Sunday, 27 December 2015

A Look Ahead - 2016 Reading Group Challenges

It's been a rainy old day today. At least the wind finally let up. We've been very lazy, watching Season 2 of The Librarians and now Taken 2. Sunday is one of our favourite TV evenings for watching the tube. Tonight we've got the early episodes of Morse and after that the Swedish version of Wallander, which have really taken to.

The missus is warming up our Sunday dinner, mashed potatoes and left over turkey. That should just about be perfect. While that is taking place, I'm going to work on this BLog, today's entry will be to go through my 2016 Challenge Lists. I'm hoping to read 100 books in 2016. This past year I completed 98 and that was while working until November. So the odds are reasonably good that I will be able to achieve that total.

12 + 4 Challenge

I've done this challenge for the past 3 years. I have two planned for 2016, one for my regular reading group, the Book Addicts and a semi-related one for my Mystery Reading Group. In my Book Addicts Group, I've selected 16 books by Canadian authors. Some of these also happen to be mysteries so will also apply to that challenge. Between these two challenges, I will read 27 out of my total of 100 books. These are the books I've listed for these two challenges.

Book Addicts 12 + 4
1. Until the Night by Giles Blunt (Mys) (also in my Mystery challenge)
2. The Moche Warrior by Lyn Hamilton (Mys) (also in my Mystery challenge)
3. Stolen by Kelley Armstrong (Fan)
4. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (SciFi)
5. The Deep by Nick Cutter (Hor)
6. The Lyre of Orpheus by Robertson Davies (Fic)
7. Hitman by David Foster (Bio)
8. A Judgment of Dragons by Phyllis Gotlieb (SciFi)
9. The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella (Fic)
10. The Crime of Ovide Plouffe by Roger Lemelin (Fic)
11. Hooked on Canadian Books by T.J. Rigelfhof (Non-Fic)
12. Station Eleven by Emily St. Mandel (SciFi)
Alt 1. The Beat in View by Margaret Millar (Mys) (also in my Mystery challenge)
Alt 2. The Shanghai Murders by David Rotenberg (Mys) (also in my Mystery challenge)
Alt 3. Dead Cold by Louise Penny (Mys) (also in my Mystery challenge)
Alt 4. Lost Girls by Andrew Pyper (Fic)

Mystery 12 + 4 (only those books not already listed)
1. The Reckoning by Rennie Airth (John Madden #5)
2. Bones of Betrayal by Jefferson Bass (The Bone Farm #4)
3. Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley (Trent #1)
4. The Cat Who ate Danish Modern by Lilian Jackson Braun (The Cat Who #2)
5. The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham (Albert Campion)
6. Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse #1)
7. The Dragon Man by Gary Disher (Challis and Destry #1)
Alt 1. For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming (James Bond)
Alt 2. China Lake by Meg Gardiner (Delaney #1)
Alt 3. Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman (Navaho Tribal Police #2)
Alt 4. A Mind to Murder by P.D. James (Inspector Dalgleish #2)

Decades Challenge -  The aim of this challenge is to read a book from each decade starting with 1900. I have a few books in mind for this challenge but it remains flexible. This will make another 12 books toward my 100
1900 - 1909 The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker (1903)
1910 - 1919
1920 - 1929
1930 - 1939
1940 - 1949
1950 - 1959
1960 - 1969
1970 - 1979
1980 - 1989
1990 - 1999
2000 - 2009
2010 - Present

Science Fiction Challenge - I hope to read 8 books in this challenge. It will include, SciFi, Dystopian future, Horror, Fantasy, etc.
1. Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry (Hor)

Classic Challenge - Once again, I hope to read 4 books in this challenge. The stories will consist of stories written before 1900. I still have quite a few on our bookshelves and I've enjoyed this challenge very much the past couple of years.
1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (1848)

Series Challenge - I have so many series on the go, not just mysteries and I hope to read books in another 45. This will barely make a dent in them, but it's always nice to revisit ongoing series and maybe even finish one or two off.
1. Quietly in their Sleep by Donna Leon (Inspector Brunetti #6)


Non - Fiction Challenge - Once again, I hope to read 4 books in this challenge, either history, biography, travel, etc.
1. The War that Ended the Peace by Margaret MacMillan (His)

If I manage to complete all of the above challenges, I will succeed in reading 100 books in 2016. I'm really looking forward to it. I've identified the first three books I will read. They are -

1.  Until the Night by Giles Blunt - This fits into my Canadian 12 + 4 challenge and also my Mystery 12 + 4 challenge. It is the 6th book in the John Cardinal mystery series. What I especially like about this series is that it is set in my home town of North Bay. It's a gritty, well-crafted series.

2. The Trojan Horse by Hammond Innes - This fits into my decades challenge, the period 1940 - 1949 as it was written in 1940. It's my first book by Innes but it looks like a nice little thriller.

3. The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene (Non-Fic) - This fits into my Non-Fiction challenge. I have been collecting quite a few Graham Greene stories and I enjoyed his previous memoir of his trip through Liberia. In this memoir, he travels the roads of Mexico. This was originally published in 1939.

So there you go, my 2016 intentions. I have 100 books settled in my night stand.. well, 90 or so. The others are still scattered around the house, but I know where they are.. Enjoy your 2016 reading.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

2015 Reading Challenges - A Review

Boxing Day today and after yesterday's lovely, fresh, bright Christmas Day, today has been gloomy, windy and rainy. So today I spent the morning reading and watching Boxing Day footie, then the rest of the day relaxing with the missus and puppies. At the moment, it's 7 p.m. and we've had our supper, finishing off left-overs and are watching the last Harry Potter movie. I also watched three or four episodes of Season 1 of The Librarians on Space. It's very entertaining. Tomorrow is a Season 2 stack.

