Saturday, 29 February 2020

My February 2020 Reading Challenge Update

I finished my final book of February last night. I'll provide my review of it then get into my Reading summary for the month / year.

Just Finished

1. Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham (Albert Campion #2).

"Mystery Mile is the 2nd Albert Campion mystery by Margery Allingham. I've read a few others in this series, not particularly following them sequentially. Although now that I have the next few books, I will try to do so. Campion brings to mind Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey, although Campion's past seems more mysterious than that of Wimsey. There are secrets in his life that I hope will come out more and more, but we'll see.

In this story, decides to help a retired American judge and his two adult children. They have left America to get away from a mysterious gang of criminals, lead by one Simister (a faceless unknown gang leader). The Judge, Crowdy Lobbett, has been trying to break the gang for years and appears to know something about the identity of Simister. The gang previously had been trying to scare Lobbett into giving up the investigation but now appear to want him snuffed out. Unfortunately their efforts so far have resulted in the deaths of others. Campion is brought into the case when an attempt is made on the Judge on board the cruise ship they on which they are traveling to England.

Campion takes the family to Mystery Mile, an isolated coastal town in Suffolk. They will stay at the Manor House, owned by friends of Campion, the Paget twins, Giles and Biddy, a young lady for whom Campion seems to have strong feelings. Campion hopes that the location will make it easier to detect strangers who might belong to the gang. An incident occurs immediately with the suicide of family friend, the local vicar, St Smithins. After this the plot progresses quickly, with further incidents occurring (I'll let you discover those as I don't want to ruin the story). Suffice it to say that there is a steady threat, sufficient action and intrigue to satisfy you.

The characters in the story are all interesting and sympathetic and there are enough quirky characters to enhance the colour and tone of the story. All very interesting and well-crafted, succeeding to draw you into the story and to feel invested in the safety and lives of the main characters. Campion is an excellent series and I look forward to reading the other books in the series. (4 stars)"

Now on to my Reading Summary

February 2020

General Info            Feb                  Total (Including my current read)
Books Read -            13                       21
Pages Read -            3900                  5920 (Avg per book - 280)

Pages Breakdown
    < 250                       4                        9       
250 - 350                     4                        7
351 - 450                     5                        5
   > 450                           

5 - star                         3                        3
4 - star                         5                        8
3 - star                         5                      10
2 - star                           

Female                         8                     12
Male                            5                       9

Horror                                                  1
Fiction                         2                      4
Mystery                     10                    14
SciFi                            1                      1
Young Adult                                        1

Top 3 Books

1. Wall of Eyes by Margaret Millar (5 stars)
2. Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler (5 stars)
3. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde (5 stars)


12 + 4 (Finish off Some Series) (completed 3)
1. The Death of Kings by Rennie Airth (3.5 stars)
2. Stopover: Tokyo by John P. Marquand (3.5 stars)

Individual Challenge - First Book in Series (completed 3)
1. The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison (3 stars)

Individual Challenge - Next Book in Series (completed 6)
1. 4th of July by James Patterson (4 stars)
2. Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton (4 stars)
3. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde (5 stars)
4. Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham (4 stars)

Individual Challenge - Non Series (completed 4)
1. The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton (3.5 stars)

Monthly Challenge - January (CanCon) (completed 1)
1. Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler (5 stars)

Monthly Challenge - February (Margaret Millar) (completed 4)
1. Wall of Eyes (5 stars)
2. Taste of Fears (4.5 stars)
3. The Fiend (4 stars)
4. Beyond This Point are Monsters (3.5 stars)

Currently Reading

1. Summertime All The Cats Are Bored by Philippe Georget (Inspector Sebag #1) (12 + 4 Challenge)
2. The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane (Forgotten Chronicles #1) (First Book in Series Challenge)
3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn by Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse #3) (Next Book in Series Challenge)
4. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (Non Series Challenge)
5. Death to the French by C.S. Forester (March Focus Challenge - C.S. Forester)

Next In Line (Possibles)

1. 12 + 4 Challenge - The Winter Thief by Jenny White (Kamil Pasha #3)
2. First in Series - The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly (Laetitia Talbot #1)
3. Next in Series - T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Milhone #20)
4. Non-Series - The Girls in 3-B by Valerie Taylor
5. March Challenge - The Captain from Connecticut by C.S. Forester

So there you go. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Friday, 28 February 2020

A Friday Post - The Science Fiction Novel - For Your Consideration (Alternate Reality)

Another weekend is around the corner and we're coming to the end of another month. The news is so depressing these days; stock market on a big downward cycle, the Coronavirus. But I guess at least spring is almost here.... except for those places that keep getting snow.. Egads!

