Friday, 31 March 2017

A Bit of History and My March 2017 Reading Summary

After a brief break, I'm back to looking through Treasures of Use and Beauty, Great Historical Events and Miscellaneous Letters by Eminent Persons. I also want to provide my March reading summary. So a busy post.

The 1500s were a busy time for exploration in the Americas so I'll probably break this down to a few posts. You'll see also that some of the worst aspects of mankind are also featured. So without further ado, here we go. The 1500s -

"1500. Columbus is sent to Spain in irons by Bovadilla; November 5. - Columbus upon his arrival in Cadiz meets with Ferdinand and Isabella, who being ashamed of their course toward him, invite him to court and openly apologize for their conduct.
1501. Negro slaves are imported into Hispaniola.
1502. May 9, - The Spanish government send Columbus upon a fourth and last voyage.
1503. The Spaniards introduce Negro slaves into the West Indies.
1504. Columbus again arrives at St. Domingo.
1506. May 20. - In the fifty-ninth year of his age Columbus dies at Valodolid. The gold mines of Hayti yield great wealth to Spain.
1508. A Canadian Indian seen in France.
1512. Juan Ponce-de-Leon discovers Florida.
1513. September 26. - After exploring Central America, Balboa crosses the Isthmus of Darien and discovers the Pacific.
1515. Alonzo de la Rua, a Spaniard, begins the exploration of Peru.
1516. Nata, the first Spanish city founded on the Pacific Coast.
1516. The Rio de la Plata discovered.
1517. Charles V. grants a patent for an annual import of 4,000 Negroes from Africa.
1518. Mexico discovered by Grijalva, and gold in considerable quantities found."

Next entry will focus on Montezuma and Cortez..

Miscellaneous Letters from Eminent Person

This letter is from Charles Dickens to his son, Harry, on going to College.

"My Dear Harry:

I have your letter here this morning. I inclose you another check for 25 pounds. Now observe attentively. We must have no shadow of doubt. Square up everything whatsoever it has been necessary to buy. Let not a farthing be outstanding on any account when we begin together with your allowance. Be particular in the minutest detail. I wish to have no secret from you in the relations we are to establish together, and I, therefore, send you Joe Chitty's letter bodily. Reading it you will know exactly what I know, and will understand that I treat you with perfect confidence.

You know how hard I work for what I get; and I think you know that I never had money help from any human creature after I was a child.

Whatever you do, above all things, keep out of debt and confide in me. If you ever find yourself on the verge of any perplexity, come to me. You will never find me hard with you while you are manly and truthful. As your brothers have gone away one by one, I have written to each of them what I am now going to write to you. You know that you nave never been hampered by religious forms of restraint, and that with mere unreasoning forms I have no sympathy. But I most strongly and affectionately impress upon you the priceless value of the New Testament, and the study of that book as the one unfailing guide in life. Deeply respecting it, and bowing down before the character of our Saviour as separated from the vain constructions and inventions of men, you cannot go very wrong, and will always preserve at heart a true spirit of veneration and humility. Similarly I impress upon you the habit of saying a Christian prayer every night and morning. These things have stood by me all through my life; and remember that I tried to render the New Testament intelligible to you and lovable by you when you were a mere baby. And so God bless you. Ever your affectionate father,

Charles Dickens"

(How many parents have had similar conversations or written similar letters to their children when they've left home?)

March 2017 Reading Summary

So here we go, my monthly stats. All in all, it's been a very good month and I'm keeping up with my overall Goodreads challenge of 120 books read in 2017.

General Stats
                                                     March          2017 Total
Books read                                     11                    33 (5 books ahead of schedule)
Pages read                                   2900                8,500

Pages Breakdown
       < 250                                         6                     18
250  - 350                                         3                     10
351 - 450                                          1                       3
       > 450                                         1                       2

Author Gender
Female                                             3                       7
Male                                                8                      26

5 - star                                             1                       2
4 - star                                             6                      19
3 - star                                             3                      11
2 - star                                             1                       1

Fiction                                             1                      3
Mystery                                           4                     14
SciFi                                                5                     15
Non-Fiction                                     1                      1
Humour                                                                   0
Classics                                                                   0

Reading Group Challenges

12 + 4 - Science Fiction Stories

I read 5 books in this challenge and that brings my total completed to 14 books. I'm currently reading The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner. I expect I'll finish the last two in April. (I've already pretty well sorted out what my follow-on 12 + 4 challenge will be.) Most of the books haven't been terribly long but for the most part they've all been interesting.