For the past 10 days, I've gone through my Top Ten lists for 2015, books, songs, movies, TV shows and actors/ actresses. Before I spend time writing a BLog on what I plan for my 2016 Reading Group Challenges, I'm going to write this entry, summarising the results of my 2015 Reading Group Challenges. So here we go  -

12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge

I did two of these challenges this year. I chose to read the first book in a series, which means that I had at least 32 series on my bookshelves (scary, I know) that I hadn't started yet, but have now. I finished both of these challenges.

In my first 12 + 4, I read the following books -

1. Simon Brett - The Body on the Beach (Fethering)
2. Ann Cleeves - Raven Black (Shetland)
3. Cara Black - Murder in the Marais (Cara Black)
4. David Downing - Zoo Station (John Russell)
5. Kate Ellis - The Merchant's House (Wesley Peterson)
6. Jasper Fforde - The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next)
7. Charles Finch - A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox)
8. Malla Nunn - A Beautiful Place to Die (Emmanuel Cooper)
9. Craig Johnson - The Cold Dish (Longmire)
10. Henning Mankell - Faceless Killers (Wallander)
11. D.A. Mishani - The Missing File (Avraham Avraham)
12. Robin Paige - Death at Bishop's Keep (Kathryn Ardleigh)
Alt 1 - Louise Penny - Still Life (Inspector Gamache)
Alt 2 - C.C. Humphreys - The French Executioner (French Executioner)
Alt 3 - Peter Robinson - Gallows View (Inspector Banks)
Alt 4 - Maj Sjowall - Roseanna (Martin Beck)

My favourites of this group were Mall Nunn, David Downing, Jasper Fforde and Peter Robinson. Least favourite were Cara Black and Charles Finch.

I started my second 12 + 4 grouping in Jun. They included the following books:

1. Jacqueline Winspear - Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs)
2. Ruth Rendell - From Doon with Death (Inspector Wexford)
3. Thomas Perry - The Butcher's Boy (Butcher Boy)
4. Adrian McKinty - The Cold, Cold Ground (Sean Duffy)
5. P.D. James - Cover Her Face (Inspector Dalgleish)
6. John Harvey - Lonely Hearts (Charles Resnick)
7. Tony Hillerman - The Blessing Way (Navaho mysteries)
8. David Baldacci - Split Second (King & Maxwell)
9. Lillian Jackson Braun - The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (Cat Who)
10. Jeffery Deaver - The Sleeping Doll (Kathryn Dance)
11. James Ellroy - The Black Dahlia (LA Quartet)
12. Peter O'Connell - Modesty Blaise (Modesty Blaise)
Alt 1 - Kyril Bonfiglioli - Don't Point That Thing at Me (Charlie Mortdecai)
Alt 2 - Camilla Lackberg - The Ice Princess (Patrick Hedstrom)
Alt 3 - Agatha Christie - The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple)
Alt 4 - Meg Gardiner - The Dirty Secret's Club (Jo Beckett)

My favourites in this group were PD James, Agatha Chrisie and Ruth Rendell. My least favourite was James Ellroy.

Individual Challenges

 To fill out my overall challenge of 95 books, I also had a variety of individual challenges. My first was to try and read 4 Classics, Books written before 1900. I finished this challenge and enjoyed every book I read. Two of my top five books were from this particular challenge.

The Classics
1. Wilkie Collins - The Moonstone (1868) (4 stars)
2. George Eliot - The Mill on the Floss (1860) (5 stars)
3. Thomas Hardy - Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) (5 stars)
4. William Thackeray - Vanity Fair (1848) (4 stars)

I also planned to read 4 Non-Fiction books, either History, Biography or Travel, etc). I succeeded with this challenge as well. Overall I enjoyed this challenge. There were no duff books, but no favourites either, just enjoyable reads.

1. Lynne Olson - Citizens of London (4 stars)
2. Mark Logue - The King's Speech (4 stars)
3. Miranda Hart - Is It Just Me? (3.5 stars)
4. Bill Bryson - Neither Here nor There (4 stars)

I actually exceeded my planned quota for my next challenge. I had planned to read 6 Science Fiction novels and I read 7. Well, to be specific, I started 7 but only finished 6. This category contained the one book I just could not get into or finish, that being Mark Helprin's Winter Tale.

Science Fiction
1. J.G. Ballard - Crash (3.5 stars)
2. Iain M. Banks - Excession (5 stars)
3. Jim Butcher - Grave Peril (4 stars)
4. Jose Saramago - Blindness (3.5 stars)
5. John Brunner - Manshape (3.5 stars)
6. Mark Helprin - Winter's Tale (1 star)
7. Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games (3.5 stars)

I also managed to finish my next category, Fiction (books written after 1900). Some more of my favourites were in this category. I finished 10 books.

1. Grace Metallious - Peyton Place (5 stars)
2. Bernard Cornwell - Sharpe's Fury (3.5 stars)
3. C.S. Forester - Lord Hornblower (3.5 stars)
4. W. Somerset Maugham - The Moon and Sixpence (5 stars)
5. Nevil Shute - So Disdained (4 stars)
6. Jean Rhys - After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie (3.5 stars)
7. Daphne du Maurier - Rebecca (5 stars)
8. Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited (4 stars)
9. P.G. Wodehouse - Joy in the Morning (4 stars)
10. Valentine Davies - Miracle on 34th street (3.5 stars)

My next challenge was to focus on mystery series that I had already started. I didn't succeed with this challenge, mainly because of my second 12 + 4 challenge. I had planned to try and read 25 books in this category, but I completed only 16. When I finish the one that I am currently reading, it will make 17 of 25. It was nice to try and focus on series that I've neglected for awhile.