So let's stick to books, OK? I have had a great reading month. I think I'll be able to finish one more book this month as it's a relatively short one and very entertaining. Nothing new to report on that front today but I did get a new book in the mail yesterday. I'll update that and get back to my look at the Sci-Fi novel. I'm not sure if these books actually classify as Sci-Fi but I think besides being horror stories, they fall into the Fantasy and Alternate Reality sub-genres. What do you think?

New Books

1. The Girls in 3-B by Valerie Taylor (1959). I have found a few books via the Femmes Fatales press; mysteries, noir, LGBTQ, etc. Books like Bunny Lake is Missing by Evelyn Piper, Laura by Vera Caspary, etc.

"Annice, Pat and Barby are best friends from rural Iowa, freshly arrived in booming 1950s Chicago to explore different paths toward independence, self-expression, and sexual freedom. From the hip-hang of a bohemian lifestyle to the sophisticated lure of romance with a handsome, wealthy, married boss, to the happier - but taboo - security of a lesbian relationship, these three experience first-hand the dangers and limitations that await spirited young working girls who strike out on their own in a decidedly male-centered world.

An honest, explosive novel that turns conventional ideas of 1950s life and femininity upside down, The Girls in 3-B reveals in heart-breaking detail the hidden world of mid-century America, where women live on their own in seedy apartments, have premarital sex, get illegal abortions, yearn to be artists, experiment with drugs, and, if they are so inclined, discover a mannered, thriving lesbian underworld.

Valerie Taylor's focus on themes of class as well as gender and sexual identity provides an unusual perspective on the myth of the American Dream. With poverty never more than a paycheck away, the girls in 3-B inhabit a world in which their bodies are sometimes their only currency, and their artistic and career ambitions are limited by both their meager resources and the blatant sexism of their time. The characters in the novel are, surprisingly, far more self-aware and daring than most contemporary images of 1950s America - and then offers a defiantly subversive alternative. A classic pulp tale showcasing predatory beatnik men, drug hallucinations, workplace intrigues, and secret lesbian trysts, The Girls in 3-B approaches the theme of sex from the stiffened vantage point of 1950s psychology."

The Science Fiction Novel - Alternate Reality (Vampires and Other Monsters)

I've enjoyed the various writers who use Alternate Reality as their sub-genre. Harry Turtledove specializes in the sub-genre; what if a Roman Legion is transported to another planet, what happens if aliens invade during WWII, what happens if the Confederacy won the Civil War. One of my favorite books in this sub-genre was Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle which posits that Japan and Germany won WWII. What I will focus on here are two series, one by Laurell K. Hamilton and the other by Charlaine Harris. Both posit that vampires and other creatures walk among us and that they are accepted by law. Both authors have created fascinating worlds. Let's take a look at them

1. Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake). I discovered this series back in the mid-90s and got hooked on it right away. What you have is Anita Blake, a necromancer, vampire hunter and powerful lady. She lives in St. Louis in a society that has passed laws granting vampires citizenship. Other creatures also exist but still live in hiding, werewolves, etc. On the surface the stories are mystery / horror specific but Hamilton has created a new society, a look at an alternate present where the supernatural become natural. My daughter could explain this much better than I ever can as she uses the themes of this series in the university course she teaches and will use it also in her PhD thesis. Suffice it to say that there are many fascinating themes explored in the series that go beyond just a basic vampire story.

2. Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse). This series was the basis for HBO's great True Blood series. I often felt that it was basically Anita Blake light but Harris explores similar themes. Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in Louisiana. She can read minds, a power that both helps and hinders her. Similar to the Anita Blake books, vampires are once again accepted by law. They run clubs in New Orleans and across the US. Of course, there are other species as well. I don't think this series explores the themes that are covered in the Anita Blake books but still, they offer a neat alternate reality.

As I started discussing these two series, another popped up on my list. The book is The Night Watch by Russian author, Sergei Lukyanenko. The story features supernatural creatures living in an uneasy truce in Moscow, a fascinating alternate fantasy universe. I have read and enjoyed the first book. It has now been expanded to six books. I will have to find the other stories as I did enjoy this one very much.

I recognize this is a short posting but if you're interested in trying these series or other series by the mentioned authors, below is a link to all of their books -

a. Laurell K. Hamilton's books;
b. Charlaine Harris's books:
c. Sergei Lukyanenko's books.

Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, 27 February 2020

The Science Fiction Novel - Young Adult (Part 2)

I have focused on authors in previous threads of my look at the Sci-Fi genre that would fall under the Young Adult grouping, e.g. Orson Scott Card (Ender's War) and three specifically in this thread, Susan Cooper (Dark Rising), Scott Westerfield (Leviathan) and Michael de Larrabeiti (Borribles). Today I'll check out three more.

The Science Fiction Novel - Young Adults (Part 2)

Philip Pullman
1. Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials). Sir Philip Pullman is an English novelist born in Norwich in 1946. He is probably best known for his fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, with the three books being The Golden Compass (published in the UK as Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. He has also published some companion pieces to the trilogy. Pullman is also noted for his Ruby in the Smoke books and his not yet completed Book of Dust trilogy. 

I have read and enjoyed the first two books in the Dark Materials trilogy (don't know why I never completed it because it's a fantastic trilogy) and haven't yet explored his other books. (Too many books, not enough time). The Golden Compass, itself, was turned into a wonderful movie, but I think somewhat eclipsed by the success of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. The Dark Materials has recently been turned into a TV series and I have yet to try it. But the books, as I remember, was peopled with wonderful characters (I particularly liked Serafina Pekkala, the witch.

Below are synopses of the three books -

a. The Golden Compass (1995).

"Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal--including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want--but what Lyra doesn't know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other."

b. The Subtle Knife (1997).

"Lost in a new world, Lyra finds Will—a boy on the run, a murderer—a worthy and welcome ally. For this is a world where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels.

Each is searching—Lyra for the meaning of Dark Matter, Will for his missing father—but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. And neither Lyra nor Will suspects how tightly their lives, their loves, and their destinies are bound together... until they are split apart."

c. The Amber Spyglass (2000).

"Lyra and Will, the two ordinary children whose extraordinary adventures began in The Golden Compass and continued in The Subtle Knife, are in unspeakable danger. With help from the armored bear Iorek Byrnison and two tiny Gallivespian spies, they must journey to a gray-lit world where no living soul has ever gone. All the while, Dr. Mary Malone builds a magnificent amber spyglass. An assassin hunts her down. And Lord Asriel, with troops of shining angels, fights his mighty rebellion, a battle of strange allies—and shocking sacrifices.

As war rages and Dust drains from the sky, the fate of the living—and the dead—finally comes to depend on two children and the simple truth of one simple story. The Amber Spyglass reveals that story, bringing Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials to an astonishing conclusion."

Suzanne Collins
2. Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games). Suzanne Collins is an American author born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1962, well known for her dystopic trilogy, The Hunger Games, amongst other books. So popular it also became a successful movie series starring Jennifer Lawrence as the book's heroine, Katniss Everdeen. It seems that Collins is now writing a prequel that will feature the failed rebellion highlighted in the books. It is supposed to be released sometime in 2020. I've read and enjoyed the three books. They are a dark look at the world but present interesting ideas.

a. The Hunger Games (#1 / 2008).

"Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love." (4 stars)

b. Catching Fire (#2 / 2009).

"Catching Fire was an entertaining, well-paced sequel in the Hunger Games trilogy. It has that problem of being the 2nd book in a trilogy, continuing the thread from Book 1 and setting up the grand finale. It was a bit of more of the same from the first book, Katniss and Peeta once again, surprisingly though, sent to another Hunger Games competition, the 75th anniversary, as because they were previous winners, they were supposed to be exempt. This competition involves previous winners from each district and is an attempt by President Snow to end the popularity of Katniss and to quell outbreaks in the various districts. New challenges, new friends and enemies. It was interesting and exciting. I've now got to find out how the whole thing ends so I guess it achieved its aim. (3 stars)"

c. Mockingjay (#3 / 2010).

"Mockingjay is the third and final book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It was definitely an excellent ending to the story. I thought of giving it a rating of 5 but it wasn't quite perfect. It took a bit to get going but once it did, it held my attention, almost breathless, until the end. There were nice twists and turns as well; the effect of imprisonment on Peeta, the surprising ending.

I still found Katniss a bit irritating but then again, she was a young woman still with tremendous pressure placed on her shoulders (If you call having the weight of the world's survival on your shoulders as tremendous pressure 😉). I liked so many of the characters, especially her support cast; Gale, Haymitch. Prim, Finnick, etc.

The story developed slowly but once the revolution gets going, it's a constant flow of intense action. But the final ending left me feeling hope for the future of the world of Panem. (4 stars)"

The prequel is supposed to be called The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Check it out if you want to see how it all began.

