Monday, 31 December 2018

My Final 2018 Reading Summary....

I finished one last book today, nothing really special. Bonnie has been feeling poorly for the past couple of days; she can't seem to keep anything down. We think it's just from all that's happened to her the past couple of days. No food until she feels more like eating.

So here it is, my final 2018 reading summary.

December 2018
General Info             Dec        Total
Books Read -             15            129
Pages Read -             3,650    40,650

Pages Breakdown
    < 250                        8            44       
250 - 350                      6            44
351 - 450                      1            22
   > 450                                       19

5 - star                          1            11
4 - star                          7            75
3 - star                          5            40
2 - star                          2            3

Female                         7            45
Male                             8            84

Fiction                          4            28
Mystery                        9            71
SciFi                             2            19
Non-Fic                                        5
Classics                                        4
Poetry                                          2

Top 3 Books

1. Lucy Maud Montgomery - Anne of Green Gables (5 stars)
2.  Jodi Taylor - Just One Damned Thing After Another (4.5 stars)
3.  Henry Chang - Chinatown (4.5 stars)

12 + 4  Challenge (completed 16)

New Series (completed 32)

1. Just One Damned Thing After the Other by Jodi Taylor (4.5 stars)
2. Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang (4.5 stars)
3. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (3.5 stars)
4. Passport to Oblivion by James Leasor (4 stars)
5. Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace (4 stars)

Ongoing Series (completed 31)

6. Katapult by Karen Kijewski (4 stars)
7. Wycliffe and the Three-toed Pussy by WJ Burley (3.5 stars)
8. The Old Fox Deceiv'd by Martha Grimes (4 stars)
9. Maigret Stonewalled by Georges Simenon (3.5 stars)
10. Wrapped Up in Crosswords by Nero Blanc (2.5 stars)

Decades Challenge (completed 32)

11. Stranger on Lesbos by Valerie Taylor (3.5 stars)
12. Stephen Morris & Pilotage by Nevil Shute (4 stars)
13. The Gunman by Jean - Patrick Manchette (2.5 stars)

Canadian Content (completed 18)

14. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley (3.5 stars)
15. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (5 stars)

Jan 2019 Books

Starting the Year off with

1. The Black Dudley Murder by Margery Allingham
2. A Blunt Instrument by Georgette Heyer
3. Undone by Karin Slaughter
4. We Fed an Island by Jose Andres
5. The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Reading Update and My 2019 Individual Reading Challenges

I finished my last 2018 book this afternoon. I also spent some time finding my first five books of 2019. I listed my 2019 12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge yesterday. Today I'll show you what my 2019 Individual Challenges are and my first books.

Just Finished

1. Maigret Stonewalled by Georges Simenon (Maigret #3).

"Maigret Stonewalled by Georges Simenon is the 3rd Chief Inspector Maigret mystery and my last book of 2018. It was a good book with which to finish off 2018.

It's June 1930, the king of Spain is coming to Paris, occupying the efforts of most Paris's police investigators, the Head of Criminal Police is away at a conference in Prague and the Deputy Head is away on summer vacation and Maigret is in charge. He then gets called away to investigate the death of Monsieur Gallet. What seems to be a straight-forward case becomes more confusing. Monsieur Gallet isn't really Monsieur Gallet. Was he murdered or was it a suicide? The suspects all seem to have perfect alibis, from his disenchanted son, to the rich landowner who lives next to the hotel where Gallet was found dead.