Mystery Series
1. Jussi Adler-Olsen - (Dept Q #2) The Absent One (4 stars)
2. Rennie Airth - (John Madden #3) The Dead of Winter (4 stars)
3. Kate Atkinson - (Jackson Brodie #2) One Good Turn (4 stars)
4. Nevada Barr - (Anna Pigeon #7) Liberty Falls (3.5 stars)
5. Jefferson Bass - (The Body Farm #3) The Devil's Bones (3 stars)
6. M.C. Beaton - (Agatha Raisin #2) The Vicious Vet (3 stars)
7. Mark Billingham - (Tom Thorne #2) Scaredy Cat (4 stars)
8. John Buchan - (John Hannay #3) Mr. Standfast (4 stars)
9. Lee Child - (Jack Reacher #3) Tripwire (3.5 stars)
10. Barbara Cleverly - (Joe Sandilands #4) The Palace Tiger (3.5 stars)
11. Colin Cotterill - (Siri Paiboun #2) - Thirty-Three Teeth (4 stars)
12. Jeffery Deaver - (Lincoln Rhyme #7) The Cold Moon (4 stars)
13. Janet Evanovich - (Stephanie Plum #8) Hard Eight (3 stars)
14. Ian Fleming - (James Bond) - Diamonds are Forever (3.5 stars)
15. Alan Furst - (Night Soldiers #3) - The Polish Officer (4 stars)
16. Sue Grafton - (Kinsey Milhone) R is for Ricochet (3.5 stars)
17. Caroline Graham - (Midsomers #3) Death in Disguise (not yet finished)

I had quite a few mystery specific challenges as that is my favourite genre at the moment. My next challenge was to read 10 Stand-alone mysteries and I completed this challenge.

Mysteries (Stand-alones)
1. Karin Alvtegen - Shame (4 stars)
2. John le Carre - A Small Town in Germany (3.5 stars)
3. Len Deighton - Funeral in Berlin (3 stars)
4. James Kennaway - Mind Benders (3 stars)
5. Margaret Millar - The Soft Talkers (5 stars)
6. Wilbur Smith - The Dark of the Sun (3.5 stars)
7. Hillary Waugh - A Death in a Town (5 stars)
8. Michelle Spring - The Night Lawyer (3 stars)
9. Patricia Highsmith - This Sweet Sickness (3.5 stars)
10. Alistair MacLean - The Last Frontier (3 stars)

My penultimate challenge was to reread some old favourites. They were all Science Fiction. I hoped to read 5, but only managed to read 3 of these books. It was definitely nice to refresh my memories of these books.

1. John Wyndham - The Chrysalids (5 stars)
2. Michael de Larrabeiti - The Borribles (3 stars)
3. Robert Heinlein - Friday (4 stars)

My final category was to read books that I had actually purchased in 2015. I managed to finish 10 of 15 in this challenge and currently have one more on the go, which I will finish before year end

1. Kelley Armstrong - (Fantasy) Bitten (3.5 stars)
2. Paul J. Bartusiak - (Spy/ Thriller) Cool Jazz Spy ( 3.5 stars)
3. Ann Cleeves - (Mystery) White Nights (4 stars)
4. T.S. Eliot - (Poetry) Selected Poems (4 stars)
5. Graham Greene - (Memoir) Journey without Maps (3.5 stars)
6. Harper Lee - (Fiction) Go Set a Watchman (3.5 stars)
7. George Revelli - (Erotica) Amanda in Spain (3 stars)
8. Shirley Jackson - (Hor) We Have Always Lived in the Castle (4 stars)
9. Nick Cutter - (Hor) The Troop (4 stars)
10. Leif GW Persson - (Mys) Backstrom; He Who Kills the Dragon (3 stars)
11. Vince Flynn - (Thriller) Transfer of Power (not yet finished)

So there you have it, my year in review. I finished my 95+ books for my Goodreads challenge of 95 books. I'm looking forward to next year. Now I must dash as the puppies are demanding a walk.. Have a great Sunday!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Bill's 2015 Top Ten Lists - The Number One's

Our Lovely Tree
It's been a lovely, relaxing Christmas Eve so far. Last night we got some snow and there is a bit still on the ground. Jo and I watched old movies last night, finishing off with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in Robin and His Seven Hoods. Jo also made a yummy strawberry lemon/ lime cheesecake, which I hope we'll break in tonight. This morning we went out early, got some fresh ciabatta, fresh bread and OJ. I made a batch of chocolate chip and butterscotch chip cookies while watching a Dr. Who marathon and Jo is about to make more chicken liver paté and then will wrap my prezzies... :0). We even had a couple of parcels delivered, including a personal delivery from our local Home & Garden Gate store, the owner, the lovely Jodie, delivering a prezzie from sis-in-law Susan. And to top it off, it's a lovely bright, sunny day today, so pretty well darn perfect.

Moving on now, it's time to finish off my Top Tens for 2015. Today, it's the Number Ones. Enjoy.


1. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (Classic) - The Mill on the Floss was originally published in 1860 and it's the 2nd book by George Eliot that I've read, after Daniel Deronda. I liked both equally and gained a new appreciation about what a great writer George Eliot was. This was my review of the book -

"Such an excellent classic. I had read George Eliot's Daniel Deronda last year and loved her writing style. She writes with intelligence and emotion. The Mill on the Floss tells the story of Maggie Tulliver and her family, father and mother and brother Tom. Her father owns the mill of the title. It has been in his family for generations. Due to various dealings, a lost court case and debts, he loses the mill and ends up working for the lawyer, Wakem, against whom he had the court case.

Maggie is a beautiful, head strong girl, a difficult way to be in the time of this story. She loves Wakem's son, Phillip, a disabled young man, but due to her father's strong feelings against that family, they must meet in secret. There are many tragedies in this story, the family's bankruptcy, the father's illness as a result of losing the court case, his death, Maggie's tragic loves, etc. The story is told in seven sub-stories, as Maggie and Tom grow up.