Maggie Stiefvater
3. Maggie Stiefvater (The Scorpio Races). Maggie Stiefvater is an American author of young adult fantasy series. She was born in Harrisonburg, VA in 1981. (Yup, these authors keep getting younger and younger, which is no bad thing. Someone has to take up the torch and keep pumping out great novels. Stiefvater is best known for her series books, The Wolves of Mercy Falls and The Raven Cycle. I've not tried these yet but I was introduced to her writing by her standalone novel, The Scorpio Races, which I thought was unique and fascinating.

a. The Scorpio Races (2011).

"This was such an excellent story, well-written, a page turner, thoughtful and even emotional. It's a YA fantasy, so I was thinking it was more of The Hunger Games, but it was quite different in some ways. 

Each year on an island off America, Thisby, the Scorpio Races take place. The difference between a normal horse race and the Scorpio races is that the horses used come from the sea, and they are meat eaters. They wash ashore during storms and some are captured and kept on land. In November, the races take place. 

People and horses will die. Sean Kendricks, a young man who works for the wealthiest landowner on the island, has won 4 of the last 6 races, on a horse named Corr. He competes with the landowner's son and others; there is ill-feeling between him and Mutt Malvern, partly because Mutt's father seems to prefer Sean. Kate (Puck) Connolly needs to enter this year's race, to try and keep her family together and to keep her family home. 

However, there has never been a girl in the Scorpio Races before and Kate will be riding her land horse, Dove, not a water horse. This is the premise of this fantastic story. The book is peopled with wonderful characters, Kate and her brothers, Sean, George Holly (the horse trader from the mainland), Peg Gratton, Dory Maud and her sisters and the story draws you in more and more until you can't put the book down. I want to go the bakery on the island and have November Cakes, they sound delicious. Excellent book and I have to give it. (5 stars)"

The other day when I was wandering through a new local bookstore (YAY!) that specializes in young adult fiction, I noticed that she has a new series out, Dreamers. The first book, Call Down the Hawk, sounded very interesting. I may have to check it out.

So there you go. Do any of these series interest you?

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

New Books, A Reading Update and the Science Fiction Novel - Jose Saramago

Had a nice walk this morning. It's nice that it's getting lighter a bit earlier every day. I won't need to use my head lamp much more. Last night we had our first BBQ of the year; the burgers were quite good if I do say so myself.

I finished a book today and got two in the mail. I'll update those, provide my review and also let you know what book is next in line. Then I'll take a look at the Sci-Fi novel; this book fits kind of into the Dystopic Future sub-genre.

New Books

1. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper (Dark is Rising #3).

"Simon, Jane, and Barney, enlisted by their mysterious great-uncle, arrive in a small coastal town to recover a priceless golden grail stolen by the forces of evil -- Dark. They are not at first aware of the strange powers of another boy brought to help, Will Stanton -- nor of the sinister significance of the Greenwitch, an image of leaves and branches that for centuries has been cast into the sea for good luck in fishing and harvest. Their search for the grail sets into motion a series of disturbing, sometimes dangerous events that, at their climax, bring forth a gift that, for a time at least, will keep the Dark from rising."

2. Fires of London by Janice Law (Francis Bacon #1).

"A killer takes refuge in the blacked-out streets of wartime London, upending the world of one of Britain’s greatest painters in this chilling and captivating re-imagining of the life of Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon walks the streets of World War II London, employed as a warden for the ARP to keep watch for activities that might tip off the Axis powers. Before the war, Bacon had traveled to Berlin and Paris picking up snatches of culture from a succession of middle-aged men charmed by his young face. Known for his flamboyant personal life and expensive taste, Bacon has returned home to live with his former nanny—who’s also his biggest collector—in a cramped bohemian apartment. But one night, death intrudes on his after-hours paradise. When a young man is found dead in the park, his head smashed in, Bacon and the rest of London’s demimonde realize that they have much more to fear than the faraway scream of war."

 Just Finished

1. Stopover: Tokyo by John P. Marquand (Mr. Moto #6).

"Stopover: Tokyo is the 6th and final book in John P. Marquand's Mr. Moto spy series. I have enjoyed all of the previous books, some more than others of course. This might have been my least favorite of the bunch. Basically because it seemed to take so long to actually get going. It was still an interesting story, maybe a bit more thoughtful than the others.

