her? Is it about Mr. Blackshear, Helen's financial adviser, bored with his work, who she asks to help her find the woman who made the distressing call to Helen and who begins to conduct an investigation on Helen's behalf? Or is it about Evelyn Merrick, the woman who makes the initial call to Helen and who seems to be making many calls to other people that have upset her?
I loved how it moved along, from the one character to the other, how the tension builds, how the story surprisingly makes a turn to the left. Excellent, excellent!! She is such a wonderful writer."

So there you go, my Top Ten mysteries for 2016. I'm looking forward to starting my 2017 reading. I have one more book to finish in 2016, that being A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second Mary Russell mystery by Laurie R. King. I'll provide a final summary of 2016 in the next day and then probably list my first 4 books of 2017 after that. Enjoy the rest of your year!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

December 2016 Book Purchases

Mmmm... this was yummy and still some left over for another meal, at least.
Well, Xmas is all over but the screaming... er, the clean-up? Yesterday, the missus stripped down the remains of the turkey. She made a fantastic turkey curry for supper last night. Today or tomorrow she'll use some of the rest for a nice stewp (stew / soup) and we'll probably still have some for sandwiches for lunch. It was just the right size for us.

We took a drive around some of the shops yesterday afternoon. It was beautifully sunny and fresh. We treated ourselves to a new office chair (I'll put together, I hope, today). I got some new running shoes.

OK, here is my one gripe. A year ago, I got myself some new running shoes. I found a perfect pair. I do like Nike's as they fit my foot comfortably. So I brought these shoes along to the Sports store and we asked them if they still sold them. Of course not! Why would they do that!! So I tried on some other Nikes, but nope, they didn't feel comfortable on my feet at all. The young lady at the store suggested New Balance. Well, one of those pairs were acceptable and, being on sale, I bought them. I'll use them at the gym for awhile as the others are still good for running. But, what the heck, eh! Every time I find a pair of shoes that work, they stop making them and I've got to try a new type or model. I almost wrecked my feet the last time my favourite shoe went out of style. OK, gripe finished.

We also treated ourselves to new headphones. The ones I had for my Walkman, or whatever it's called these days, had crapped out. So I found a nice pair of Phillips Action Fit for when I go for a run or a work out at the gym. Jo got a nice pair of head phones Back Beat Sense that she can use when she's listening to shows on her PC. They were really spiffy. A quick trip out and we spent more than we did all Christmas... lol. We're staying indoors until 2017 now. ;0)

Anyway, on to my book purchases for December. I was pretty good the past couple of months. I've bought a few books but really tried to limit myself. My list will include a book I got for Christmas from Sue and Rob (my in-laws) and also a couple I bought for the missus for Christmas. So here we go.

December 2016 Purchases

1. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell - Sue and Rob got me this 1924 edition of Gaskell's classic book, which was originally published in 1891. It features illustrations by Irish Hugh Thomson, who also illustrated books by Jane Austen, J.M. Barrie and Dickens. I've enjoyed the Gaskell books I've read so far and also enjoyed the TV adaptation of Cranford very much. This may be one of the Classics that I read in 2017. We'll see.

Desert Island Discs
2. Desert Island Discs by Sean Magee - I do like to buy Jo a couple of books at Christmas. The last couple of years I managed to find her some books on The Archers radio show that she listens to and talks about on a Facebook page she created. I was searching for books on the BBC when I saw this one. Jo had mentioned Desert Island Discs to me a few times over the past years. It's a BBC Radio 4 show where the show's hosts ask a variety of celebrities what 8 records, one book and a luxury they would take to a mythical desert island. The show started in the 1940's and continues today and the book looks at various of the celebrities and their picks and also a brief discussion of their thoughts and lives. The book covers the 70 years the show has been in existence. I'll definitely be checking it out as well.

