Sunday, 31 December 2017

December and 2017 Year End Reading Summary

Here it is, December 31st, and it's time for my year end review. It's been a great holidays; Xmas was relaxing and we had a great dinner, we had a fair bit of snow Xmas Eve and a couple of days ago and there is still a fair bit of the white stuff on the ground. Tonight we'll be watching CNN's decades of television shows and MSNBC's top ten events of 2017.

I had a pretty good year when it comes down to achieving my reading challenges. I finished 4 books since my last entry on Dec 26. My reviews are below.

Just Finished

1. The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie.

"The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie is one of those without either of Christie's famous sleuths, Marple or Poirot. Instead the hero is one Anne Bedingfield. She spent her early life with her father, basically a secretary helping him with his anthropological work.
Anne, during a visit to London after the death of her father, is on hand to observe the death of a man in the subway. Was it murder, suicide, an accident? She discovers a piece of paper in his pocket, which leads her to what she thinks might be a related death at a house near London.
These events begin to involve Anne in a series of events, attempts on her life, etc and a journey to South Africa. Intrepid and seeking adventure, she searches for the mysterious Colonel, finds herself in the company of Colonel Race (Is he Secret Service?) Suzanne, wife of a British civil servant, Sir Eustace, a somewhat lazy rich Englishman on his way to deliver secret documents to the South African government, and the Man in the Brown Suit (is he a murderer or a spy or can she trust him?)
There is romance, adventure, fun and games, stolen diamonds, intrigue and a darn good mystery with, for me at least, a nicely satisfying and surprising ending. I really liked Anne Bedingfield and Suzanne, strong, spunky, independent women and I liked the story a lot. I keep discovering that Agatha Christie does not disappoint. (4 stars)"

2. Minus Time by Catherine Bush.

"Minus Time: A Novel is the second book I've read by Canadian author Catherine Bush. I enjoyed this as much as Rules of Engagement. Minus Time is an interesting portrait of a nuclear family (to the extreme somewhat).
The story centers around Helen, daughter of Barbara, a Canadian astronaut currently circling the Earth in the space station trying to break the time away record. Her father David, travels the world trying to help people escape and cope with the destruction caused by earthquakes and other disasters. Completing the family is Paul, her brother, who is working on an architecture degree in Montreal.
Helen and Paul travel to Florida to view her mother's launch into space. Interestingly, they don't go to Cape Canaveral but watch it from a distance. They see on the news that a replacement family has been installed in the bleachers to observe the launch.
Helen returns to Toronto, decides to stop attending her university course and takes a job at a health food restaurant and becomes involved with a group of activists who are trying to make the world aware of the sufferings of animals (testing by cosmetic companies, cruel treatment by fast food companies, etc). She keeps her family secret from the friends she makes in the activist group, United Species - kind of a neat name, I think)
The story follows Helen as she tries to cope with her family life; it wanders from the past with Helen and Paul as youngsters and Barbara just starting her training as an astronaut and the stresses it places on the family; and moves back to the present.
All in all it's a very interesting story, well-written and if you're part of the nuclear family generation, there are things that are relatable. It made me look again at my family, with me on the West Coast, one brother on the East Coast, another in the center, and my sister with my father. It makes for a different family dynamic, neither good nor bad, just one that requires differing perspectives. All in all, a very interesting, entertaining, thoughtful story. (4 stars)"

3. Ross Poldark by Winston Graham.

"Ross Poldark is the first book in the Poldark series by British author Winston Graham. I've enjoyed a couple of his books, previously, especially Marnie which was the basis for the Alfred Hitchcock movie. I'd watched the first season of Poldark on PBS a couple of years ago so had decided to give the book a go.
I chose it to read in Dec 2017 as kind of a filler to help meet my reading group challenge for the year. I was fairly sure I'd enjoy it but didn't think it would be a real classic. So much for expectations. It was excellent, a great story and peopled with sympathetic, well-crafted characters.
The first book is set in the 1780s. Ross Poldark has returned from the Revolutionary wars in America, to his family estate, hoping to fulfill a promise to marry Elizabeth Chynoweth. His father has died and Ross is now heir to that estate. He finds, to his chagrin, that his uncle has instead arranged for Elizabeth to marry Ross's cousin, Francis. So that's how the story starts.
Ross must bear this heartbreak and plot a course for his future. He must learn to run his estate, bring it back from disrepair, earn money, all those mundane things.
We find that he is an honorable man who cares for the people who live on the estate. Like many of the landowners in Cornwall, he runs a copper mine and has farmland. He wants to start a new mine and must persuade investors to take part in it.
Specific interesting incidents occur. Jinny, the daughter of one of his tenants, is 'stalked' by another tenant and Ross must sort out that situation. He also discovers a young girl who is being mistreated by her father, a drunk and he brings her to work in his household. Demelza is a wonderful character, bold, independent minded, just a pleasure to read about. Her budding relationship with Ross is one of the highlights of the book. As well, you have Ross's cousin, Verity, who lives at Uncle Charles's estate, who falls in love with a sailing Captain and all that ensues from that.
So many interesting story lines and some wonderful characters and sub-characters. I was taken by this story that I'm now looking forward to moving on to the second book, Demelza. (5 stars)"

4. Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson.

"I read [book:Comet in Moominland|7603179] by [author:Tove Jansson|45230] as a year end filler. I had bought the series for my wife for Xmas a few years ago. They were books she'd read as a youngster and had fond memories of.
The series is by Swedish writer Jansson and features wonderful creatures, the Moomins, and their friends. You have Moominmamma, Moominpappa, their son Moomintroll, his friend Sniff, etc. They live in the Moominvalley in the Blue house. Well, you get the idea.
In this book, Moomintroll and Sniff go on a long adventure to see what the comet is that is heading towards Earth. They journey to the Lonely Mountains to the observatory so they can look at the comet through the telescope. Then there is a race against time to get back home and try to save their family from the comet which might crash into Earth. Along the way they pick up a variety of interesting friends, Snufkin, the Snort, the Snort Maiden.
My wife tells me she found this story very scary when she read it as a youngster. I can see why. The ending is quite exciting and scary. The story is very well-written and enjoyable. A nice way to end off 2017. (3 stars)"

2017 Reading Summary

So here are the General Stats.

                                   December             2017 Totals    /       2016        2015       2014
Books Read                     13                          121            /        150           98         105
Pages Read                   3,300                    44,300           /       45,125     32,500   35,000

Pages Breakdown
      < 250                         7                            56
250 - 350                         3                            39
351 - 450                         2                            16
      > 450                         1                            10

5 - star                             2                            13
4 - star                             5                            58
3 - star                             6                            47
2 - star                             0                              3

Female                            7                            34
Male                               6                             87

Fiction                            3                            32
Mystery                          4                            54
Science Fiction              4                             29
Non Fiction                    1                              3
Classics                          1                              3

Top 3 Books of December (Reviews are found in different entries)

1. C.J. Cherryh - Downbelow Station (5 stars)
2. Winston Graham - Ross Poldark (5 stars)
3. Jasper Fforde - Lost in a Good Book (4 stars)

2018 Reading Challenges

I'll get into the challenges in more details in my next entry. For now these are the first 4 books I'm starting with. I have follow-on books sitting in my bedside night stand.

2018 12 + 4 Reading Challenge (these were selected by members on one my Goodreads groups)

Winter People by Jennifer McMahon.

"West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. the most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.
Now, in the present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara's farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she's not the only person looking for something they've lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself."

2018 Individual Challenge - New Series. I plan to get a start at the many new series I've got on my book shelves. I'm starting at 'A' and working up the alphabet, skipping 5 authors each time.

Banquets of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov.

"Six distinguished gentlemen (Ph.D.'s all) and one invited guest dine monthly at New York's elegant Milano restaurant. The Black Widowers, whose number includes the peerless waiter, Henry, have an uncanny ability to elicit from each guest a story that is somehow problematic, unsolved, a mystery - even if the guest is unaware of the problem.
But the Black Widowers, equipped with plenty of erudition and intuition, eagerly tackle the puzzle - until Henry, quietly amassing the facts, delights them all with the answer."

2018 Individual Challenge - Ongoing Series. I plan to work on series that I've already started, either finish or just keep them going. I'm starting at the bottom of the alphabet and working up, skipping 5 authors at a time.

Order in Chaos by Jack Whyte.