The story focuses on 2 American spies, Jack Rhyce and Ruth Bogart, heading to Japan to help an agent in Tokyo discover a Russian agent working there with the assistance of possible American traitors. Jack's boss has information that the Russians might attempt an assassination in Tokyo to make the Americans look bad. There search is to find Big Ben, the link to the Russian agent.

On their journey the two meet a Japanese student who gives them the card for Mr. Moto. They also meet an American in Wake who they suspect might be Big Ben. A lot of time is the development of their relationship, whether they will quit the Agency when this operation is finished.

Things begin to move quicker when they arrive in Tokyo. They are met by Mr. Moto, who they think might be a spy. They take a trip to the mountains to meet their contact, Bob Gibson and things begin to move even quicker. The last half of the book has more action; with the two beginning to work with Mr. Moto. I definitely found the 2nd half of the story much more interesting.

I'm glad that I read this series. It's interesting to see the spy world and to see both sides of the picture. This story is set just after WWII when Japan is an ally of the US. The spy work was also interesting enough and the descriptions of Japanese culture just after the war was well described. All in all it was a satisfying story and I'm glad that I explored Marquand's Moto books. (3.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Summertime All The Cats Are Bored by Philippe Georget (Inspector Sebag #1).

"It’s the middle of a long hot summer on the French Mediterranean shore and the town is teeming with tourists. Sebag and Molina, two tired cops who are being slowly devoured by dull routine and family worries, deal with the day’s misdemeanors and petty complaints at the Perpignan police headquarters. But then a young Dutch woman is found murdered on a beach at Argelès, and another disappears without a trace in the alleys of the city. Is it a serial killer obsessed with Dutch women? Maybe. The media senses fresh meat and moves in for the feeding frenzy.

Out of the blue, Inspector Gilles Sebag finds himself thrust into the middle of a diabolical game. In order to focus on the matter at hand, he will have to put aside his cares, forget his suspicions about his wife’s unfaithfulness, ignore his heart murmur, and get over his existential angst. But there is more to this case than anyone suspects."

The Science Fiction Novel - Jose Saramago

Jose Saramago
Portuguese author, Saramago,  was born in Portugal in 1922 and died in Spain in 2010. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998. I hesitated to put him in the Sci-Fi genre but the one story that I have read did make me think it fit in the dystopic future sub-genre, sort of a take on the Day of the Triffids, without the Triffids. I have only read one of Saramago's books and that is the one I will highlight.

1. Blindness (1995).

"I'm not sure what I think of this book. It was definitely very engrossing and at times disturbing. An interesting concept, everybody, but, as far as we know, one person turns blind over a period of time. The first persons to turn blind are quarantined in an insane asylum, this is the starting point of the story, told mostly from the perspective of the eye doctor's wife, she who doesn't go blind. How these people cope with being isolated from the rest of the city/ world is the main thrust of the story. There are many disturbing scenes; the filth they live in, the one group that tries to exert its authority, withholding food, the abuse of the women. At times the translation, or maybe the method of story - telling irritated me; the use of long run-on sentences. But ultimately, the story held my attention, reminded me somewhat of Day of the Triffids, except in this story all are blind. It's worth reading and judging for yourself; a solid 3.5 - 4 stars."

The complete listing of Saramago's books is available at this link.


Tuesday, 25 February 2020

A Reading Update and The Science Fiction Novel - Anne McCaffery

I'm progressing nicely so far in 2020. February has been excellent with quite a few top notch stories. I finished another this morning. I'll update that book and also let you know what is next. Then I'll continue with my look at the Sci-Fi novel.

Just Finished

1. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next #3).

"Every time I read a book in the Thursday Next fantasy / mystery series I leave it feeling happy and totally entertained. The Well of Lost Plots is the 3rd book in this series by British writer, Jasper Fforde. In this story, ex-SO5 agent has had to leave the Out World (Swindon to be exact) to escape from Goliath corporation and to protect herself and her unborn child. She is hiding in the Well of Lost Plots, the place where all fiction is created, in her case in an unpublished novel, Caversham Heights, a book that might be taken apart if it doesn't improve.

While there Thursday will fill in for one of the characters, Molly, partner to Detective Jack Spratt, and will continue her training with mentor Miss Havisham as an agent for Jurisfiction, the group that keeps books safe (well, it's probably more complex than that). Hmm, what else is going on. In the last book, Goliath went into the past and erased her husband, Landon, from existence and Aornis Hades has put an ear worm into her head to erase every memory of Landon from her mind. Let's see, a new version of the book system, Ultra World, is being tried, the Minotaur has escaped, other Jurisfiction agents are being killed off by someone and Book World is preparing for the 923rd Annual Fiction Awards with Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights hoping to snag his 73rdish straight win as Most Troubled Romantic Lead (Male).