Tom is her brother, she loves him dearly and craves his returned love. It is his intransigence, that keeps her and Phillip apart and leads to other tragedies. I liked many of the characters, especially Maggie's cousin, Lucy, who loves and cares for Maggie dearly. The story moves easily through Maggie's life and as you get used to the language of the day, and this isn't a hard prospect as Eliot writes so well, you will get into the flow of the story. The ending left me feeling very sad and bereft, especially that it took this final event to bring brother and sister back together. Excellent story..."


1. Zedd w/ Foxes - Clarity - Zedd is a Russian/ German DJ/ producer and has delivered some of my favourite songs this past year, including I Want You to Know with Selena Gomez and Beautiful Now with Jon Bellion. This a beautiful song and well-deserving of being my Number 1. The featured vocalist, Foxes, is Louisa Rose Allen from Southampton. I've got a few of her songs on my usb and will feature her later on my Facebook page.


1. Penny Dreadful (Season 2) - This Number 1 was a close race with Orphan Black. But I think that Penny Dreadful, starring Eva Green, Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Rory Kinnear and so many other excellent actors, really came into its own during this second season. In the first season, Timothy Dalton, with the help of Eva Green, searches for his lost daughter, Mina, who is with a group of vampires. Season 2 deals with a coven of witches, led by the truly scary Helen McCrory, as Evelyn Poole. The regular cast returns; Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Rory Kinnear as The Creature and Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein. Season 2 has so many truly scary moments and is a fantastic Gothic horror story. The missus and I were often held breathless with anticipation as the group battle the witches coven. So many other plot developments; the creation of another creature, by Victor Frankenstein, as a bride for The Creature and, as well, The Creatures capture by the owner of the Wax Museum, for his House of Horrors. Just writing this, I'm already looking forward to the upcoming Season 3, which advertises the addition of Doctor Jekyll, amongst other new characters.


1. Interstellar - Interstellar came out in 2014 and was directed by Christopher Nolan. I saw it first on a flight back home this Fall and was astounded by it. When I got home, I told the missus we had to watch again so she would get an opportunity to see it. Needless to say, she thought it was pretty darn good too. Christopher Nolan is pretty well a genius. Movies like Memento, The Prestige and Inception are all so imaginative. Interstellar, with an excellent cast of Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine make this an even better movie. The basic premise it that the Earth is dying and Matthew and a crew of scientists are the last hope of mankind. Great special effects, but also very interesting story line. I loved it.


1. Tatiana Maslany - Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany is my choice for Number 1 for 2015. Her role(s) as the clones in Orphan Black continues to be a tour de force. Her ability to juggle the characteristics of each character, in each and every episode of the show, is testament to her acting abilities. Each character is an individual and totally believable. While this scene was in the previous season, if you click on the link, you will see the dance sequence where all the clones are together. It's truly amazing. I look forward to the upcoming season of Orphan Black to follow the ongoing character development and to see what will happen next. Tatiana was also in Woman in Gold this past year. Unfortunately, I haven't seen yet, but the missus says she was excellent in that as well.


1. Matthew McConaughey - I especially liked Matthew McConaughey's role in Interstellar, this past year. It was excellent and displayed his talents so very well. I had lost track of him for many years, but his recent roles in Dallas Buyer's Club, The Lincoln Lawyer and The Wolf of Wall Street, plus his starring role in the first season of True Detectives, has rekindled my interest in his work. He's got a busy schedule the next while so I'll be sure to check out The Free State of Jones, Sing, and Gold.

So there you have it. My Top Ten Lists for 2015 are now completed. I hope you've enjoyed. Have a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. Next I'll be getting back to my Reminiscences of a Military Brat, my review of the last year's worth of reading and also take a look at my 2016 Reading challenges, 'Til then.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Bill's 2015 Top Ten Lists - The Penultimates, AKA The Number 2's

My Top Ten List for 2015 is quickly winding down. Today I spent a half hour or so at the gym to get my body and mind in shape to present the Top Two's.. (well, maybe I just went because I'm trying to get fit, but I thought it sounded better to make it seem like making up this list is a strenuous activity). We actually had a bit of snow last night; unfortunately it's pretty well gone now, but it did feel somewhat Xmasy for awhile.

So, anyway, here we go, the Number 2's.. taaaaa daahhhhh!


2. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious (Fic) - Over the past couple of years in one of my book groups on Goodreads, I've seen comments about Peyton Place, generally quite well received. I recalled watching the original TV series back in the '60s when we lived in Chatham, NB and also having quite a crush on Barbara Parkins, who played Betty Anderson. I also had watched part of the movie a couple of years ago, when the missus had it on. I was quite surprised to find out that it was based on a book, so I ordered a copy and read it this past year. It was pretty well one of the first book I read in 2015 and it remained one of my favourites throughout the course of the year. It was Grace Metalious' first book and was released in 1956. This was my review of the book -

"Excellent story. I was drawn in right from the start and enjoyed it throughout. I had seen portions of the movie based on the book and also as a youngster, vaguely recall watching the TV series. Once I heard there was a book, I had to try it out and I wasn't disappointed. It was similar in some ways to books like; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and To Kill a Mockingbird, especially in the aspect of telling a story from a small town perspective. But it was also very different, as it focused on the secrets that guide people's lives in small towns.

I liked so many of the characters, but each had their flaws and their positive aspects. I liked Constance McKenzie; she was a strong independent woman and she helped Selena and her mother, providing work to them. (But she also has many faults; is three-dimensional) I liked Selena, a strong young lady, who lived on the wrong side of the tracks and had tribulations like you won't believe, but who tries to work through them and make something of herself. There were characters who you can't like, as in any community, close-minded, snappish, maybe even evil people. But it's a community and Grace Metalious tells it in such an interesting style. I like how she switches from character to character and their stories, e.g. Alison walking down the street and looking at a neighbour's house, then the story moving onto that person. I'm glad that I finally read this excellent book and I highly recommend. Fascinating and a true gem."