"The final novel in the thrilling Templar trilogy.
On Friday, October, 13, 1307, Sir William St. Clair faces the end of the Temple Order as King Philip of France arrests every Templar in the country, seizing the Order's assets to save himself from bankruptcy. But as their world falls apart, a few brave men undertake the dangerous task of smuggling the legendary Temple Treasure out from under the nose of a greedy and vindictive king.
St. Clair flees to Scotland, where he leads the surviving Templars as they train in secrecy for a return to France. But as the years pass, they come to see that they will never be able to go back and that Order is doomed. In defiance of the enemies who betrayed the Order, St. Clair summons his men to fight as Temple Knights one last time, at Bannockburn, Scotland, in support Robert Bruce, the King of Scots who gave them sanctuary. In the aftermath of that victory, St. Clair leads his men away in search of another legend, the fabled land that lies beyond the Western Ocean."

2018 Individual Challenges - Decades Challenge. I've set this one out as Pre - 1900 and then working each decade from 1900 up to the present. I'm starting with a Pre - 1900 book. Next I'll move up to the current decade, then back down, yada yada. If I can get a fair number read in this challenge, I'll try to read books from different years in each decade.

Adam Bede by George Eliot.

"Hailed for its sympathetic and accurate rendering of nineteenth-century English pastoral life, Adam Bede was George Eliot's first full-length novel and a bestseller from the moment of publication. Eliot herself called it "a country story - full of the breath of cows and scent of hay." In the early days of the Napoleonic Wars, Adam Bede is hardworking carpenter with enormous physical strength and considerable force of will. But Adam has a single flaw, his blind love of Hetty Sorrel, a vain, shallow dairymaid who spurns Adam but is easily seduced by the local squire. The bitter and tragic consequences of her actions shake the very foundations of their serene rural community."

So there you are, my first 4 books of 2018. I have one other main challenge, that being continuing my enjoyment of the writings of Canadian Authors. When I finish one of the above 4, I'll pick a Canadian story, then start again at the beginning of my challenges. I hope to read 110 books in 2018.

Happy New Year's Eve and best wishes for 2018. See you in the New Year!

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Just Finished, Currently Reading and Top Ten Books Read in 2017

Well, Xmas day is finished. Jo and I had a wonderful day. We had a nice sleep - in, phoned and Skyped with family, had our Xmas Turkey dinner and then opened our prezzies. Perfect day really. Even the dogs had fun. Clyde especially loves tearing apart the wrapping paper. It kept him occupied and tired him out. lol.

We finished watching the first Season of Love, Lies and Records, quite an excellent show. It's not perfect by any means but it held our interest and got us quite invested in the story and characters. We definitely hope there will be a 2nd season.

Today we're taking it easy. We had left over turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes for lunch. I'm currently sitting at the kitchen table wearing my new corduroys, socks and t-shirt. We watched Marnie over lunch and Escape to the Country. Now we've got Crazy Stupid Love on. Light entertainment.

Just Finished

I've finished two more books since my last entry. I'm not starting any more until 2018 now but I've got three more to finish before then. I think I can do it. Anyway, below are my latest completions.

1. How Paul Robeson Saved My Life and Other Mostly Happy Stories by Carl Reiner.

"How Paul Robeson Saved My Life and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by comic actor / director / writer Carl Reiner. I originally thought that they were biographical but only one might fit that bill. For the most part they are light-hearted witty stories that made me feel happy. There were nice little cultural references in some that I particularly enjoyed; e.g. Creation, Yehuda Benjamin Aronowitz, Caz, etc. There were some nice cultural discussions in the stories; racism, homosexuality, etc., all in a light vein. The stories weren't all perfect but for the most part it was an enjoyable, entertaining read. (3 stars)"

2. Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny. I have read The Chronicles of Amber by Zelazny many years ago and enjoyed them. This story was interesting as well.

"Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny was an interesting story. Set in a dystopian future where all that seems to remain of the US after a nuclear war, are the Southwest corner (California) and the Northeast (New York / Massachusetts). What lies between is Damnation Alley, filled with radioactive zones, mutated creatures, strange storms, volcanoes, ext.
Hell Tanner, ex-leader of a California band of Hell's Angels, has been 'volunteered' to escort a shipment of medicine to Boston to help them combat a plague that is spreading through the city. Tanner travels with 5 others in three specially equipped armored vehicles to try and find a way through Damnation Alley.
Tanner is your best kind of anti-hero (think of Snake Blixen in Escape from New York). There is more than enough action in this hectic drive across the US center but also time for reflection. There are a few interesting characters that Tanner and his companions meet along the way as well.
The story is kind of matter-of-fact but still kept my attention and moved quickly. I much preferred Zelazny's Amber fantasy series but I also enjoyed this story. (3 stars)"

I'm enjoying the 3 books that remain for 2017. I've mentioned them in a previous entry. I think The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie will be the next one finished.

