Thursday, 2 February 2017

January 2017 - Reading Summary

The old popcorn ceiling in the den
I'm sitting in the den for the first time since we had the ceiling done. We're still getting the shelves organised, have a new wall lamp to install and just straighten out and re-imagine the room a bit, but it's nice to sit at the desk and use the big computer, instead of the laptop.

The new ceiling.... loving it
The ceiling looks fantastic! The kids finished putting it up late last week and then Jo and I spent the weekend in Victoria. Since we've been back, we've painted it just to clean it up and cover any nail marks and such. But it just transforms the room. I'll post more pictures when we've finished reorganising and putting everything back in its place.

So, moving onto my first reading summary of 2017. I'll follow the same format as I did last year as it seemed to work okay.

January 2017 Reading Summary

Books Read - 12
Pages Read - 3000 (Avg. 250 per book)

Pages Breakdown
      < 250 - 7
250 - 350 - 4
351 - 450 - 0
      > 450 - 1

Author Gender
Female - 1
Male     - 11

5 star - 1
4 star - 4
3 star - 7 (includes any rated 3.5)

Fiction - 2
Mystery - 5
Science Fiction - 5
Non-Fiction - 0
Humour - 0
Classics - 0

Reading Challenges

12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge (Science Fiction, from the earliest written on my bookshelves)

I completed 5 so far, starting with The Time Machine, written in 1895, to Robert Heinlein's Sixth Column, written in 1949. I'm currently working on John D. MacDonald's Ballroom of the Skies, written in 1952. Below are the books I've completed so far with my reviews.

The Time Machine (1895) / The Invisible Man (1897)
1. H.G. Wells - The Time Machine
"I've never actually read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. I have seen the movie version starring Rod Taylor and remember enjoying. This was Wells' first novel, written in 1895 and was very successful. It's an interesting tale and told in an interesting manner. Wells doesn't waste time naming his characters; they are The Time Traveller, the Medical Man, the Psychologist.. There is a narrator, the first person 'I'.
The Time Traveller tells his story to his dinner companions, the first night showing them a trial time travelling prototype that he sends away. They don't know what to make of it. When they show up the next week for the next dinner, he is not there but shows up while they are eating dinner. He is bedraggled, exhausted, starving. He cleans up and joins them for dinner and then later, while they are relaxing after dinner, tells them the story of his travels. It is very much like the movie, with the addition of Wells' view of humanity. He feels the people who live on top, the Eloi, are the Elite from the past generations grown soft and childlike, while the Morlocks, those who live below, were originally the workers of the world, those who were there to care for the Elite.
The story moves along very quickly, is a relatively short story and ends tragically for some. The Traveller moves to the end of time, a depressing part of the book and then returns to tell his story. The epilogue can be either sad or not, depending where the Traveller goes.
Very interesting classic. 3.5 points."

2. H.G. Wells - The Invisible Man
"I reviewed The Time Machine separately. This review covers only The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. While I enjoyed both stories, I preferred The Invisible Man. It was definitely a more exciting story and moved along at almost a breakneck pace.
It follows a stranger who shows up at the small English town of Iping. He is masked with bandages, wears heavy clothing to cover his body and, when he arrives at a local inn, demands and receives quarters and the private use of a lounge. He is brusque and rude and demanding and upsets and intrigues the locals who contrive to find out more about him.
His luggage arrives the next day and contains experimental equipment and scientific books. He hides in the lounge for days and avoids any efforts by the locals to discover more about him, even his name. Strange things begin to occur, such as a break-in at the Vicarage, where the vicar and his wife see furniture moving about, strange voices and, yet, no person. Money is stolen and back at the inn, there are further strange happenings.
As things begin to escalate, the invisible man is 'revealed', so to speak and the town and people are turned upside down and inside out, so to speak. It's all described very well and with, at times, slapstick humour and also full-on action. The story moves along very brusquely with the action turning violent and quite scary.
I won't describe anymore as I'd hate to ruin the ending. I'd never read this before and only recently saw part of the original movie, which is fairly faithful to the book. Well worth reading, a classic of the Science Fiction genre. (4 stars)"