Elements of Style
3. Elements of Style by Erin Gates - I always like to find Jo a new and different Design book for her to peruse. I think she's got a very nice collection and she does like to search through them when she's thinking up ideas for brightening up the old homestead. Elements of Style is a lovely book by designer Erin Gates who is the founder of Erin Gates Design and creator of the Elements of Style Blog. As can be expected in any good design book, this has lovely photos to accompany the ideas and thoughts of Erin Gates on interior design. I think Jo will enjoy this.

Fever of the Bone
4. Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid - This is the sixth book in the Tony Hill / Carol Jordan mystery series by McDermid, which became the Wire in the Blood TV series. The synopsis is below.

"Meet Tony Hill's most twisted adversary - a killer with a shopping list of victims, a killer unmoved by youth and innocence, a killer driven by the most perverted of desires. Tony soon realises that the horrific murder and mutilation of teenager Jennifer Maidment is just the start of a brutal and ruthless campaign that's targeting an apparently unconnected group of young people. Struggling with the newly awakened ghosts of his own past and desperate for distraction in his work, Tony battles to find the answers that will five him personal and professional satisfaction in his most testing investigation yet."

Someone Like You
5. Someone Like You by Roald Dahl - Dahl is probably most famous for his collection of children's stories, like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, etc. However he also wrote a number of short story collections, such as Tales of the Unexpected, More Tales of the Unexpected, including this one, which contains thrillers published in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Below is the synopsis

"A policeman's wife kills her husband with a unique murder weapon - and then involves the detectives in the destruction of the evidence....
A sinister gentleman who collects human fingers lures a young American into a bizarre and sadistic wager...
And how far will an art collector go to obtain a Soutine masterpiece - when it is tattooed on the back of a human derelict?
In eighteen superbly entertaining short stories, Roald Dahl shows why he is the greatest living master of that special kind of story that artfully leads the reader to a final stunning moment of shocked surprise."

Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective
6. Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective by Agatha Christie - I've been recently trying to find Christie's Nemesis (of course, for the life of me, I can't remember why now. Maybe I've seen TV adaptations recently or it was discussed in my Mystery reading group). At any rate, the other day I found this book, written originally in 1934 under the UK title Parker Pyne Investigates, and because it featured a character I'd not heard of by Christie, I thought I'd take a chance. This is another short story collection, but in the past couple of years, I've enjoyed exploring this genre. The synopsis is below.

"Meet the Master. His name is Mr. Parker Pyne. London is his home.
His specialities are the dark corners of the human soul and the hideous secrets that men and women can conceal...on a blood-soaked, guilt-shrouded hunting ground that extends from the most elegant pleasure spots on earth to the farthest primitive reaches of the globe..."

Last Night in Montreal
7. Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel - One of my Top Ten books of 2016 was Mandel's Station Eleven. It was so interesting and I loved reading it. I was pleasantly surprised to find one of her first book at my local used book store. You can't go wrong with a lady who grew up just down the road from your house, right? Emily was raised on Denman Island, just off Vancouver Island and not far from Comox. Anyway, back from my little tangent, this book did sound interesting and I'd like to see what her first efforts were like. The synopsis is below.

"Last Night in Montreal is a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel, the depths and the limits of family bonds, and obsession. Emily St. John Mandel casts a spell that captures the reader in a gritty, youthful world -- charged with mystery, promise and foreboding -- where small revelations continuously alter our understanding of the truth and lead to desperate consequences."

8. Camille by Pierre Lemaitre - Lemaitre is a new author for me, a French writer of crime novels. Camille won the International Dagger Award for 2015. The synopsis is below.