It ends up being an interesting investigation with a neat little twist at the end. It's a nicely paced story and Maigret is an interesting, grumpy at times, police investigator. Always an entertaining read. (3.5 stars)"

2019 Individual Reading Group Challenges

I'm going to call this challenge my Goldilocks and the 3 Bears Challenge. Basically I'll have four separate challenges;

- Papa Bear Challenges. Since Papa Bear was the oldest, I'll pick the books that have been on my Goodreads Want - To - Read Bookshelf the longest for this challenge. I'll start with the longest residing book. Then next time I'll move down to #5, then to #10, etc.
- Mama Bear Challenge - Mama Bear is the middle, so for this challenge I'll always pick the book at the half way point in my Goodreads Want - To - Read Bookshelf. This will change over the course of the year as I buy new books and add them or as I read books and subtract from the list.
- Baby Bear Challenge - Of course, you've figured this out. Baby Bear is the youngest so I'll start by reading the most recent book added to my shelf. Then I'll follow by moving up the list 5 places, then 10 places, etc.
- Goldilocks Challenge. Goldilocks tried a bit of every bears food, chairs and beds. For this challenge I'll use a random number generator to pick the book. From 1 - whatever the last book on my Want - To - Read book shelf.

How does that sound? I'm hoping to get a good mix with this challenge. Let's see what the first 4 books are going to be.

a. Papa Bear Challenge - #1 on my book shelf is Undone by Karin Slaughter, the 3rd book in the Will Trent mystery series set in Atlanta Georgia.

"When a tortured young woman enters the trauma center of an Atlanta hospital, Dr. Sara Linton is thrust into a desperate police investigation with Special Agent Will Trent and his partner, Faith Mitchell. Though guarding their own wounds and their own secrets, Sara, Will, and Faith find that they are all that stand between a madman and his next victim."

b. Mama Bear Challenge - As of today I have 983 books on my Want - To - Read book shelf. I chose #492, The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson then for this challenge.

"In 1995, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his home. The hilarious book he wrote about that journey, Notes from a Small Island, became one of the most loved books of recent decades.

Now, in this hotly anticipated new travel book, his first in fifteen years and sure to be greeted as the funniest book of the decade, Bryson sets out on a brand-new journey, on a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis on the south coast to Cape Wrath on the northernmost tip of Scotland.

Once again, he will guide us through all that's best and worst about Britain today--while doing that incredibly rare thing of making us laugh out loud in public."

c. Baby Bear Challenge - As of today, the most recent book on my book shelf is #983, a book Jo bought me for Christmas; We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico: One Meal at a Time by José Andrés and Richard Wolffe

"Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island. The economy was destroyed and for most people there was no clean water, no food, no power, no gas, and no way to communicate with the outside world.

Andrés addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. From serving sancocho with his friend José Enrique at Enrique’s ravaged restaurant in San Juan to eventually cooking 100,000 meals a day at more than a dozen kitchens across the island, Andrés and his team fed hundreds of thousands of people, including with massive paellas made to serve thousands of people alone.. At the same time, they also confronted a crisis with deep roots, as well as the broken and wasteful system that helps keep some of the biggest charities and NGOs in business.

Based on Andrés’s insider’s take as well as on meetings, messages, and conversations he had while in Puerto Rico, We Fed an Island movingly describes how a network of community kitchens activated real change and tells an extraordinary story of hope in the face of disasters both natural and man-made, offering suggestions for how to address a crisis like this in the future.

Beyond that, a portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the Chef Relief Network of World Central Kitchen for efforts in Puerto Rico and beyond."

d. Goldilocks Challenge - my Random Number Generator picked #337 from 1 - 983 as the first book. That is A Blunt Instrument by Georgette Heyer (Inspector Hannasyde & Hemingway #4).

"Who would kill the perfect gentleman?

When Ernest Fletcher is found bludgeoned to death in his study, everyone is shocked and mystified: Ernest was well liked and respected, so who would have a motive for killing him? Inspectors of Scotland Yard felt it was an unlikely crime for the London suburbs: a perfectly respectable chap at home with his head bashed in. It seems the real Fletcher was far from the gentleman he pretended to be. There is, in fact, no shortage of people who wanted him dead.

Superintendent Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway, with consummate skill, uncover one dirty little secret after another, and with them, a host of people who all have reasons for wanting Fletcher dead. Who tiptoed into the study to do the deed? The rather nefarious nephew Neville? A neighbor's wandering wife? A fat man in a bowler hat?