Top Ten Books of 2017

I've had 12 5-star reads this past year. The two below didn't make my Top Ten but they are definitely honorable mentions and I highly recommend them.

Honorable Mentions

12. Most Secret by Nevil Shute.

"Nevil Shute continues to be one of my favourite authors. I've now read 4 or 5 of his books and each one has been so excellent. I can't sing the praises of books like On the Beach, Pied Piper and The Far Country enough. Today I finished Most Secret, published originally in 1945, during his war period.
On the surface, it's a simple war story, 4 men of diverse backgrounds coming together to devise a plan for the English to harass and destroy German assets and at the same time to give new courage to French citizens on the French coast, who have been under the thumb of German rule throughout the war.
But as always with such a well-crafted Shute story, it's much more than that. Shute takes the time to tell us about the characters, to develop feelings for them and what they've been through. His narrator is a Navy Commander, drawn into the scheme to bring fire to the Germans, who becomes invested in them and who tells their story in such a matter-of-fact way, but also manages to provide us with the emotion and caring he has for Simon, Boden, Rhodes and Colvin. "

11. A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson.

"A Dedicated Man is the 2nd Chief Inspector Banks mystery by Peter Robinson. Once again I found it to be quite different to the TV series that was based on the books. But that matters not as both are enjoyable in their own way.
Banks is called to a small town in his district in Yorkshire to investigate the murder of a local professor / historian. It's a very small hamlet with basically one police officer. He brings along Sgt Hatchley to assist. It's a typical case, the professor is well-loved, seems to have no enemies and even though he has friends, they all seem to have little motive and reasonable alibis.
The pacing is excellent; we aren't caught up with countless murders to cope with. It's Banks and Hatchley investigating, talking to possible suspects as they try to gather information and we also get the perspective of a variety of the locals; young Sally, the budding actress with her own ideas of the murder, the local singer who may have had a relationship with the victim, etc.
It was a pleasure to read and just enjoy the thought processes, the locality, the people and the case. I had ideas of how the murder might have happened but for some reason, never considered the final solution which was presented and I must say I found it very satisfying. Banks is not really like the TV version; he has a much smaller staff to work with and his personal circumstances are different, at least for the first two books, but I like him very much and was very satisfied with this most enjoyable mystery. Now to find the 3rd book. (5 stars)"

Top Ten Books

10. The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute. This is the 2nd of 3 books by Shute that I enjoyed this year. He's definitely one of my all-time favourite authors.

"The more books by Nevil Shute that I read, the more I come to recognize that he is one of the best story-tellers ever. I've enjoyed so many of his books so far; The Far Country, On the Beach, Pied Piper, etc and as I've been slowly exploring his works, I'm enjoying him more than ever.
The Chequer Board, published originally in 1947 was no exception. It is set after WWII and tells the story of Capt (Ret'd) Turner. Turner was injured during the war, while on a flight from Africa to England to be tried for black marketeering. On the flight were other personnel, including a Negro American soldier (on his way to be tried for attempted rape), a young English Commando (on his way for court martial for murder) and the English co-pilot. These four survive the attack by German fighters.
After the war, Turner is now being treated for the effects caused by his injuries (pieces of shrapnel still lodged in his brain). He is told that nothing can be done due to the location of the shrapnel and he has maybe a year to live. This starts Turner on a journey to find the other three men, all of whom kept him company while he recovered from his surgeries, and all of whom have moved on.
It's a simple story, but the journey to find out what happened to these men and the internal journey of Turner, his past, his relationship with his wife, etc, makes for a fascinating and at times very emotional story.
There are other issues that are touched on; the treatment of African - Americans in the US military, how the English impacted those countries that they ruled over, etc, but it is the stories of each man that is so interesting and the emotional stories as well. Shute has such a knack for addressing these emotional touches, that you probably don't realize how much you have found yourself becoming involved in the sub-stories, until the end. I do find that this story, like so many others Shute stories I've read, always strike my heart and soul, lovely to read and to think about. (5 stars)"

9. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle.