The Secret People by John Wyndham (1935)
3. John Wyndham - The Secret People
"The Secret People was one of science fiction author, John Wyndham's first books, written under the pen-name, John Benyon in 1935. Wyndham is one of my favourite science fiction writers. His books, The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids and The Kraken Wakes are amongst my favourite books in the genre.
So, it was quite a pleasant surprise when I found The Secret People while I was leafing through one of my used book store's shelves.
Was The Secret People at the same level of Wyndham's classics? Not by a long shot. However, it was still an entertaining adventure, somewhat in the same vein as Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and maybe more so, HG Wells' Land that Time Forgot books.
The Secret People is set in Africa, in the Sahara Desert. The French and Italians have begun a project to flood the desert by piping up water from under the desert to make a huge sea. An English adventurer, Mark Sunnet, in his new jet plane, is visiting Africa, just to see new lands and to try out his plane. He meets the lovely Margaret in a stopover in Algiers and takes her for a flight to see this new sea. Unfortunately, an accident causes them to crash land, floating, in the middle of the sea.
Caught in a whirlpool, the are sucked beneath the surface into a world of tunnels and caves under the desert. It's peopled by a pygmy race who are desperate to remain undiscovered. It turns out that there are many people who have by various accidents been made prisoners below the surface.
Thus begins an adventure to escape from below the desert before a major disaster occurs (I'll leave that part for you find out about). It's an entertaining story, sometimes encumbered with philosophical discussions, but all in all fun to read and a nice intro to the future works of Wyndham.  I hope that I can find his other earlier works. (3 stars)"

Quest Beyond the Stars by Edmond Hamilton (1942)
4. Edmond Hamilton - Quest Beyond the Stars
"Quest Beyond the Stars by Edmond Hamilton is part of a series of books by Hamilton featuring space hero, Captain Future. It is the 9th book in the series. The fact that he wrote the 19 books between 1940 and 1946 should tell you that it's probably not classic stuff.
Having said that, the story was an enjoyably space romp. I find it somewhere between Edgar Rice Burroughs' outer space adventures, like those of John Carter of Mars, and Kenneth Robeson's Doc Savage adventures.
Captain Future is a space explorer who lives on the moon. In this story, he takes his team of adventurers, Grag, the Robot, Otho, the Android and the living Brain to the centre of the Galaxy to find the Birthplace of Matter. It is his hope that this discovery will allow him to save the planet Mercury which is dying, forcing the people who live there to be evacuated to other planets. Simple, huh?
On the way, he meets other space adventurers from different planets who join him. He engages in a war with another world to prevent them from using the Matter for evil purposes, all those good things that heroes do.
All in all, it was an entertaining read from one of the creators of the 'space opera', the other being E.E. Doc Smith. A fun read. (3 stars)"

Sixth Column by Robert Heinlein (1949)
5. Robert Heinlein - Sixth Column
"Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein was the second book he wrote and the first published, in serial form in 1941, ultimately published in full book form in 1949. Heinlein is one of the best story tellers and this is evident in this early work. You can tell it was written in 1941, with definite war references. The story is a combination of Red Dawn and maybe The Man in the High Castle, in that US has been taken over by Panasians and the whole country is under martial law.
The Sixth Column is a small group of American military and scientists who work within this construct to try and defeat the occupying force. This involves amazing scientific technology and lots of sleight of hand. The sixth column take on the role of a new religion that will move into major cities, disrupt the rulers, encourage the downtrodden American citizenship and ultimately try to take back the US for its government and citizens.
It's all very entertaining and a very quick easy read. Great propaganda for the power of American ingenuity and desire to fight for freedom. Definitely not his best story but you can see the start of his style and themes. (3 stars)"

Currently reading

Ballroom of the Skies by John D. MacDonald (1952)
Individual Reading Challenges

Canadian Literature (Can Lit) - I've read one book so far of a planned 5 at least.

Rousseau's Garden by Ann Charney
1. Ann Charney - Rousseau's Garden (This was my favourite book of January)
"Canadian writer, Ann Charney's, Rousseau's Garden is a simple story, but told lovingly and caringly. It tells of Claire, who makes her career as a photographer, accompanying her husband, Adrian, who has gone to France to work on a historical book about French gardens. Her voyage also has another purpose; that being to find out more about her dead mother. Dolly was an accomplished sculptor, who was somehow affected by her last visit to France, losing her desire to sculpt and falling into depression.
Claire hopes, by visiting with old acquaintances, including her mother's dearest friend, Marta, to find out the cause of her mother's depression and at the same time, she hopes to reconcile herself with a mother who she had in a way disdained as a young girl. I enjoyed how Ann Charney presented her story, how she developed the lovely, interesting characters; their friends, Marta, Zoe and Marcel.
The portrait of France, both Paris and the countryside, especially the gardens makes for an interesting contrast. Added to the story is the subject of French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a man who, through his writings, inspired Dolly in her work. We get tidbits about Rousseau's personality and his writing throughout the story.
Many things happen throughout the book to influence Claire's vision of both herself and her mother that keep you reading. I enjoyed everything about the book and enjoyed even more the resolution. Simple but lovely story. (5 stars)"

Classics (pre-1900) So far, I'm 0 for 4 in this category.