The mystery's key was a blunt instrument--a weapon that the police could not find... and that the murderer can to use once more. Then, a second murder is committed, with striking similarities to the first, giving a grotesque twist to a very unusual case, and the inspectors realize they are up against a killer on a mission...."

So there you go, folks. My initial 2019 reading selections. Any interest you? Tomorrow I'll do my final 2018 Reading summary. Take care. 

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Reading Update and My 2019 12 + 4 Reading Challenge

It's a much nicer day today, sunny and mild. I picked Bonnie up at the vet yesterday and she's got a little bootie on her left foot to protect the stitch they put in it. The vet didn't have to put her completely under as the foot had improved so much so she's perky and alert today. She finds it a bit of a pain when we put a plastic bag on the foot when she has to go out to do her business. But that's a small price to pay for her to be well.. :0)

I finished one more book today, a bit of a disappointment. I've picked one final book for the end of the year; it's a short one. I also got one of my last book orders yesterday in the mail. I'll update those and also show you what my 12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge will be for 2019.

New Book

1. The Dead Shall Not Rest by Tessa Harris (D. Silkstone #2).

"The brilliant anatomist Dr. Thomas Silkstone returns in Tessa Harris's vivid and compelling mystery series set in 1780s London. . .

It is not just the living who are prey to London's criminals and cut-purses. Corpses, too, are fair game--dug up from fresh graves and sold to unscrupulous men of science. Dr. Thomas Silkstone abhors such methods, but his leading rival, Dr. John Hunter, has learned of the imminent death of eight-foot-tall Charles Byrne, known as the "Irish Giant," and will go to any lengths to obtain the body for his research.

Thomas intends to see that Byrne is allowed to rest in peace. Yet his efforts are complicated by concern for his betrothed, Lady Lydia Farrell, who breaks off their engagement without explanation. When Dr. Hunter is implicated in the horrific murder of a young castrato, Thomas must determine how far the increasingly erratic surgeon will go in the name of knowledge. For as Thomas knows too well, the blackest hearts sometimes go undetected--and even an unblemished façade can hide terrifying secrets. . ."

Just Finished

1. The Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

"The Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette was disappointing. On paper it is an interesting premise. Hitman Martin Terrier performs his latest hit, killing a Russian traitor in England. He then heads back to France and advises his paymasters that he is retiring. He then heads back to his home town to reclaim his past girl friend to make her his wife. Unfortunately, his bosses don't want him to retire and will do anything to keep him working.

Thus we have a trail of bodies, some killed by his bosses (or maybe the family of previous victims) and also many by Terrier. Ultimately, he is found and pressured into working for them once again. So there you go, that's the basic story.

But other than lots of action, Terrier seeing suspicious people around every corner that he seems to ignore (to his chagrin and personal risk), it really didn't do anything for me. I don't mind lots of action and violence if it makes the story interesting. But this didn't really do that. And then the last few chapters just never made any sense and the ending seemed quite silly. So there you go. I'm sure other people will enjoy this. The best thing about it for me was that it was short and an easy, action-packed read. But that was about it. (2.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Maigret Stonewalled by Georges Simenon (Maigret #3).

"A simple enough case... on the face of it. A commercial traveler killed in a hotel bedroom on the Loire. But Maigret sensed falseness everywhere, in the way the witnesses spoke and laughed and acted and, above all, in the manner of M. Gallet's death, under a false name, from a shot that nobody heard, with his own knife plunged into his heart. And behind the falseness, as Maigret discovered, the pathos of a man for whom nothing had ever gone right - not even death."

Bill's 2019 12 + 4 Group Read Challenge

For my 12 + 4 challenge this year, I'm focusing on Series that I've kind of neglected for the past few years. They are mostly mysteries but there are others as well. 