"The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle is one of those classic mysteries that should be on everybody's 'must-read' list. It's been made into many TV and movies, all of which have kept the story alive and fresh.
I don't know that I've read it previously; it's one of those books that I think I probably have, but maybe it's just that I've seen one or two of the adaptations. However, with all of that preamble, I'm pleased to say that I have now read and enjoyed immensely.
The story is familiar to so many people that I won't go into it in detail. Suffice it to say a family legend draws Holmes and Watson to the Dartmoor moors to try and help the heir to a family estate, one that might have been cursed by a supernatural hound. They work diligently to keep the heir alive as they try to solve the murder of the previous heir.
The nice thing about this particular Holmes' mystery is that the focus is Watson for a nice change. Holmes sends Watson ahead with Henry Baskerville, both to keep him safe and to investigate the neighbours and to try and find out more about the death / murder of Sir Charles Baskerville, Henry's uncle. Holmes stays behind to work on other cases.
It's a different way of telling a Holmes mystery, relying on Watson's correspondence to Holmes and also Watson's diary entries. But don't let that mean that there isn't lots of action because for a Holmes' mystery, there is a fair bit and the story moves along nicely and tensely. It's an interesting mystery with nice twists and turns and the ending is exciting and satisfying. One of the best Holmes' mysteries I've read so far. (5 stars)"

8. The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe #2).

"Rex Stout is another of those authors that I have come to late in my reading life. My first experience was with one of his last books, a short story collection, Death Times Three, which I enjoyed quite a bit. I've been trying to find his first book, Fer de Lance (1934) but so far with no luck. But I did find this book, The League of Frightened Men, his second book, originally published in 1935.
From being someone who enjoyed my first experience of the great detective, Nero Wolfe, I now find my self an unabashed fan. This book was excellent, a fascinating, entertaining, great mystery. Nero Wolfe and his partner, Archie Goodwin are a great team and both interesting in their own rights. Wolfe is an oversize detective, basically housebound, whose life, while he works to solve mysteries, is quite regimented. Each morning and each afternoon, he works upstairs in his home, tending his multitude of orchids. While he can be visited, no business is conducted. He settles the remainder of his day, in his office, tending to business.
Archie is his eyes, ears, arms and legs. Archie conducts the investigations, travels around New York and local environs, interviewing, gathering information. He can be Wolfe's strong arm man if necessary. The stories are told in Archie's voice, from his perspective. (Oddly enough, Wolfe does sometime leave his home, this I discovered in this story. But this seems to be a rarety, not the norm)
So this story; a group of men, Harvard classmates have a secret past. While in university, they hazed another classmate and as a result caused him to have severe injuries. Out of guilt, they have banded together to pay medical bills, etc. Now two have died, or maybe been murdered. They think that Paul Chapin is involved and that he plans to kill them all. Wolfe is hired and so the story begins.
I enjoyed so much how the story is presented; small details like how Wolfe decides how to bill each of the different members of the group, and so many other aspects. The story has a surprising menace throughout and the case is so very interesting (even when Archie and Wolfe seem to be grinding their heels trying to get information.) I love Archie's manner of presenting the case, his thoughts on Wolfe; a combination of affection and anger. Great story and now I will have to read the whole series. An excellent story and mystery. Can you figure out the ending? (5 stars!)"

7. The African Queen by C.S. Forester.

"The African Queen by C.S. Forester might be better known for the movie based on this excellent book. I've seen this movie, starring Kate Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart many times and I'm glad to finally have finally sat down to enjoy the book.
The book was originally published in 1935 and is set during the First World War in Central Africa. I've read a fair bit about WWI but generally it's been focused on the European theater. It was interesting to read a book set in this location. Rose Sayer and her brother Samuel have been many years in Tanzania, her brother a missionary and she his assistant and house keeper. The war has come to home as they are located in German South Africa and their workers and their goods have been taken by the German Army. This has broken her brother and Kate is now on her own. She joins Charlie Allnutt, a Cockney sailor who plies the Ulanga river for a Belgian mine. Allnut is also on his own and he allows Kate to take control and agrees to head downriver to try and sink a German cruiser that plies the Lake, hindering British efforts to push the Germans out of Africa.
There are many excellent features to this story; the journey and all its trials and tribulations, the growing of Kate as a person, one who had been under the thumb of her family and brother for the first 30+ years of her life; the budding relationship between Allnutt and Kate, etc. It's a fascinating story, made more interesting because it basically features two people in close quarters. The adventure is tense, their ingenuity at solving their issues as the sail downriver.
There are key differences to the movie, especially the ending, but the book is every bit as interesting and entertaining. The development of the characters and the challenges they face and work together to resolve make it all the more interesting. I've enjoyed so many of Forester's books; he writes such varied stories, the Hornblower tales, interesting mysteries, excellent war stories and of course, this. (5 stars)"