1. Philip K. Dick - Time Out of Joint (4 stars)
2. Clifford D. Simak - Time is the Simplest Thing (2 stars)
3. John Brunner - The Super Barbarians (3 stars)
4. Philip K. Dick - The Crack in Space (4 stars)
5. Michael Moorcock - Behold the Man (4 stars)

Canadian Fiction - I never read any more books in this grouping in March. So far I've read 1 of a possible 5.

The Classics (pre - 1900). I've not read any books in this challenge yet. I've started The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper but I've put it aside in the past few days so I could complete a couple of other books. I will spend more time with it now that April is on us. I've enjoyed what I've read so far.

Mysteries (The Cops) - I've completed 6 of a planned 25 in this category so far. In March I read 2 more. I will be starting the first Aurelio Zen mystery next, that being The Ratking by Michael Dibdin.

1. Tony Hillerman - Listening Woman (Joe Leaphorn #3) (3 stars)
2. Ann Cleeves - Telling Tales (Vera Stanhope #2) (4 stars)

Mysteries (The Sleuths) - I've completed 8 of a planned 25 in this category. In March I read 2, including my favourite book of the month. I'm currently starting the 2nd Smith & Wetzon mystery, Tender Death by Annette Meyers.

1. Victoria Thompson - Murder on Washington Square (Gaslight #4) (4 stars)
2. Rex Stout - The League of Frightened Men (Nero Wolfe #2) (5 stars)

Fantasy / Science Fiction / Horror - I hoped to read at least 5 in each of these categories. At the moment I've neglected them all mainly due to my 12 + 4 challenge as I wanted to try to get a few different genres into my monthly reading. Depending on which 12 + 4 challenge I use as my next one, I will definitely be working on these genres for the rest of the year.

Fiction - I hoped to read about 15 books in this challenge in 2017. So far I've completed two. However, if I make my next 12 + 4 challenge authors between 1900 and 1950 as I'm leaning towards, I'll finish a few more of these as part of this challenge.

1. Sarah Waters - Fingersmith (4 stars)

Spy / Thriller / Adventure - I've not read any in this category yet. I had hoped to read 10 books in this category. Some of those I have outlined in my possible 12 + 4 challenge would fit into this grouping as well.

Non-Fiction - I've read one of five so far.

1. Bill Bryson - Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (3 stars).

Top 3 Books of March

3. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.

"Fingersmith is the first book I've read by Sarah Waters. Some of my Book group friends had read it and gave it good reviews. The synopsis was intriguing enough that I thought it worth giving it a try.
I honestly didn't know what to expect when I started it and there were many little surprises contained within that kept intriguing me. Quite a different, unique story.

Sue Trinder is a fingersmith (hence the title), basically a pick pocket who works the streets of London for her adopted mother and other acquaintances. She lives in a back alley and we soon discover that her real mother was executed for crimes she committed and that Mrs. Sucksby promised to take care of her. Mrs. Sucksby makes a living buying unwanted babies and selling them on. She lives with Mr. Ibbs who runs a shop selling stolen goods. There are a cast of other characters who also live in the house, including John and Dainty. The other character of note is Gentleman, as he is called, who comes to Mrs. Sucksby with a scheme to swindle a rich man of his estate by marrying his niece, Maud. Sue is a key part of the scheme as she will become the girl's maid.

There you have the story in its simplest, but don't even think that that's it and all about it. There is a great deal of plotting and neat little twists and turns that you won't see coming that keep this book moving along nicely. The story is told in a unique fashion as well; the first part from Sue's perspective, the second from Maud's and finally the third from Sue's once again as we move along at a clip to the exciting finale.