2. Dancing On My Own by Robyn - I added this song to my usb back in January. Robyn is a Swedish singer whose had success since her first single in 1995. Dancing on my Own, released in 2010, is a touching song and every time I hear it, it gives me chills. It's got a dance beat but its theme is loneliness. Lovely song.


2. Orphan Black (Season 3) - This has been one of my favourite TV series since the very first episode. It's a Canadian SciFi series, starring Tatiana Maslany as several clones, trying to find out who made her and her varied, individual sisters. In Season 3, we learn more about the male clones that were also fabricated, the Adams to Sarah's Eves. It's a fascinating series and watching Tatiana switch from character to character is always amazing. Sarah is the original clone and over time we've met Elizabeth and Katja, both of whom died very early in the show's history. Series regulars have been Alison (my favourite), an anal retentive soccer mom, Cosima, a hippyish microbiology student trying to find out about her many clone - related health issues, and Helena, a disturbed killer, who is one of the most interesting of the group. There have been others introduced as well and, of course, the male clones played by Ari Millen. There have been so many fascinating episodes. I especially like when one clone has to step into the shoes of another, which means that Tatiana is playing Sarah acting as Alison. I have also liked when the various clones interact as a group; the technical skill to make that look realistic is amazing. If you click on this link, you can see some of the amazing interactions. It's such a great series and I'm looking forward to Season 4 so much.


2. Spy - I've only recently seen Spy. It's a 2015 comedy action film, directed by Paul Feig and released in Jun. It stars Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart and Alison Janney and it's just rollicking good fun. Basically, Melissa McCarthy is a CIA analyst, who assists agent Jude Law on his missions; providing a satellite link, talking him around corners and helping him out of jams. Law is killed and Melissa, who has a deep crush on him, becomes an agent to find out who killed him and to bring them to justice. A simple premise, but the movie moves along at a full-on pace and the cast all seem to be having a great time. Jason Statham is over the top, a self-styled super agent, who causes more problems than he solves. Miranda Hart is Melissa's best friend and takes over as her analyst throughout the movie and she is a joy. Just one joke after another and a true fun ride.


2. Eva Green - I've liked French actress, Eva Green, since I saw her in Kingdom of Heaven back in 2005. She has a certain quality about her, maybe it's her eyes, that draws you to her performances. Since then, I've seen her in Casino Royale as Vesper Lind, The Golden Compass as witch, Serafina Pekkala, my favourite character in the book and also the movie. But for the past two seasons, it's been her role as Vanessa Ives, in the HBO series, Penny Dreadful that has made me sit up and really take notice. It's a gritty, dark, moody Gothic horror series, one of the best on TV and she just stands out in her role as the darkly disturbed woman, living with Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, battling first, vampires and, in Season 2, a group of witches/ devil's maids, led by the scary Helen McCrory as the mysterious Evelyn Poole. All of the cast is great in this series, but the true standout has been Eva Green. You must watch this!


2. Denzel Washington - American actor, Denzel Washington is always good value for money, well, maybe not in John Q (but that is just a personal assessment). Over the past couple of years, I've enjoyed him in so many excellent movies. He seems to specialise in the grizzled, tired, man of the world role and does it so very well. Whether he is an action hero, like in Man on Fire, The Book of Eli or Safe House, or just world weary and trying to live his life, like in Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, he always delivers and makes each role believable. Most recently, it's been in 2014's The Equalizer that I've been so entertained. He lives the role and you can't help but want him to succeed and to feel for his character; the ex-agent who now helps the Everyman, battling Russian mobsters and whoever gets in his way. All excellent stuff and great entertainment.

Well, there you go, the penultimate list. Tomorrow, I'll list my Number 1's. Hope you like them.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Bill's 2015 Top Ten Lists - The Number 3's

The missus and I had a very nice day today. I chatted with my brother and then my dad, always nice. Then, just as it started to rain a bit, Jo and I went out, braved the weather and the traffic and hit a few stores, looking for a few last minute Xmas items. It's always nice to get out a bit. The puppies were definitely happy to see us when we got home.

So, while Jo cooks a roast pork for dinner, I'm going to take the time to put down my Number 3 selections for my 2015 Top Ten Lists.


3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Fic) - Over the past few years, I've made fits and starts at watching this movie. It comes on fairly regularly on TCM, but I always manage to just catch the odd bits. Mrs. Danvers, one of the main characters, is regularly listed as one of the top literary villains. Jo has told me about the movie a few times, so I finally decided to get a copy of the book and take a chance on it. I'm so glad I finally did. What a fantastic story. Here is my review -

"Wow! I cannot believe it's taken this long for me to pick up this book and read it. I had read The House on the Strand a few times and enjoyed, but for some reason, I've never read anything else by du Maurier, maybe some misguided feeling that it was 'chicklit'. I'm glad that I've started exploring more and more classic and modern classic fiction. This was a fascinating story, well-crafted, intelligently written and a page turner.

At first I was irritated by the new Mrs. de Winter, her naivety and innocence, but as I read more, her character made more sense; a young woman with little life experience and low self-esteem. Marrying the older Maxim de Winter, an experienced but damaged and withdrawn individual didn't help her attitude, even with how much she loved him. Being placed in a strange, almost other worldly situation as the new mistress of de Winter's estate of Manderley, which had been run masterfully by his first wife, Rebecca, added to her discomfort.

Throw into the mix, the house keeper, the creepy Mrs. Danvers, who seems to resent the new lady of the manor and you've got a tense, fascinating situation. The story builds and builds (I won't spoiler this for anyone who hasn't read before... even though I think I'm probably one of the few who hasn't) and draws you in. Such an excellent story. I've discussed with the missus as I've progressed and now will have to sit down with her and watch the movie version."