6. Cop Hater by Ed McBain (87th Precinct #1).

"Cop Hater is the first 87th Precinct mystery by Ed McBain. I'd only really started to get interested in McBain's stories (this one was initially published 1956) and I finally found a copy of the 1st book, this past month. It was with anticipation that I started to read it a week ago.
What a great, entertaining story! It's a simple story that reminds me of the best cop TV shows; Law and Order, Dragnet. A police detective is murdered by being shot in the back. It starts a major investigation by the detectives of his precinct, the 87th Precinct. The story is methodical, there are nice explanations of forensic techniques and other police procedures and you get into the lives of the police detectives taking a major role in the particular investigation.
For a relatively simple, short story, a great deal happens and lots of excellent, interesting detail is provided.
I enjoyed everything about this initial 87th Precinct story and I have #2, The Mugger, teed up for my follow-on read. Even though it might not be profound or offer deep philosophical ideas, it presents an excellent look at how the police act in an investigation and is told in a tidy, entertaining way and was totally enjoyable. (5 stars)"

5. Rousseau's Garden by Ann Charney.

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

4. Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher (Hal Challis #2).

"Kittyhawk Down is the 2nd book in the Inspector Hal Challis Australian police series by Garry Disher. I've enjoyed both immensely. It's a simple premise really, following the investigation of a variety of crimes by the Australian police of the Mornington Peninsula Police Force. The Criminal Investigation Bureau is led by Homicide Squad Inspector Hal Challis, in which he is assisted by Sgts Ellen Destry and Scobie Sutton. In this story we also follow to uniformed cops, John Tankard and Pam Murphy.
There are various crimes being investigated; the disappearance of a two-year old baby, the discovery of a dead body that washed ashore and over the course of the story, various murders. You follow the cops and also various of the suspects and other characters, including Challis' girlfriend, reporter Tessa Klein. Each cop has their own problems which makes them human and likable. The progression of the case, the various suspects and the community in which the story takes place makes it even more interesting. It's not a perfect story by any means, but then again, neither is life.
I just found everything about this story enjoyable and refreshing and I liked how the crimes were eventually worked out. All in all it was as satisfying as the first book, [book:The Dragon Man|815139]. (5 stars)"

3. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.

"Back during my high school days, and I shudder to think it was 50 years ago, I read The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens and I recall enjoying it very much. However such is my memory I may be wrong. ;0) Anyway, it took me that long to try another book by Dickens. Over the past couple of years I've been exploring the Classics more and in July, decided to try Nicholas Nickleby. I had an old copy of this story. Not sure when it was published but the illustrations by W.H.C. Groome lead me to believe it was published in 1907.
Anyway, enough administrative details, what about the story? Simply put, I loved it. Dickens' writing style is so accessible and entertaining. He creates wonderful characters who you find yourself becoming very invested in. The story starts off with Nicholas and his mother and sister, Kate, being placed in dire circumstances. Their father has died recently, leaving the family without income. Uncle Ralph, not a nice man, sends Nicholas off to be a teacher at a boys school in Yorkshire and then provides poor lodgings for Kate and her mother, also getting Kate a job as a dressmaker. In both instances, both Nicholas and Kate are treated horribly. Things look so very grim. Nicholas finds the treatment of the boys at the school to be abominable, especially that of Smike, a boy or more rather a young man, who has been at the school for years and is the special punching bag of Squeers and his wife. Nicholas finally can take it anymore and after thrashing Squeers leaves with Smike to return to London.
This is the barest introduction to Nicholas Nickleby, so much more is to happen. You meet such wonderful characters as Newman Noggs, hard worked clerk for Ralph Nickleby, who does everything in his power to help the family, Vincent Crummles, leader of a roving band of actors, who takes in Nicholas and Smike, the Cheeryble brothers who provide so much generous assistance to the Nickleby family, even Miss La Creevy, the lovely lady who is such a good friend. And then the villains, the Squeers, Ralph Nickleby, Mulberry Hawk, who wants to abuse Kate, etc.
Getting to know these characters as the story develops makes it such fascinating reading. Wanting to find out how everything will resolve makes you turn page after page. It's a very long story but it doesn't seem so. I won't say how everything turns out. There are so many varied possibilities. Ultimately I was so satisfied. Dickens is a great writer and story teller. I will have to now try another of his books, and I'll ensure it doesn't take me 50 years to try another. (5 stars)"

2. Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh.