"Anne Forestier finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time when she is caught in the middle of a raid on a jewelry store on the Champs-Elysees. Shot three times, she is lucky to survive, but hardly out of danger: her assailant knows she has seen his face and wants to silence her permanently.
When her attacker is spotted in the hospital where she is recovering from her wounds, it becomes clear that Anne is in grave danger. But one thing stands in her favour: her lover, Commandant Camille Verhoeven of the Paris police. Carrying the scars of a devastating personal loss, Camille is willing to bend or break the rules - and risk his reputation and career - to protect the woman he loves.
Concealing his connection to the victim, Camille launches the investigation into the robbery with vengeance on the mind, but it is not long before his disregard for transparency nearly gets him thrown off the force. As the clues begin to lead Camille in a seemingly infinite spiral, he realises that nothing about the case is as it seems and that he faces a brilliant criminal mind with well-laid plans that go far beyond a simple jewel heist."

The Ash Garden
9. The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock - I noticed this when I was checking the Canadian literature section of Nearly New Books, one of my local used book stores. Bock is another new author for me but the synopsis sounded interesting and a bit strange. I had to check it out.

"A scientist stealing across the Pyrenees into Spain, then smuggled into America...
A young woman quarantined on a ship wandering the Atlantic, her family left behind in Austria...
A girl playing on a riverbank as a solitary airplane appears on the horizon...
With these three people, Dennis Bock transforms a familiar story - the atom bomb as a means to end worldwide slaughter - into something witnessed, as if for the first time, in all its beautiful and terrible power. As their fates triangulate, the true costs and implications of a nightmare that has persisted for more than half a century are revealed."

The Casual Vacancy
10. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling - I've found myself recently slowly picking up Rowling's adult novels. For some reason, I had avoided it before, but she is such a good writer that I quite want to try these books. The Casual Vacancy was her first novel for adults. Jo watched the TV adaptation of this book and quite liked. I'll have to check both out.

"When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils... Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town's council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?"

Plague: murder has a new friend
11. Plague: murder has a new friend by C.C. Humphreys - I have previously read and enjoyed another of Humphreys' works of historical fiction, The French Executioner. I saw this at my local and it did look like an other interesting book. The synopsis is below.

"London, May 1665. On a dark road outside London, a simple robbery goes horribly wrong - when the gentlemanly highwayman William Coke discovers that his intended victims have been brutally slaughtered.
Suspected of the murders, Coke is forced into an uneasy alliance with the man who pursues him - the relentless thief-taker, Pitman.
Together they seek the killer - and uncover a conspiracy that reaches from the glittering, debauched court of King Charles to the worst slum n the city, St. Giles in the Fields.
But three's another murderer moving through the slums, the taverns and palaces, slipping under the doorways of the rich.
A mass murderer... Plague."

So there you go, my December purchases. Do any of them strike your fancy? I do have a few on order, that I ordered for the missus for Christmas, but they haven't arrive as of yet. I'll add them to my January 2017 list.

Enjoy the rest of 2016 and the very best for 2017.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Recovering from Christmas... :0)

Christmas gets harder every year, doesn't it Clyde?
I'm sitting at my desk, with a nice cup of coffee and enjoying the last apple strudel that we got from a local restaurant just before Christmas. It was a lovely day, even if we did eat too much. The missus' turkey was outstanding and the fixings very yummy.

This year's tree
We just had a nice, relaxing day. I headed back to bed after taking the dogs out at 0530. We slept in until mid-morning. Then I made a pot of coffee and a cuppa for Jo and we enjoyed that and some croissants while we Skyped with our daughter, Jennifer.

Finally around 1030, we got in touch with Jo's sister, Susan, in England and Skyped with her and her hubby, Robbo, while we opened our gifts. (As you can see from the above video, the puppies had lots of fun unwrapping their gift. Clyde likes to tear apart the wrapping and Bonnie likes the toy) I do have to say that it's been a wonderful way of keeping in touch with family far and distant. I also called my Dad and had a nice talk with him.

Everything is unwrapped, now we relax.
After that we relaxed for awhile, watched the annual Christmas The Good Life. Jo started putting together the fixings for our Christmas dinner, with a bit of help from me. As I mentioned earlier, dinner was super, one of Jo's best.