Mysteries (ongoing series - The Cops and friends) - I hope to read at least 25 books in this category. In January, I finished 2.

Shadow Prey by John Sanford (Lucas Davenport #2)
1. John Sandford - Shadow Prey
"Shadow Prey is the 2nd book in the Prey (Lucas Davenport) mystery / cop series by John Sandford. Davenport is a cop in Minneapolis; he's a computer game creator, a hard-nosed cop and a bit of a lady's man. In this story, a group of native Americans begin a guerrilla war against various powerful people, aiming for a certain man who has harmed them in the past.
The murders take place across America and bring a female NY police officer to Minneapolis as part of the investigation. Davenport finds her very attractive and there is an ongoing story of their budding relationship as they also investigate the murders and try to find out who is the perp.
The story has lots of action but regularly veers off on a tangent to explore the relationship between Davenport and Lily. I liked the investigation even though there were a couple of what I perceived as fairly obvious clues that were missed. It's an easy, fast-paced read and an entertaining story. I will continue reading the series. It's one of those series that you can enjoy when you want a break from heavier reading. (3 stars)"

A Killing Frost by R.D. Wingfield (Frost #6)
2. R.D. Wingfield - A Killing Frost (This was my 2nd favourite book of January)
"A Killing Frost by R.D. Wingfield is the sixth and final book in the Inspector Frost mystery series, set in the English town of Denton. The books inspired a long running TV series starring David Jason. While the books all have a certain sameness, it is a comfortable, welcoming sameness.
In this story, we find Frost's job once again hanging by a thread. His boss, Police Superintendent Mullett, who hates Frost and never willingly supports him, has brought in Detective Chief Inspector Skinner to do his dirty work for him and either have Frost fired or moved to a new police district. Skinner is a particularly unlikeable character who just wants to make everybody miserable, hang them out to dry for any errors and reap all the rewards for any of their successes.
While Frost must deal with this, he is also kept busy working on countless cases, with his staff reduced to a minimum as Mullett has volunteered the majority of the station to help with a drug investigation in another district. So Frost and his willing and mostly capable remainder investigate the discovery of a body, blackmailing at a local grocery chain, missing girls and other smaller cases. As always, Frost blunders as much as he succeeds. He is a capable, very likable person, curmudgeonly and a bit of a dinosaur, but his heart is in the right place. He is especially distressed by the missing girls and works gamely to come to a solution before more bodies turn up.
As you read the Frost series, you will see similarities between all of them, but you will, nonetheless, enjoy them immensely. Frost is tireless, working on little to no sleep and pushing his team to follow his style.
The Frost series has been a favourite of mine and I'm sad that RD Wingfield is no longer with us to continue writing such an enjoyable character. (4 stars)"

Currently Reading

Open Season by Archer Mayor (Joe Gunther #1)
Mysteries (On-going Series, The Sleuths) - I also hope to read 25 books at least in this category. So far I've completed 3.

Trent's Own Case by E.C. Bentley (Phillip Trent #2)
1. E.C. Bentley - Trent's Own Case
"Trent's Own Case is the second of 3 books written by E.C. Bentley featuring sleuth, Phillip Trent. Trent is an artist, sometime contributor to English newspapers and a successful sleuth. He is respected by Scotland Yard and has helped them solve many cases. Trent's Own Case finds Trent retired, but brought back by an interesting case involving one of his friends.
An acquaintance, a rich philanthropist, is murdered and a friend of Trent's confesses to the murder and tries to commit suicide. Trent comes out of retirement and offers to assist his friend, Inspector Bligh with the investigation. Thus begins a meandering investigation that finds Trent visiting France as part of his attempt to find clues to prove his friend innocent of the crime.
Trent is somewhat like Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey, a similar personality and an interesting character. While the story starts off slowly, it is always interesting and gradually the various clues and information that Trent gathers begins to make sense and to maybe even provide other suspects.
Interesting characters, an interesting story and well-crafted. I'm looking forward to delving into the final book, a collection of short stories involving Phillip Trent. (4 stars)"