"My first comment about Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh is Wow! I've never read anything by Cherryh before. I was aware of her books when I'd rooted through the SciFi section of my book stores but I'd not tried anything. Recently, I was running through the years in my BLog and for each year listing various book award titles. Downbelow Station won the Hugo Award for best SciFi novel in 1982. So I thought I should check it out... So with that preamble...
This is such a fantastic book! I readily admit that it took me a few chapters to start understanding the various people, worlds, etc but once I got into the flow, it just got better and better.
How to summarize? Over centuries Earth began to expand into the stars to keep Earth's economy moving. They set up stations floating around various worlds and from there continued their expansion outward to the Fringes. Downbelow Station circles the planet Pell and it is sort of the hub between Earth and the stars. On the planet are the Downers, beings sort of like Ewoks or Fuzzies (from H Beam Piper's Fuzzy books). Earth men work the planet in concert with the Downers, passing supplies up to the station for the stations use and trade.
War is brewing between Earth's old fleet run by a hard leader, Mazian and the fringes, Union and Pell finds itself caught in the middle, trying to be neutral but at great risk. Throw in the Merchanters, those ships that travel between the stars and you've got an interesting mix of great characters.
Pell is run by various families with the Konstantin's one of the main ones and they also provide the major characters. This family must tred carefully and try to keep Pell safe from all. Stations all around are being destroyed and refugees flocking to Pell and overloading the station. There are plots and subplots galore. I found myself being drawn into the characters and the excellent story. It starts a bit slowly but then moves along at breakneck speed until the excellent, satisfying ending. I truly loved this story and world that CJ Cherryh created. I can't recommend the story more. (5 stars). I'm looking forward to exploring her work more now."

1. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. This is my third book by Shute this past year. So good.

"As Joe says and most Queenslanders say throughout this book, 'Oh my word!'. What a great book A Town Like Alice by English author Nevil Shute is. Shute is one of my favourite authors. I've enjoyed so many of his books and I will keep searching for others of his stories.
A Town Like Alice (which I've always wanted to name A Town Called Alice; I know now why the title as it is) is the story of Jean Paget, a young English woman, whose journey carries her from Malaysia in WWII, back to England and on to Australia. She is a normal girl, who finds herself in unique situations and finds a strength of character common to the heroes and heroines who people Shute's novels. Shute has said this story is based on a true story of a Dutch woman who kept many women prisoners of the Japanese alive with her efforts. In Shute's story, the Japanese invade Malaysia and capture a group of English women and their children. Not wanting to have anything to do with them, the women are forced to conduct a march around Malaysia, from Japanese camp to camp, suffering privations. Jean, unmarried, becomes a rational, smart leader of the group.
They are helped by an Australian prisoner, Joe, who risks his life to provide food and medicine to the women. After the war, Jean returns to England and discovers she has inherited a fair bit of money. The story teller, her solicitor Noel, helps her sort out this inheritance, which Jean wants to use to help the Malaysian village that kept the women safe.
She also decides to go to Australia to find out more about Joe, where he was from and when she arrives decides to use her money once again to help the town he was from, to make it 'a town like Alice'.
I don't want to discuss the plot much more as it is a book that needs to be enjoyed and savoured. I love the characters, I love the spirit of nation building, the positiveness of the people. There are outstanding events that take place in this story, but they are told in such a gentle, matter of fact way that it makes them even more impressive. There are many highlights for me. I especially enjoyed discovering how the Australian outback radio communication system worked and how much of a key it was to saving a lost man. The story reminds me of The Far Country, another story that features Australia. Shute is a great author that should be explored. (5 stars)"

So that is my last Top Ten list of 2017. In my next entries, I'll look at my challenges for 2018. 5 days and a bit.. :0) Enjoy the rest of your Christmas holidays if you're on them.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

2017 Top Ten Lists - Musically Speaking

The missus and I were going to go down island for Xmas Eve dinner tonight but we may have to forego this pleasure as it's started snowing a couple of hours ago and it might not be worth taking the risk. We may get 10 centimeters of the white stuff today. We'll see, I guess, there is still time to change our mind.

Anyway, on to another Top Ten list for 2017. I wasn't planning to do a musical one this year but changed my mind. :0). So what follows are the Top Ten songs that I added to my usb over the course of the year in the Female / Male / Group categories. I hope you like the choices. Just click on the song title and it'll link you to it in You Tube.