Tell me if you see a theme with some of my gifts.
We spent the rest of the evening on the couch, stuffed and satisfied, nibbling on our Xmas sweets. PBS had the Xmas Call the Midwife special, in which the Midwife went to South Africa to help out a medical clinic. As always, we laughed and cried with the show, one of the best on TV.

Do you see the theme now? Are they trying to tell me something?
We had planned to go out about town a bit on Boxing Day, but it was a rainy, damp day and we decided instead to settle on the sofa and just relax and spend the day with each other. It was a great idea. We watched a couple of Only Connects (best game show we've ever enjoyed). It was nice too as we didn't really have any formal meals; well, except for lunch, which was our traditional left-overs from the past couple of days. Then we basically grazed when we felt like it, had a drink, read, checked the computer a bit. The missus was a bit saddened by the death of George Michael. So many musicians have passed away this past year. *sigh*

Our carpenter, Vicky, made this, a neat wooden book. (see the theme now?)
We did enjoy a couple of shows in the evening; Travelers, starring Eric McCormack, a Science Fiction show that has grabbed our interest; the Royal Variety Show for 2016 and a funny little throw-in documentary with Alexander Armstrong and his brother-in-law, Giles Coren, who spent the hour searching for the 12 drinks of Christmas. Lots of good fun.

Merry Christmas!
For all the bad news that's occurred over the past 12 months, it was nice to bring 2016 to an end, just sharing the holidays with my wife, Jo, and our puppies. We enjoyed each others' company and just being together. Perfect Christmas for me.

So there you go, my final thoughts on Christmas. Back to talking about books next time; my end year summary, my look at the first books I plan to read in 2017, my December purchases, all those good things.

Enjoy the rest of your holidays, wherever you might be. Best wishes for 2017.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Top Ten Lists 2016 - #1

It's 10 p.m. here on the West Coast so it's Christmas for most of the rest of the world. Merry Christmas to all of you already waking up Christmas morning and for those that see this a bit later. Have a wonderful day. Enjoy with your families and friends.

Since the missus and I will be busy with our own Christmas celebrations tomorrow, I figured I'd post my #1 song and book selections tonight. The missus is busy in the kitchen anyway and doesn't require my assistance. The dogs are asleep on their pillows in the den with me.

So on to my final selections of my Top Ten lists.

Number One

Song Selection

Katy B and KDA - Turn the Music Louder
One of my favourite songs of 2014 was English singer Katy B's Crying for No Reason. Both my wife and I love the song. In 2015, she teamed up with House music producer, KDA, for this song, Turn the Music Louder. I love the video, which is nicely polished and the beat and her voice. Great song. (You can hear the song by clicking on the song title under her picture)

Book Selection

My top book of the year is my second Classic in the Top Ten. I ended up reading two books by Charlotte Bronte this year; Jane Eyre and The Professor. I've said it in previous posts; I've enjoyed getting into the Classics in the past few years. I hope to read at least another 5 or 6 next year. My review of Jane Eyre is below.

" 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 - crafted. 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 Emily Bronte's, Wuthering Heights again now, after avoiding it in high school. :)"

So there you have it, my top ten books and songs of 2016. I hope it was enjoyable for you, as enjoyable as it was for me to create it. Now, on to 2017! Tally-ho!

Have a great Christmas and best wishes for 2017. Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to glance through this Blog.

Top Ten Lists 2016 - #2 (AKA The Penultimates)

Yesterday, we finished decorating our Christmas tree and putting up our decorations. The tree looks lovely, as always. The missus has a great sense of what works. I treated her to BBQ'd hamburgers for supper and, maybe it was the fact that I was BBQ'ing in December or that it was nice and frosty outside, but they were probably the best I've made in a long time. So it's now Christmas Eve. Today we'll wrap each others' gifts and maybe treat ourselves to breakfast downtown. I'll check with Jo when I finish this Blog entry.