3. Love is a Drug by Marcus Feehily - Marcus Feehily is an Irish singer, once one of the lead singers of the band Westlife. His solo album, Fire, was released in Oct 2015. In Apr, he released his first single, Love is a Drug. It reached Number 56 in the UK. I think it's better than that. You can judge. It's dramatic, orchestral and his voice suits the song perfectly.


3. Game of Thrones (Series 5) - This has been one of Jo and my favourite series since we started watching Season 1. I've enjoyed every book so far and anxiously await the next one. Season 5 adapts material from the 4th and 5th books and from what I remember, even somewhat beyond. It's always bigger than life, filled with action, multitudes of characters to follow and just awe-inspiring with the scope and style. Season 6 starts in April and may include materiel from the still to be released next book. At any rate, I can't wait. It's such a great series, with a talented cast of actors, who may or may not lose their lives at any point in the series.


3. Kingsman - Kingsman is an action-filled adventure, directed by Matthew Vaughn and released late 2014 / early 2015. It stars Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and Mark Strong, amongst others. It's based on a comic book series, The Secret Service. Colin Firth is one of the last Kingsmen and has recruited Taron Egerton, as a new Kingsman. It's an action-packed, non-stop thrilling joyride. The violence is comic book style but can be gritty. But if you want an entertaining, funny and action, this is an excellent movie.


3. Scarlett Johansson - Johansson seems to be one of the hottest actresses these days and the more movies I see with her in them, the more I like her. She has definitely found a nice little niche in the action movie genre, playing the Black Widow in the Marvel series of movies and also in my Number 5 movie choice, Lucy. But she doesn't limit herself to those, playing the voice Samantha in Her and Molly in Chef. Upcoming in 2016, is a Coen brothers comedy, the voice of Kaa in a remake of The Jungle Book, another Marvel adventure and another animated feature, Sing. The lady is keeping herself very busy.


3. David Tennant - David Tennant is a Scottish actor, who I remember first as the Tenth Doctor in the Doctor Who series and an excellent Doctor he was. Since then I've enjoyed him in so many movies and series. He starred in Broadchurch, a British crime drama, and the American version, Gracepoint and also as a lawyer in the thriller, The Escape Artist and was the narrator in the excellent BBC comedy, W1A. Most recently, he's got my interest in the excellent Netflix series, Jessica Jones, another Marvel Universe effort, where he plays scary villain, Kilgrave. Also this year, we enjoyed him so very much in the British comedy movie, What We Did on Our Holiday, a super movie. Checking his resume further, you can find that he also finds time to act in the Royal Shakespeare company; definitely a talented, versatile actor.

So there you go, the Number 3's finished, just in time for dinner, and it smells so good. Tomorrow, we move on to the Number 2 selections. Take care!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Bill's 2015 Top Ten Lists - The Number 4's

The excitement is palpable as we get closer to the Number 1's. Hold your breath, we've still got a way to go. Today is time for the Number 4 selections. And here they are....


4. Far from the Madding Crowd  by Thomas Hardy - Number 4 is a classic, originally published in 1874, Thomas Hardy's 4th and first successful novel. I have been reading more classics the past few years and maybe it's my exceeding maturity (just kidding), but I'm finding that I've enjoyed them immensely for the most part. This was my review of Far from the Madding Crowd -

"I loved this classic. It's not normally my thing, but it was so well-written and there were such excellent characters, especially Gabriel Oake and Bathsheba Everdene. I was fully drawn into this story, basically the gist being that Bathsheba is an eligible single woman who has inherited her uncle's farm and now decides to run it herself (which must have been unique in those times). She is loved by Gabriel, who becomes her shepherd. Through an accident on her part, because of a small joke she plays, the rich farmer next door, a bachelor, Boldwood also falls in love with her and plights his suit to gain her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, Bathsheba doesn't really love him and this suit is rather one-sided. She falls for a cad (don't they all), Sgt Troy, who wants her only really for her money; he has already played a hand with serving girl, Fanny. So there you have it. The story describes their relationships and also life in Wessex; the running of a large farm, incidents that affect their lives. I had to find out how the story went and could not wait for the ending to see if it would end up the way I hoped. I don't often get this involved with the characters of a book, but this was a fascinating, totally engrossing story. Read it!!!"


4. Shine by Years & Years - Years & Years are an English electronica trio formed in London. I've added quite a few of their songs to my usb. Their music is thoughtful, the instrumentation excellent and lead singer Olly Alexander is well-suited to their songs. I found Shine on Jo Whiley's playlists from May 2015. It's from their 2015 album, Communion and reached Number 2 on the UK charts.


4. Home Fires - Home Fires is a British ITV series which debuted in May of this year. Jo discovered it in her wanderings through the Internet and this past Fall, PBS began to show season 1. It's a British period piece, one they do so well, about a local Woman's Institute and the lives of its members during WWII. The cast of actresses is fantastic; Samantha Bond, Ruth Gemmell, Claire Calbraith, Francesca Annis, etc. It's lovingly presented, with humour, drama, tension. I can't say enough about it. It was must-see Sunday night fare and we are now anxiously awaiting Season 2.


4. What We Did On Our Holiday - I will readily admit that this was not on my original list of Top Tens, the basic reason being that we didn't watch it until this past weekend. But it was so very enjoyable and it had to be added. And it does fit in perfectly to the Number 4 slot. It was released in late 2014 in the UK and in 2015 in the US. The movie stars Rosamund Pike, David Tennant and Billy Connolly and was directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin. It follows the best tradition of modern comedies. The basic premise is that David Tennant and Rosamund Pike, now separated, are taking their three children up to Scotland to celebrate Tennant's father's birthday. Because Connolly is not well, they don't want to upset him by announcing their separation, a secret the children have difficulty keeping. Of course, there are many secrets on this trip. The movie is loving, tender, laugh out loud funny and, at times, emotional. But, the nice thing is that it doesn't stoop to being maudlin, just a nice, very watchable movie that will leave you feeling good about life in general.