I will admit to being somewhat irritated at the beginning of the 2nd part as it seemed like a rehash of Part 1. However, I readily admit now that it is as interesting as the first, especially as it ties in two complex story lines and provides a nice outlet for Maud's views and feelings about what is happening.

All in all, a surprising and excellent story. (4 stars)"

2. Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves.
"Telling Tales is the second Inspector Vera Stanhope mystery by Ann Cleeves. I had read The Crow Trap a couple of years ago and enjoyed very much, then got sidetracked by her Shetland series. Everything I've read by Ann Cleeves so far, I've enjoyed very much.

Telling Tales revisits a 10-year old murder after the woman convicted of the crime kills herself in prison and after a new witness comes up clearing her of the murder. Vera Stanhope is assigned to go to the Yorkshire village of Elvet to re-open the investigation. Another murder takes place while Vera is there, begging the question if this murder is related to the previous.

The new investigation brings back old bad memories to the community of Elvet, some that they would rather forget. I liked how the story is presented. Vera is an ever-present character, along with her Sgt Ashworth, who assists with the investigation. But the story is also told from other perspectives, those of the town folk proper and this adds a nice touch.

All in all, I enjoyed this immensely and I'm glad that I've finally revisited the Vera series. (4 stars)"

1. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout.
"Rex Stout is another of those authors that I have come to late in my reading life. My first experience was with one of his last books, a short story collection, Death Times Three, which I enjoyed quite a bit. I've been trying to find his first book, Fer de Lance (1934) but so far with no luck. But I did find this book, The League of Frightened Men, his second book, originally published in 1935.

From being someone who enjoyed my first experience of the great detective, Nero Wolfe, I now find my self an unabashed fan. This book was excellent, a fascinating, entertaining, great mystery. Nero Wolfe and his partner, Archie Goodwin are a great team and both interesting in their own rights. Wolfe is an oversize detective, basically housebound, whose life, while he works to solve mysteries, is quite regimented. Each morning and each afternoon, he works upstairs in his home, tending his multitude of orchids. While he can be visited, no business is conducted. He settles the remainder of his day, in his office, tending to business.

Archie is his eyes, ears, arms and legs. Archie conducts the investigations, travels around New York and local environs, interviewing, gathering information. He can be Wolfe's strong arm man if necessary. The stories are told in Archie's voice, from his perspective. (Oddly enough, Wolfe does sometime leave his home, this I discovered in this story. But this seems to be a rarity, not the norm)
So this story; a group of men, Harvard classmates have a secret past. While in university, they hazed another classmate and as a result caused him to have severe injuries. Out of guilt, they have banded together to pay medical bills, etc. Now two have died, or maybe been murdered. They think that Paul Chapin is involved and that he plans to kill them all. Wolfe is hired and so the story begins.

I enjoyed so much how the story is presented; small details like how Wolfe decides how to bill each of the different members of the group, and so many other aspects. The story has a surprising menace throughout and the case is so very interesting (even when Archie and Wolfe seem to be grinding their heels trying to get information.) I love Archie's manner of presenting the case, his thoughts on Wolfe; a combination of affection and anger. Great story and now I will have to read the whole series. An excellent story and mystery. Can you figure out the ending? (5 stars!)"

Currently Reading

I'm starting off April with the following books.

1. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper (Classics)
2. Tender Death by Annette Meyers (Mystery - Sleuths)
3. Ratking by Michael Dibdin (Mystery - Cops)
4. The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner (12 + 4 - Science Fiction)

One final thing. I was pleasantly surprised when thriller writer, T.V. LoCicero from Grosse Pointe, Michigan sent me a review copy of his The Car Bomb. I'm looking forward to reading it and maybe adding a new author to my TBR lists.

"Detroit Nielson king Frank DeFauw hunts down the story of a judge who may be corrupt - and is one of his best friends. Booze, drugs, womanizing and a passion for the news are all part of what makes this brilliant, erratic TV anchor a major player in this deeply troubled city. Finally, Frank decides if digging out the truth about his pal the judge is worth risking his own career, family and life."

There you go. Time to relax a bit with the missus and dogs. Have a great weekend.

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