Today, I list my Top 2 song and book selections of 2016. I might save the #1's for Boxing Day. Depends how early of a start we get tomorrow. So, on that note, my #2's

Song Selection

Clean Bandit - Rockabye
I discovered the music of Clean Bandit a couple of years ago. They formed in Cambridge, England and feature a great mix of classical and electronic sounds. They regularly feature excellent vocalists on their songs. It's from them that I also first heard Jess Glynne sing, such a fantastic voice. Rockabye came out in 2016 and features Sean Paul and Ann-Marie. (You can hear the song by clicking on the title under their photo)

Book Selection

My #2 selection comes from Canadian writer, Mordecai Richler. Back in my university days, I'd read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, St. Urbain's Horseman and his children's book, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, but then I basically stopped reading his books. I heard about Solomon Gursky Was Here from a book on Canadian authors and literature that I'd received for Christmas a couple of years ago. When I decided to do a Canadian Literature challenge this past year, this was a book I decided to try. It was excellent. Richler is such a great story - teller. My review of the book is below.

"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, Barnie and Morrie and their children. The grand-sons found a 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 travels 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 a drunk and a failed writer as he explores the Gursky family. There are so many lovely tidbits, humour, and just great, entertaining story-telling. It's an excellent read and it winds up in such a satisfying manner. 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."

Ed note. In fact, I did find Barney's Version and I hope to read it in 2017. If you take a chance on Solomon Gursky, you might want to write down the various family trees. It can get confusing, but then again, I didn't and once I got into the flow of the book, I remembered who all the characters were.

So either tomorrow or Boxing Day, I'll provide my #1's.

Friday, 23 December 2016

It's Almost Christmas.... Yay?

The missus does do up a lovely tree.
For some reason, getting hepped up for Christmas this year has been a bit of a struggle. I'm not sure why exactly. It's been a rough old year for the world, but that's part of life, I think. Is it worse than any other year? It's definitely scary and quite often depressing. Heck, the Blue Jays didn't make it to the World Series again!! Mind you, on the positive side, they made the playoffs again. So ups and downs.

I think part of my gloomier than normal outlook is because I spent so much more time than I normally do watching the News, especially that US election that just took place. I think the results, yes, the election of @%*#! Trump, has taken the wind out of my sails a bit. I mean, I don't normally want to go and punch somebody in the face. It's not my nature. But I sure wouldn't mind taking a shot at his smug, fat, arrogant, lying, cheating face!! Well, I think I've figured it out a bit, eh? Maybe that's what's getting me down a bit. OK, OK, deep healing breaths...

Family times
Christmas has always meant a lot to me. As a very small boy, it meant heaps of presents! My parents always made sure we had a lovely tree and lots and lots of presents under it. My first memories of Christmas (and they may be coloured by the fact that I was very young) are two things.

Me with my drum playing elephant
I was only 5 years old when we left Bagotville, Quebec, and the fact that I remember these things from there might be somewhat distorted by age. Anyway, with that qualification behind me, my first memory is from Bagotville. My older brother, Rick, and I shared a bedroom. He had the double bed in the middle and I had the single against the wall. At the head of my bed one Christmas was a small chair with my stocking hanging from it. I remember my Mom coming to tuck me in and singing You Are My Sunshine (I was a cute kid) and then leaving. The next time I rolled over and looked at my stocking, it was full!!! I knew it! Santa had been there while she distracted me! Yes, yes, yes! Of course, I didn't check it out until I woke up in the morning.. Well, maybe I did.

The second memory is very vague. I'm sure we went to midnight mass in Bagotville. I can remember the smell of incense in the church. When we got home, we were all hungry all of a sudden. (I link that with the smell of incense). My Mom and Dad made us toast and melted butter and hot chocolate before we went to bed. Yummy. I don't remember much else about Christmas time there but those do stand out.

The latest addition to the family enjoying Christmas cheer
By the time we moved down East to Chatham, New Brunswick, my thoughts of Christmas are more complete. We now lived in a bigger house, although Rick and I still shared a room for the longest time. We had bunk beds. When John came along, Rick was gone to university, so I had the bunk bed to myself and John still slept in the crib.