1. The Black Dudley Murder by Margery Allingham (Albert Campion #1). While this is the first book in the series, I've read others previously. I've read 7 other books by Allingham. This will be my first book of 2019.

"You are cordially invited to a weekend house party at Black Dudley Manor. While there, you will participate in a gruesome ritual, your host will be brutally murdered, you will be held hostage, and someone will interrogate you in a most unpleasant manner. But never fear! Albert Campion is a fellow guest . . . and you just might survive to tell the tale."

2. Leave Me Before Dying by Rosemary Aubert (Ellis Portal #4). Portal is a retired judge from Toronto who had a nervous break down and recovering gets involved in mysteries. I enjoyed the other books a lot.

"In this prequel to the earlier books in the series, Ellis Portal, the disgraced former judge turned sleuth, is taken back to his law school days."

3. Dekok and the Dead Harlequin by A.C. Baantjer (Dekok #3). I've enjoyed 2 books in this series set in Holland.

"This latest Baantjer mystery delves into a grotesque double murder in a well-known Amsterdam hotel. Inspector DeKok must unravel clues from two unexpected characters: a six-year-old girl who has trouble sleeping and a respected accountant who seeks DeKok's advice on committing the perfect crime. In a surprising twist, DeKok meets with the murderer and tries everything possible to prevent the man from giving himself up to the police. Risking the anger of his superiors, DeKok goes so far as to disappear in order to prevent the perpetrator from being found."

4. Deep South by Nevada Barr (Anna Pigeon #8). I've enjoyed this series very much. Every story is set in a different US National Park. Anna is a Park Service worker who is assigned to the parks and is involved in local mysteries. Always entertaining.

"Park Ranger Anna Pigeon stumbles upon a gruesome murder with frightening racial overtones in the latest installment of this bestselling series.

In Deep South, Anna travels cross-country to Mississippi, only to encounter terrible secrets in the heart of the south.

The handwritten sign on the tree said it all: Repent. For Anna, this should have been reason enough to turn back for her beloved Mesa Verde. Instead she heads for the Natchez Trace Parkway and the promotion that awaits her. Almost immediately, she finds herself in the midst of controversy: As the new district ranger, she faces resentment so extreme her ability to do her job may be compromised, and her life may very well be in danger. But all thoughts of personal safety are set aside with the discovery of a young girl's body in a country cemetery, a sheet around her head, a noose around her neck.

The kudzu is thick and green, the woods dark and full of secrets. And the ghosts of violence hover as Anna struggles for answers to questions that, perhaps, should never be asked."

5. Lazybones by Mark Billingham (Tom Thorne #3). This is a gritty series set in England. Thorne is a Police Inspector. I've read three books in the series so far.

"The first corpse was found hooded, bound, and naked, kneeling on a bare mattress in a seedy hotel room. This was no ordinary murder but rather the work of a killer driven by something special, something spectacular. The fact that the dead man was a convicted rapist recently released from prison only increases the bizarre nature of the gruesome crime ... and the police's reluctance to apprehend the perpetrator. It's the body count that troubles Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, as brutal slaying follows brutal slaying, each victim more deserving than the last. Though he has no sympathy for the dead, Thorne knows he must put an end to a cruelly calculating vigilante's bloody justice before time runs out -- and a horrifically efficient serial killer targets a life worth fighting for."

6. Bloodlines by Jan Burke (Irene Kelly #9). I enjoyed this series when I first came here in 2001. It's a great series; Irene Kelly is a crime reporter who helps her husband, a police investigator, solve crimes. It's been a long time since I read one of the series.

"Sweeping across decades, Burke masterfully unearths a cold case that is far from closed while introducing an intrepid novice reporter, Irene Kelly, learning the ropes from her mentor, Conn O'Connor. From the late fifties, when a bloodstained car is buried on a farm and a wealthy family disappears at sea . . . to the seventies, when Irene makes shocking connections and brashly tracks a killer from the past . . . to today, when new threats and deadly surprises are closing in on the veteran journalist and her husband, Frank Harriman, Bloodlines follows a fascinating labyrinth of lives, loves, sins, and secrets -- with the irrepressible Irene Kelly at its core."