Top Ten Female Artists

10. Bat for Lashes - Daniel. Bat for Lashes (Natasha Khan) is an English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist from London. Daniel was released in 2009.

9. Imelda May - Leave Me Lonely. Imelda May is an Irish singer who tends towards soft rock and rockabilly. She's got a great voice.

8. Hailee Steinfeld - Starving. Hailee Steinfeld is an American singer / actress. You might remember her from True Grit and Ender's Game.

7. Dua Lipa - Be the One. Dua Lipa is an English singer / songwriter / model. Be the One was her debut single.

6. Jo Harman - When We Were Young. Harman is an English singer / songwriter. When we were Young was from her second album and features back-up vocals from Michael MacDonald.

5. Katy Perry - Chained to the Rhythm. This was the first single from Perry's 2017 album, Witness. I quite like.

4. Adeva - Respect. I've gone back to 1988 for my #4 song, from American singer, Adeva. The song is Respect, written by Otis Redding.

3. Amerie - 1 Thing. Amerie is an American singer / songwriter and 1 Thing came out in 2005 from her album, Touch.

2. Rae Morris - Reborn. Rae Morris is an English singer / songwriter. This song came from her most recent album, Someone Out There.

1. Betsy - Waiting. Betsy is a Welsh singer with a fantastic voice. As you can hear. Waiting was released as a single prior to her first album.

Top Ten Male Singers

10. Father John Misty - Total Entertainment Forever. Father John Misty is an American singer / songwriter who performed with Fleet Foxes for awhile, amongst other groups. This song was released in 2017.

9. Omar - Gave My Heart. Omar is a British soul singer. Gave My Heart also features Leon Ware.

8. Jack Savoretti - Only You. Jack Savoretti is a British singer / songwriter. He's got a nice grit to his voice.

7. Mark Ronson - Stop Me. Ronson is an English DJ, musician, singer, songwriter and producer. This song features Daniel Merriweather.

6. Dizzee Rascal - Bonkers. Rascal is an English hip-hop artist. Bonkers was released in 2009.

5. Georgie Fame - Papa's Got a Brand New Bag. I'm going back a few years for this song. Fame is an English R&B singer and pianist.

4. Nick Lowe - So It Goes. Lowe's Cruel to be Kind was a past favourite of mine. So It Goes was his first single, released in 1976. Great guitar..

3. Youssou Ndour - 7 Seconds. Ndour is a Senegalese singer / songwriter. 7 Seconds, from 1994 features Neneh Cherry.

2. Zak Abel - Unstable. Zak Abel is an English singer / songwriter whose been active since 2014. Unstable was released in 2017.

1. Gallant - Cave Me In. Christopher Gallant is a American singer / songwriter from Maryland. Cave Me In features Table and Eric Nam.

Top Ten Groups

10. The Fizz - Dancing in the Rain. The Fizz are a reworking of Buck's Fizz, with the addition of a new singer, Bobby McVay to replace Bobby G. Still pretty good music.. :0)

9. Wolf Alice - Beautifully Unconventional. Wolf Alice are an English alternative band originally formed in 2010. Beautifully Unconventional was released in 2017.

8. The Primitives - Crash. The Primitives are an English pop band from the '80s. Crash was released in 1988.

7. Levellers - One Way. Levellers formed in 1988 in Brighton, England. One Way was released in 1991.

6. The Pasadenas - Tribute (Right On). The Pasadenas were an English pop band who formed in 1988. Tribute (Right On) was their first single.

5. Paramore - Hard Times. Paramore are an American rock band from Tennessee, fronted by a great singer, Hayley Williams. Hard Times was released in 2017.

4. Foster the People - Sit Next to Me. Foster the People are an American indie band from Los Angeles. Sit Next to Me is one of their latest releases.

3. Said the Whale - I Will Follow You. Said the Whale are a Canadian indie band out of Vancouver BC. I Will Follow You was released in 2017.

2. The KLF - Last Train to Transcentral. The KLF is a British techno band from the late '80s, 90s. I don't know why I'd never heard of them before. Such a great song.

1. The Passions - I'm in Love with a German Film Star. The Passions were a British post - punk / new wave band who were together from 1978 - 1983. I'm in Love with a German Film Star, released in 1981 was their big hit.

There you go. Maybe a couple of new songs for you? Happy Xmas Eve and have a great Xmas day!!
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