Back to Bagotville (I don't have as many pictures as I thought. lol)
I tended to be the first person awake Christmas morning. (I did say I liked getting presents!). To bide the time until everybody woke up and we could go downstairs to see what was under the tree, I would go through my stocking. There were always comic books inside, sometimes just one, sometimes too. There was usually a mandarin orange, candy canes, a small toy and other sundry gifts and chocolates that would fit inside. I'd read my comic(s) then lie their impatiently waiting for everyone to get up.

With the arrival of John, I hoped that he, being just a baby, would wake up early and get everybody else up. But, nope, John was a bit of a slug and liked to sleep in. *sigh* So there you go, I would have to lie their waiting for somebody else to get up and then we'd troop downstairs to see what great gifts we got! Anticipation!!!

Our current Christmas wreath on the front door.
Well, I have to admit now, after all these years, that I did snoop to see what my parents got us for Xmas. They tended to hide lots of the prezzies under their bed. So any time I got to myself, I'd sneak into their room and check under the bed. You might think that would ruin any anticipation. But, not really, because they were just teasers and there were always surprises under the tree come Christmas day. When it comes to presents, I do fondly remember John and I getting GI Joes (yes we played with dolls) and there were always new games to play and especially there were books. That's partly where my love of reading comes from. We were always encouraged to read. I got Tom Sawyer and Black Beauty for Christmas plus so many other books.

Christmas visitors - Jim Nabeta in Germany
It seems we often had company over for Christmas. In Chatham, Mr. MacMillan, a single guy and a friend of my Dad's, used to come over in the afternoon and spend Christmas day with us. He and Dad would have a couple of whiskeys, Tom would stay and share dinner and we'd play games and watch the TV. In Germany, their friend and our alternate Dad (sort of, in a jokey way), Jim Nabeta would always come over for the day and maybe even the night before and share our Christmas with us. It made the day a bit more special.

Once everything was opened and we'd played with our toys for awhile, the day was a restful one. I don't remember going to my friends' houses to play as they were all sharing their day with their families. That was more of a Boxing Day and Christmas holiday thing. We also lived quite far from any relatives; they were in Ontario and we were either in Quebec, New Brunswick and Germany so we weren't going to spend the day with them. Once I was married, then we'd gather the kids up and either spend Christmas with my folks or my ex-wife's folks and then trek to the other family for New Years.

After dinner, it was a lazy relaxing time. I have a memory of me and Christine (my older sister) in the kitchen tearing apart the turkey and eating a bit more as part of our post-dinner clean up. TV wasn't really great down in the Maritimes and, unlike now, when Jo and I like to relax and find the Christmas Day specials on BBC TV while we laze around in our pyjamas, I don't have any special memories as a kid of spending the day watching TV. It was more about playing games and with our toys and reading. Still lots of fun, mind you.

As I got older, while I still enjoyed receiving gifts, I started to enjoy buying gifts for my family even more. I'm a bit of a boring gift giver, especially now. I do like to force people to enjoy the books I like and if I'm at all unsure what to get someone, chances are it'll be a book. Jo is always thrilled (I say that sarcastically) to see that most of her gifts are books; design books, biographies, colouring books, classics. Yup, she loves it. :0)

At university, when I lived in residence, one of the fun parts of the holiday was our Christmas party. The Don would dress up as Santa, everybody would get together in our big family room. We'd have music, get to sit on Santa's lap, and there was always so much food that the Entertainment committee would put together for our brunch. Then we'd gather around the piano and sing Christmas songs.

Ah, Christmas songs. I don't have particularly strong memories of many Christmas songs. When we opened our presents, there was usually Christmas music playing. I think the first or my favourite Christmas song as a child was The Royal Guardsman's Snoopy's Christmas. It was such a good song. Always gives me chills. When I was a cynical university student and DJ, I played songs like Jethro Tull's A Christmas Song.