7. Darker Than Amber by John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee #7). Travis is a beach bum who lives in Florida and gets involved, reluctantly, helping people in trouble. But when he does, he throws the full weight of his investigative skills and his spirit of fair play into helping them.All the books have a color in the title.

"Helping damsels in distress is nothing new for Travis McGee--it's basically how he spends his life. But this one was different right from the start. Tossed off a bridge with cement wired to her feet, dragged to safety by Travis and Meyer, she was a hot Eurasian beauty with a cold heart...ready to snare them in a murder racket to end all murders.... "

8. Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Dresden #1). This is a great fantasy, mystery series. All the best; sorcerers, crimes, fantasy, etc.

"Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Reasonable rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment. Harry Dresden is the best and technically the 'only' at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal capabilities, they come to him for answers. For the 'everyday' world is actually full of strange and magical things - and most of them don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a - well, whatever. The first six Dresden files novels will be published over three months - a great introduction to Harry Dresden, a modern-day wizard who manages to get into some seriously tricky situations."

9. Sharpe's Company by Bernard Cornwell (Sharpe #13).  I try to read one book a year but I've missed a couple with this. Great historical adventure series.

"To stem the Napoleonic tide, Sharpe must capture a fortress—where his wife and infant daughter are trapped—while protecting himself from a fellow officer determined to destroy him."

10. Swan Song by Edmund Crispin (Gervase Fen #4). This is a bit of a strange mystery series but the stories are interesting and humorous.

"Before odious Edwin Shorthouse can sing the lead in the first Oxford post-war Die Meistersinger, someone kills him in his own locked dressing room. Gervase Fen, eccentric professor of English Literature with a passion for amateur detecting, is on the case." 

11. The Book of the Lion by Elizabeth Daly (Henry Gamadge #13). Gamadge is an American investigator somewhat in the line of Peter Wimsey.

"It should be a fairly routine job for Henry Gamadge: Examining the papers of a dead poet and playwright with some early promise but not much commercial success. But it's not so much the life and letters as the death of the author (murdered in Central Park) that interests Gamadge. Add in a dead witness and the odd behavior of the family, and Gamadge decides something criminal is afoot."

12. The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (Inspector Grant #3). Tey is one of the female writers of the Golden Age of Mystery, along with Christie, Sayers and Marsh.

"Robert Blair was about to knock off from a slow day at his law firm when the phone rang. It was Marion Sharpe on the line, a local woman of quiet disposition who lived with her mother at their decrepit country house, The Franchise. It appeared that she was in some serious trouble: Miss Sharpe and her mother were accused of brutally kidnapping a demure young woman named Betty Kane. Miss Kane's claims seemed highly unlikely, even to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, until she described her prison -- the attic room with its cracked window, the kitchen, and the old trunks -- which sounded remarkably like The Franchise. Yet Marion Sharpe claimed the Kane girl had never been there, let alone been held captive for an entire month! Not believing Betty Kane's story, Solicitor Blair takes up the case and, in a dazzling feat of amateur detective work, solves the unbelievable mystery that stumped even Inspector Grant." 

Alternates - The next four are my alternates. I'm sure I'll read them as well. I usually do.

A1. Cold Streets by P.N. Elrod (Vampire Files #10).  This series is a cross between a hard-boiled detective and vampire series.

"Vampire detective Jack Fleming's latest venture-the Lady Crymsyn nightclub-has become the favorite haunt for Chicago's elite. But amongst his patrons lurk a smarmy blackmailer and a dangerous up-and-coming mobster from New York-both unaware how deadly Jack can be when blood is spilled..."

A2. Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum #... guess.... yup, 10). Always fun, sexy and entertaining.