4. Jessica Chastain - I can honestly say that I would gladly watch this talented actress read the phone book. I've loved her in everything I've seen her in, and I know the missus would agree with this sentiment totally. We've enjoyed her in The Debt (2010), The Help (2011), Texas Killing Fields (2011), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and then this past year in Interstellar. It's an amazing movie (I'll discuss that another day),with a fantastic cast and Chastain shines in her performance. She is intelligent, easy to watch and just brings something different to each role. I have yet to see The Martian but that is on my list. She is also starring in the upcoming The Huntsman: Winter's War and The Zookeeper's Wife. I can't wait.


4. Rory Kinnear - Rory Kinnear is an English actor, who you may remember in the role of Bill Tanner in the last three James Bond movies. Very versatile, you can find him on TV, in the movies and on stage. I've added Rory to my list for his role as the Creature in HBO's Penny Dreadful. He is truly fantastic in this role. He could just play it over the top, but he adds such quality to the role that you sympathise with this person, made from dead body parts by Victor Frankenstein. At times he can be quite terrifying; I'm particular thinking of when we see him first in season 1. He's made the role his own and deserves every credit for the quality he adds to the character.

So, phew, the Number 4's are done. The countdown to Number 1 begins. Tomorrow, the Number 3's. :)

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Bill's 2015 Top Ten List - Number 5's

It's been a beautiful, fresh, sunny Sunday here in the Valley. I should have gone for a morning run, but it was nice to have a bit of a lie-in instead. The missus and I spent the past couple of hours enjoying BBC TV's 2015 Sports Personality of the Year. Congratulations to Andy Murray for a well-deserved victory.

On to my main reason for the BLog, my ongoing 2015 Top Ten List. Today I feature my Number 5's.


5. The Soft Talkers by Margaret Millar (Mys) - Margaret Millar is an American/ Canadian mystery writer who passed away in 1994. I've been collecting her books for awhile now. They can be hard to find.The Soft Talkers, which was also released under the name, An Air that Kills was first published in 1957. Below is my review for the book -

"I've read a couple of Margaret Millar's stories before; they can be hard to find. I enjoyed them quite a bit, as she has a very accessible writing style. The Soft Talkers, also published under the name An Air That Kills was a pleasure to read. It was a perfect little mystery. Millar has such a smooth writing style, even little details like "she buttoned up her sweater to the very top", fill the story and make it even better.

The story basically deals with the disappearance of Ron Galloway, who is supposed to meet his buddies at a cabin he owns north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He never shows up and the rest of the story deals with the follow-on reactions of his friends and family and the follow-on search for him. The story is told from the perspective of his various friends and his wife and also even small sub-stories by side characters. Even these sub-stories are interesting and so well-written.

It's a story that I just enjoyed reading and the ending had a nice surprise that I actually didn't see coming. Being Canadian, I also enjoyed the setting; the city of Toronto and cottage country north of Toronto. The story was written in 1957 and in some ways reminds me of some of the Patricia Highsmith stories I've read, just better. Such a simple but entertaining read, clear, concise and intelligently written. I highly recommend."


5. Hey Now by London Grammar - I discovered London Grammar a couple of years back when they came out with Wasting My Young Years and Strong. The are lead by the wonderfully haunting voice of Hannah Reid. In 2014 they released Hey Now and I found it when checking out BBC 2's Jo Whiley show song list at the end of June. It's a lovely moody, haunting song. Gives me chills.


5. Car Share - I mentioned this BBC comedy series when I listed Peter Kay as my Number 8 in Best Actors. It's a comedy series that was initially commissioned only for BBC iPlayer. It was only 6 episodes long and was one of those quirky, lovely, funny shows. It stars Peter Kay and Sian Gibson as employees of a grocery store, put together as part of the firms car share program and the show basically features the two of them driving back and forth to work and talking about their lives.

There are so many scenes that made us laugh out loud. Episode 3 features Reece Shearsmith as one of their co-workers, 'Stink' the fishmonger, who rides with them and it is hilarious. It's gentle, funny and has a fantastic soundtrack, as there is always music playing on the car radio. Fantastic show and I wish they had made more than one season's worth.

I'm adding a show here, as I'd forgotten it and just last night, Jo and I started watching the first season again. So this is 5a.

5A. Jessica Jones - Jo and I started watching this a month or so ago and then let it slip a bit as we caught up on some others of our favourite TV shows. Last night we watched two more and it made me remember how much I like this series. This is one of the Marvel shows, this one created for Netflix and starring Krysten Ritter as the title character, heroine Jessica Jones. Marvel has re-invented itself the past few years, with so many excellent movies, the Agents of Shield and Agent Carter TV series.

Jessica Jones is a much darker, grittier, sexier series and at times is quite creepy, especially when David Tennant, as the arch-villain Kilgrave, is on the stage. He uses the powers of his mind to control people and in the back-story, Jessica Jones was under his thrall for quite a period of time and still has nightmares of the things he made her do. Jessica is trying to make a living as a PI, while trying to find Kilgrave and make him pay for his crimes. It's a fascinating series so far, having started just in November of 2015. Jo and I haven't finished watching this initial series so far, but we have definitely become fans of the show so far.


5. Lucy -  Lucy is a Luc Besson movie which was released at the end of July 2014 and stars Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. It's an entertaining SciFi movie, with Scarlett as Lucy, as an American woman living in Taiwan who is tricked by her boyfriend into working as a drug mule. She is forced to take a new synthetic drug by a Korean drug lord and this drug causes drastic reactions to her mental processes, rapidly increasing her brain's powers and capabilities. It's a fascinating movie and I find that the more movies I see Scarlett Johansson in, the more I enjoy her acting capabilities. For a movie that could be silly, she brings a seriousness to it that makes it even more enjoyable.