I don't have a lot of favourite Christmas songs but I do enjoy Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas, which is a lovely simple song. (Thanks Jo for introducing me to it). For a nice upbeat song, you've got The Waitresses and Christmas Wrapping.

I think my favourite Christmas show as a child was Charlie Brown's Christmas. *sigh* The poor little Christmas tree that turned into a beautiful tree with the help of Linus' blanket and love... For all my griping, Jo and I have our favourite shows to get into the Christmas mood; The Family Stone, It's a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn and White Christmas, amongst others.

I always wanted to make sure my children had as good Christmases as I did growing up, especially after my divorce. I didn't want them to suffer because of a marriage break-up. They spent Christmas at both places until I moved out West. But even then, Jennifer has made it out here with one of her boyfriends. Oh, funny Christmas story. If I don't tell, Jennifer will. I told both her and Caitlin to list any CD's they might want for Christmas so that I wouldn't buy ones that they didn't want, of course. Caitlin was usually much more conservative, you know, just listing two or three. Jennifer liked to hedge her bets, I think, so she gave me a list with 10 or 12 CD's on it. So I bought number 10, just to surprise her. Of course, it only had one song on it that she liked; The Way by Fastball. Ah well, don't put it on a list if you really don't want it. ;0). I'll let her tell you about the 'poop' jacket if you ever see her.

Jo and Susan making Christmas dinner
Since I met and married Jo, we've had lovely Christmases. Jo's sister Susan came out for our first few Christmases in Comox and it was always a lovely, relaxing time. It was also especially nice in 2005 when I was away on a deployment to the Middle East over Christmas as that meant Jo had company at least for the Christmas holidays. It was a strange sort of Christmas for me, waking up in a barracks Christmas morning, listening to the mullah's calling the people for morning prayers. But, our unit tried to make it feel like Christmas. We had gift bags hanging from our doors to our rooms, there was a nice morning church service (it had been a very long time since I'd attended one of those and it was very nice) and then a fantastic Christmas dinner. I also managed to call home to Jo and got to hear her voice so that was especially nice.

Nikki took up present snooping from me
Our puppies have also always liked to share our Christmases with us. Nikki always like to sniff the presents to see if there might be something for her. Clyde likes nothing more than to tear up a bit of Christmas wrapping paper. And they do like a bit of turkey.

Ely, UK and the tree in the Cathedral. Just lovely
Jo and I have travelled a bit for Christmas in the past few years. We spent one lovely Christmas with Rob and Sue, Jo's sister and her husband, and visited the Cathedral in Ely while were there. It was lovely. (We also went to a very nice bookstore in Ely. Jo had tea and biscuits while I wandered around looking at books. What a perfect way to spend Christmas.) And we also went to Calgary to spend Christmas with Jenn, her then-boyfriend, Eric and his parent's) It was definitely a white Christmas there.

But, generally, we just like to spend Christmas with each other and our dogs, relax in our pyjamas and share our company. We usually start the morning opening our presents and having croissants as a morning snack. Then later on, Jo cooks us a fantastic turkey for our Christmas feast and, if we are at all peckish in the evening, we'll have toast and homemade pate. A perfect day. We manage to have a chat with my Dad, Jo's sister and Jennifer during the day. We also find the BBC on our laptop and enjoy the Christmas specials from England.

As I said at the start, Jo can decorate a tree.
So anyway, I started  this post with a bit of a rant and wondering if I have the Christmas spirit this year. Well, considering how poorly many people in the world are, I'm pretty lucky. I have a lovely wife and loving family. Jo and I are very happy together and we live nicely on my pension. Our puppies keep us busy and happy. All in all, I've got so much to be thankful for. I really don't have any right or reason to complain.

I wish you all the happiest holidays and a very Merry Christmas. Let's hope 2017 is a good year.
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