It's such a fascinating world that Fforde has created and there is a richness to the story-telling, the whole concept and the settings. Thursday Next is a strong, interesting character and ably supported by the other characters. Mrs. Havisham of Great Expectations as her mentor and speed car enthusiast, Thursday's Gran who shows up to help her battle Aornis and to keep her memories, the two Generics, Idd and Obb who share Thursday's accommodations and are trying to develop personalities, etc.  I keep thinking it's all just a bit of fun, but the more you get into the story, it's more than that, it's fascinating and wonderful. Fforde even teases his hew series, Nursery Crimes (at least I think he does).  Start with The Eyre Affair and you'll be addicted too. (5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham (Albert Campion #2 / 1930).

"Judge Crowdy Lobbett has found evidence pointing to the identity of the criminal mastermind behind the deadly Simister gang. After four attempts on his life, he ends up seeking the help of Albert Campion."

The Science Fiction Novel - Anne McCaffery

Anne McCaffery
Anne Inez McCaffery was born in Cambridge, Mass in 1926 and died in County Wicklow, Ireland in 2011. She is best known for The Dragonriders of Pern Sci-Fi series. She was the first woman to win a Hugo Award for for fiction and also a Nebula Award.

Back in the day when I was getting back into Sci-Fi via the Science Fiction Book Club I tried this series; I think it was The Dolphins of Pern. I have yet to try another but I do have one on my books shelf.

1. All the Weyrs of Pern (Pern #11 / 1991).

"For generations, the dragonriders had dedicated their lives to fighting Thread, the dreaded spores that periodically rained from the sky to ravage the land. On the backs of their magnificent telepathic dragons they flew to flame the deadly stuff out of the air before it could reach the planet's surface. But the greatest dream of the dragon riders was to find a way to eradicate Thread completely, so that never again would their beloved Pern be threatened with destruction.

Now, for the first time, it looked as if that dream could come true. For when the people of Pern, led by Masterharper Robinton and F'Lar and Lessa, Weyrleader and Weyrwoman of Benden Weyr, excavated the ancient remains of the planet's original settlement, they uncovered the colonist's voice-activated artificial intelligence system - which still functioned! 

And the computer had incredible news for them: There was a chance - a good chance - that they could, at long last, annihilate Thread once and for all!"

The complete listing of Anne McCaffery's works can be found at this link.

Monday, 24 February 2020

The Science Fiction Novel - Gene Wolfe

Congrats to Team Manitoba
In yesterday's post I mentioned that Jo and I had been enjoying the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Last night we enjoyed the final game between Team Ontario and Team Manitoba. It was a very close game and had to go into extra ends with Team Manitoba winning 8-7. Very emotional game.

A quick post today as I've finished no books (I did make progress on them though) and purchased no books. So let's get right to the Science Fiction novel.

Gene Wolfe
The Science Fiction Novel - Gene Rodman Wolfe

Gene Wolfe was born in New York City in 1931 and died in Peoria, Ill in 2019. He was a prolific short story and novel writer in both the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres. He won a number of awards for his work. He is best known for his Book of the New Sun series of four books. I have tried one of his collections of short stories and enjoyed very much. The Book of the New Sun sits on my book shelf.

1. Stories from the Old Hotel (1988).

"I finished Stories from the Old Hotel, a series of fantasy/ science fiction short stories by Gene Wolfe this afternoon. I enjoyed the book very much. The stories are difficult to categorize but they are interesting. The stories vary from tales about robots, other worlds, fantastical adventures, but each story keeps you on your toes. There always seems to be something just out of the corner of your eye that you are missing. There were no laugh out loud moments but there is a sense of whimsy at times. It's worth reading just to experience the different writing styles in each story. I've never read anything by Wolfe before but I will search out others of his books. (4 stars)"

Synopsis - "Storeys from the Old Hotel includes many of Gene Wolfe's most appealing and engaging works, from short-shorts that can be read in single setting to whimsical fantasy and even Sherlock Holmes pastiches. It is a literary feast for anyone interested in the best science fiction has to offer.