Trent Intervenes by E.C. Bentley (Phillip Trent #3)
2. E.C. Bentley - Trent Intervenes (As you can see, I didn't wait long to read the 3rd and final book in this series. I decided that I couldn't wait to read this last story.)
"Trent Intervenes by E.C. Bentley is the third and final book about painter, newspaper journalist and investigator Phillip Trent. This book is a collection of short stories featuring this interesting investigator.
Trent is a unique person, in some ways reminding me of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey. He enjoys the investigation, has great intuition and can look at a few clues and come up with a correct and interesting solution. He has an excellent relationship with the police and is regularly asked for his assistance, or, at the very least, they are more than willing to show him their cases and listen to his interpretations.
The stories are for the most part quite gentle. In many of them the story starts with Trent writing about cases for his newspaper then following up with the investigation. They involve murder, theft, hoodwinking, all the good things. I'm sorry that Bentley only wrote three Trent books as they were all most enjoyable, comfortable reads. While it's nice to finish a series, there is always some sadness knowing there won't be others. (4 stars)"

A Comedian Dies by Simon Brett (Charles Paris #5)
3. Simon Brett - A Comedian Dies. This was my first attempt at a Charles Paris mystery and I'm glad I finally got around to reading one of them.
"A Comedian Dies by Simon Brett is the first Charles Paris mystery that I've read (it is the 5th in the series). I have read 3 or 4 of the Fethering series and enjoyed them. My wife used to listen to BBC radio dramatisations of the Charles Paris books, starring Bill Nighy as Paris. That is what got me interested in Simon Brett's books.
Paris is a struggling actor who gets involved solving mysteries. He has an on again / off again relationship with his wife and an on again / off again relationship with his career. The story starts with Paris and his wife attending an afternoon variety show where there is a bit of excitement; the lead performer, an up and coming comedian is electrocuted as he starts his act. The police say it was an accident, but being nosey and drawn to mystery, Paris comes to believe that, in fact, the comedian was murdered. Thus begins his rambling investigation of all of the people involved in the show. He picks up and drops suspects faster than a hot potato.
At the same time, Paris has been offered a TV job with an ageing comic who is trying to reinvigorate his own career. Paris juggles this new job with his continuing investigation. It's an interesting story and an interesting conclusion. (3.5 stars)

Currently Reading
The Judas Pair by Jonathan Gash (Lovejoy #1)

Fantasy (I hope to read 5 books of this genre.)

Currently Reading

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games #3)
Horror (I hope to read at least 5 books in this genre

Science Fiction (I hope to read at least another 5 books in this genre, besides the 16 I have selected for my 12 + 4 challenge)

Fiction (I hope to read at least 15 books in this genre. I have completed 1 so far)

Nothing Like the Sun by Anthony Burgess
1. Anthony Burgess - Nothing Like the Sun
"I'm not quite sure what to make of Nothing Like the Sun by Anthony Burgess. The only other book I'd read by Burgess was A Clockwork Orange, a strange and interesting story of a dystopic future. Nothing Like the Sun is a tale of William Shakespeare and his purported relationships with the Earl of Southampton and Fatima, the Dark Lady.
Like Clockwork, Burgess has a way with language, Nothing Like the Sun written in an oldish English, as if you are reading a Shakespearean play. The story itself starts with a young William's life in Stratford, working for his father's glove - making business. Shakespeare is a moody boy, writing sonnets, chasing women until he is forced to marry Anne Hathaway after getting her pregnant.
Shakespeare then joins a travelling troupe of actors, begins writing their plays and moves to London, where he meets the Earl of Southampton and becomes involved in a romantic relationship. As well, influenced by a previous experience with a black prostitute in Bristol, he begins a relationship with Fatima, who he meets in London.
All the while, he writes sonnets for his lovers and plays for the public. His family is mentioned, he sometimes visits Stratford and at one point discovers his wife may not have been faithful to him either.
But, ultimately, for it being an interesting historical story that flowed nicely once you got used to the language and spent a bit of time with the book, I wondered if it really meant that much to me or if it provided me with any real information about Shakespeare. I'll have to try Bill Bryson's history of Shakespeare's life and compare... Just not right this minute. (3 stars)"

Spy / Thriller / War (I hope to read 10 books in this category)

Non-Fiction (I hope to read 5 books in this category)

So there you go, my initial Reading Summary of 2017. I think I'm off to a good start and have enjoyed my initial selections.

Next BLog I'll talk about my visit to Russell Books in Victoria during our recent trip to the city. And then an update on some of the work we've had done in the house.. :)

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