Besson is an interesting director; I particularly liked The Fifth Element from 1997. He makes this a most entertaining film, excellent special effects, with humour and tension sprinkled throughout. Most enjoyable.


5. Rachel McAdams - Canadian actress has long been a favourite of mine, capable of acting in Romantic comedies, action thrillers and serious dramas with equal skill. I've enjoyed so many of her movies; Red Eye, Mean Girls, State of Play, The Family Stone, Sherlock Holmes, The Time Traveller's Wife, Morning Glory, etc. (Not a bad portfolio, when you think about it)

This past year, I enjoyed her performance as troubled police investigator Ani Bezzerides in Series 2 of True Detective. It's a gritty performance for McAdams and she excels in the role. I think it proves even more so that she can take on pretty well any role and make it believable. She was most impressive here. She hasn't limited herself to this role, also starring in About Time a lovely romantic comedy from 2013, another favourite of mine and the missus. She has also had roles in A Most Wanted Man in 2014, The Little Prince, Aloha, Southpaw and Spotlight in 2015. Looking ahead to 2017, she is currently filming Marvel's Doctor Strange. Not too shabby.


5. Keanu Reeves - I've added Canadian actor Keanu Reeves to the Top Ten for his role as John Wick, a comic book action adventure. It's dark and violent, but it suits Reeves to a tee. He's been busy in 2015 and will also be in 2016. This is the only movie I've seen him in recently, but I've enjoyed his previous work, especially in the Matrix movies, 2005's Constantine, 2006's The Lake House and 2006's strange A Scanner Darkly. He's got a nice touch, especially playing grizzled, time-worn characters. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

So there you, the introduction to the Top 5 of 2015. We move onto the Number 4's tomorrow.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Bill's 2015 Top Ten Lists - The Number 6's

I'm a bit late with this today, spent the morning watching my Saturday footie matches, Strictly Come Dancing finale and then, the past hour or so, Skyping with my daughter. So now that it's quiet and  while the missus prepares our evening tea; stir fry tonight, I'll get on to my latest Top Ten items, the Number 6's. Here we go now


6. Excession by Iain M. Banks - One of my favourite SciFi series over the past couple of years has been the Culture books by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks. Originally published in 1996, this is the 4th book in the Culture series. Banks wrote 9 books in this series before passing away in 2013. I've read 2 other books in this series, not in any particular order as they can be read as individual books; Consider Phlebas and Matter.

The Culture is a futuristic society of inter-bred humanoids, intelligent machines and super intelligent artificial intelligences and it is their interaction with the other races in the universes that make up the stories. It's a fascinating series and Excession was a fantastic story.

This is my review of the story - "This is the 4th 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 world's 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. Excession is the 4th book in the Culture universe/ series."


6. International Rescue by Fuzzbox - Fuzzbox are an English alternative rock, all - girl band formed in1985. I've always been partial to girl rock bands, Heart, The Gogos, The Bangles and more recently, The Corrs (yes, their brother is part of the band), The Veronicas, The Belle Stars. The common thread about most of these groups is the full-of-life quality of their music. Great vocals and musicianship. They get my feet tapping, my blood flowing and I just love driving and enjoying their sound.

International Rescue was released in 1989. It was a song I discovered after listening to Sara Cox's Sounds of the 80's back in Jul, when she played another excellent Fuzzbox hit, Pink Sunshine. It made me check the group out and I also liked this one so very much.


6. Dr. Who (Series 9) - Series 9 is the second season featuring the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi. I mentioned this previously when I noted Peter Capaldi as one of my honourable mentions for Best Actor, that I had been less than overwhelmed with his first season as the Doctor.

This past season has rekindled my interest in the show and I think a major part of the credit for this has been Peter Capaldi and the fact that he seems to be more comfortable in the role had has made it his own. The season has been most enjoyable and I am now looking forward to the next season. I'm glad I gave Peter a chance and stuck with the show.


 6. Million Dollar Arm - Million Dollar Arm was released mid-2014 and was directed by Craig Gillespie. It stars Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Aasif Mandvi and Lake Bell, amongst others. It's the best kind of sports movie.

The basic plot is that Hamm is a struggling sports promoter looking for the next big thing. He comes up with the idea of sponsoring a contest in India to find the next baseball pitcher. The film is based on a true story about sports promoter, J.B. Bernstein, and two Asian /Indian pitchers, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. It's very much a story of strangers in strange lands, from Hamm in India and the contest winners in the US. It's an endearing, funny, family movie and well worth watching.


6. Bree Turner - I've had American actress, Bree Turner on my Top Ten List before, from the first time she became a regular on NBC's, Grimm. It's a great gang show and each actor brings their excellent qualities to the show. Bree plays Rosalee Calvert, her character becoming a regular in Season 2. She is a Wesen (shape changer) and since this 2nd season has married one of the main characters, Silas Weir Mitchell.

Their relationship is perfect, they work well together and are so believable in their roles. It's unfortunate that Bree hasn't worked in other roles lately, but I'm more than satisfied with her excellent performance in Grimm.


6. Mark Ruffalo - I tend to like Mark Ruffalo in everything I've seen him in. He's a versatile, likeable actor. He's a regular in the Marvel Avenger type movies, adding gravitas to the role of Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk. The last thing I saw him in was Now You See Me, which I mentioned previously, as the FBI agent on the trail of a group of magicians. In 2015, he starred in Age of Ultron, one of the Avenger movies and also Spotlight, playing Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Michael Rezendes.

So there you go, the Number 6's. Tomorrow we hit the half way point in our journey.
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