- The Green Rabbit from S'Rian
- Beech Hill
- Sightings at Twin Mounds
- Continuing Westward
- Slaves of Silver
- The Rubber Bend
- Westwind
- Sonya, Crane, Wessleman, and Kittee
- The Packerhaus Method
- Straw
- The Marvelous Brass Chessplaying Automaton
- To the Dark Tower Came
- Parkroads - A Review
- The Flag
- Alphabet
- A Criminal Proceeding
- In Looking-Glass Castle
- Cherry Jubilee
- Redbeard
- A Solar Labyrinth
- Love, Among the Corridors
- Checking Out
- Morning Glory
- Trip, Trap
- From the Desk of Gilmer C. Merton
- Civis Laputus Sum
- The Recording
- Last Day
- Death of the Island Doctor
- Redwood Coast Roamer:
● On the Train
● In the Mountains
● At the Volcano's Lip
● In the Old Hotel
- Choice of the Black Goddess

2. Shadow and Claw (the Book of the New Sun #1-2) (1994).

"The Book of the New Sun is an epic set a million years in the future. Earth is transformed to a time when present culture is no longer even a memory. This edition contains the first two volumes of this four volume novel, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, originally published in 1980 and 1981."

The complete listing of Wolfe's books can be found at this link.

Enjoy your week!

Sunday, 23 February 2020

A Reading Update and The Science Fiction Novel - Iain M. Banks

Kerri Einarson and team
Last night Jo and I watched the 1 - 2 match in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts; Team Manitoba represented by Kerri Einarson and the Wild Card represented by Jennifer Jones, two of the best teams in Canada fighting to see who will represent Canada in the World Curling Championships. What a fantastic game, especially the shot making by Kerri Einarson. She ended up shooting 95%+ and made some of the best shots we've ever seen. Great takeouts, perfect weight. It was just.... Wow! This morning I watched Team Ontario, represented by Rachel Homan beat Jennifer Jones again. That means we'll have Team Ontario vs Team Manitoba for the final this evening. If both teams play up to their capabilities, it'll be a great game.. *fingers crossed*

I finished a book this morning, will update that for you and also let you know what will be the next book on my list. I'll also continue with my look at the Science Fiction novel, with one of my favorite authors of recent years, Iain M. Banks.

Just Finished

1. Beyond This Point Are Monsters by Margaret Millar (1970). My 4th Margaret Millar book of February. I've now finished all of the unread books on my shelf.

"Beyond This Point Are Monsters by Margaret Millar was originally published in 1970. I've been focusing on her work for a little while, having now finished 4 of her books over the past month. This one, while interesting, was my least favorite.

The concept was excellent. Basically it's been a year since Robert Osborne disappeared one night, suspicion being that he was murdered. But Robert's body was never recovered, just lots of evidence (blood for example) that something bad happened. His mother doesn't believe he is dead, thinking that he will still turn up. His young wife, Devon, isn't sure but is ready to move on.

The story is told via the means of a hearing, organized by the family lawyer, who is trying to get Robert declared dead so that Devon can be listed as executrix of the estate. The estate is farmland in southern California. The suspects of the purported murder are / were itinerant farm workers from Mexico hired to pick the tomato crop. After Osborne disappeared, the workers did as well.

The lawyer, Franklin Ford, presents his case, calling a variety of witnesses to describe Robert Osborne's last day, the day he disappeared. It's an interesting way to do this and we get to know the various people involved, Devon, her neighbour Leo Bishop, the farm employees. We also find out about other incidents in the past, the death of Bishop's wife, who may at one time have had relations with young Robert and also the death of Robert's father. It makes for a rich story, an interesting combination of fact and emotion. Millar's story - telling is often sparse but she packs an awful lot into the story at the same time.

I had some issues with the ending as I don't always like it when the author leaves the result to your imagination; did this happen or that? So that satisfaction of a firm resolution wasn't the case in this story, at least to me anyway. But still there is something intelligent about Millar's stories that keep you thinking and also generally surprises you as things come to a conclusion. (3.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Death to the French by C.S. Forester (1933). In March I will focus on the non-series works of C.S. Forester. I've got a few of his books on my shelf. This will be the first.

"Cut off from his regiment by enemy forces pursuing his British comrades in retreat, Rifleman Matthew Dodd commits himself to fighting his way back to friendly lines. Dodd's simple, unyielding devotion to his duties as a soldier exemplifies core values - honor, courage and commitment - which all Marines are expected to demonstrate. He never thinks in terms of surrender. He doesn't just escape and evade - he continues to perform as a rifleman, killing enemy soldiers. In one of the opening chapters, Dodd is discovered by a French soldier as he is making his way back to his company. He flees in the opposite direction and finds himself scaling a steep hill. The French don't wish to follow him any farther. Instead of escaping from the impending danger, Dodd single-handedly takes on a cluster of soldiers at the foot of the hill and beats them. When he finally returns to his unit, no one knows of the deeds he has done, and his simple reward is a hot meal and the company of his mates."

The Science Fiction Novel - Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks
When I moved out west back in 2001, I began to rekindle my interest in the Sci-Fi novel. One of the new writers I discovered was Scottish author, Iain M. Banks. Banks was born in Dunfermline in 1954 and died in Kirkcaldy in 2013, cutting short a great career. I'm lucky to have one signed copy of his books. He wrote both fiction and Sci-Fi and was best known for his Culture series of 12 books. The first book I tried was the 8th book in the Culture series, Matter. I was astounded by the world he created and this book made me want to read both more of his works and also try other Sci-Fi authors. 

I've read six of his books so far, five in the Sci-Fi genre. The other was The Wasp Factory (his first book / 1984), a strange, intriguing piece of fiction. I'll look at his Sci-Fi books below, some I've not yet read and others I have.

1. The Algebraist (2004).

"It is 4034 AD. Humanity has made it to the stars.

Seconded to a military-religious order he's barely heard of, Fassin Taak must travel amongst the Dwellers of the gas giant Nasqueron, in search of a secret hidden for half a billion years. Any help they offer will be on their own terms and in their own time.

But time is one thing Fassin Taak doesn't have, with each passing day bringing the system closer to war - a war that threatens to overwhelm everything and everyone he's ever known."

2. Matter (Culture #8 / 2008). 

"In a world renowned within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one brother it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever.

Only the sister is not what she once was; Djan Seriy Anaplian has become an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, charged with high-level interference in civilizations throughout the greater galaxy.

Concealing her new identity - and her particular set of abilities - might be a dangerous strategy. In the world to which Anaplian returns, nothing is quite as it seems; and determining the appropriate level of interference in someone else’s war is never a simple matter." (5 stars)

3. Consider Phlebas (Culture #1 / 1987).

"Excellent. One of the most unique SciFi writers I've ever read. Iain Banks has created (a) fascinating universe(s) populated with interesting characters, both human and machine. The Culture is a well-crafted, diverse 'organization', with amazing technology and concepts. Consider Phlebas is Banks' first to feature the Culture. I've read others already and have been drawn into his stories. This story is about an adventure, voyage to find a lost Culture Mind and about the Idaran/ Culture war. 

Horza, a Changer (you have to read it to find out what that means) is a mercenary working for the Idarans who is charged with going to one of the Planets of the Dead to find the Mind and Perosteck Balveda is the Culture agent trying to stop him. The plot is a slow-moving, journey through Banks' universes but don't the slow pace put you off. It's an excellent story and as the story comes to its climax moves along very nicely. His characters are all interesting and his story excellent. Highly recommended. (5 stars)"

4. The Player of Games (Culture #2 / 1988). Next of the Culture books for me to read.

"The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death."

5. Excession (Culture #5 / 1996).

"This is the 5th book in the Culture series I've read and once again, it didn't disappoint. I will say that at times I had no idea what was going on, but even then it didn't seem to matter. Basically the premise is that an unknown entity has been discovered somewhere in the known universe; has done something with the ship that discovered it and set a course of action that might result in a full-scale galactic war.

That's the big picture, but also on the smaller scale, and these events might also be influenced by this entity (the named Excession in the title), we have various individuals who are guided/ heading towards each other and this Excession for a variety of purposes. I've not described it very well, but basically you have the intimate story of the various people; Genar Hofoen, Dajeil, and Ulver Seich who are brought together; stories of past events (Genar Hofoen and Dajeil both becoming pregnant, after Hofoen sublimates from male to female; their falling apart); both complex and simple. 

I enjoyed the stories of the ships (basically animate beings in their own right), even their names are interesting and fun (e.g. the Sleeper Service, the Fate Amenable to Change, the Honest Mistake, etc). The universe of the Culture is one of the most unique worlds I've ever read about. The stories and characters are all so interesting and just to experience this world of SciFi makes reading that genre interesting and exciting again. I find it difficult to describe in a few words. You just have to try one of the stories to discover for yourself. (5 stars)"

The other books I have waiting on my shelf include some of his fiction as well.
- Walking on Glass (1985)
- Complicity (1993)
- Looking to Windward (Culture #7 / 2000)
- Transition (2009)
- Surface Detail (Culture #9 / 2010)
- The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture #10 / 2012)

The complete listing of Banks's books can be found at this link.

Curling final will be on shortly. Have a great week!
Related Posts with Thumbnails