"Swing off the Jersey Turnpike and you'll be in bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's neighborhood. You'll know it because all hell will be breaking loose. Not that she looks for trouble - it just seems to follow her. In Ten Big Ones it explodes at a deli, and when Stephanie pegs a robber as a member of a vicious Trenton gang, they peg her as dead. Vice cop Joe Morelli fears she's in way too deep - even with the help of crime-solving, cross-dressing, bus driver Sally Sweet, and Stephanie's friend Lula riding shotgun as backup. With a notorious killer on her tail, Stephanie figures the best hideout is Ranger's secret lair..." 

A3. You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming (James Bond #12). I started reading the Bond books again when I found the series at ABC Books. I had enjoyed them when I was in junior high school. I try to read one or two a year.

"The tragic end to James Bond’s last mission—courtesy of Ernst Stavro Blofeld—has left 007 a broken man and of little use to the British Secret Service. At his wit’s end, M decides that the only way to snap his best agent out of his torpor is to send him on an impossible diplomatic mission to Japan. Bond’s contact there is the formidable Japanese spymaster Tiger Tanaka, who agrees to do business with the West if Bond will assassinate one of his enemies: a mysterious Swiss botanist named Dr. Guntram Shatterhand.

Shatterhand is not who he seems, however, and his impregnable fortress—known to the locals as the “Castle of Death”—is a gauntlet of traps no gaijin has ever penetrated. But through rigorous ninja training, and with some help from the beautiful and able Kissy Suzuki, Bond manages to gain access to Shatterhand’s lair. Inside lurks certain doom at the hands of 007’s bitterest foe—or a final chance to exact ultimate vengeance."

A4. Louisiana Lament by Julie Smith (Tabitha Wallis #3). I've enjoyed Smith's other two series but I've had this one on my shelf for a very long time. Looking forward to finally trying it.

"Allyson Brown, the Girl Gatsby, is a woman of wealth, hostess of fabled parties, patron of the arts--especially of poets. Found floating in her own swimming pool, shot to death.

Poet and fledgling detective Talba Wallis gets an urgent call from the sister she barely knows: Janessa. To Girl Gatsby Janessa is close friend. But this call isn't an invitation to an elegant literary salon. Janessa wants off the hook as the principal murder suspect.

Investigating, Talba and her irascible boss, Eddie, find the reality behind the Gatsby glamour. Allyson was widely hated, a con artist who neglected her children, failed to pay her bills, and lied to everyone she wanted something from. The one person she loved may have ushered her to her death.

The case takes Talba and Eddie from literary parties to Gulf Coast bait shops, from biker bars to abandoned wharves, and finally, to the story of another Gatsby, which may yield answers, or greater mysteries."

There you go. My start to 2019. Tomorrow I'll highlight my individual reading challenges. Have a great night.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Reading Update and a Quick Look at 2019

It's a miserable, cold, windy, rainy day here today. The house is a little quieter as Bonnie is at the vets, getting her foot checked. I'll be picking her up at 3ish. Clyde is a bit needier than usual as he misses his big sister.

In my last two posts I've been taking a look at my favorite mysteries and overall books of 2019. I was going to do my final stats summary today but I've finished one more book and started one more. So I'll do that one closer to 2019. Today, I'll update my just finished reading and currently reading plus let you know my first two books of 2019.

Just Finished

1. Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace.

"I've been interested in checking out Nicolle Wallace's writing ever since I started watching her on MSNBC's Deadline Washington. My wife bought me the first book in her White House series, Eighteen Acres, for Xmas this year. Eighteen Acres stands for the plot of land that the White House occupies in Washington, DC

Eighteen Acres focuses on three women; the first woman President of the US, Charlotte Kramer, her Chief of Staff, Melanie Kingston and a reporter who is having an affair with Charlotte's husband, Dale Smith. Each chapter focuses alternatively on one of these characters.

We travel from events at the White House, to a trip by Charlotte and her Secretary of Defense Roger Taylor, as well as Dale Smith, along with the Press pool, to Afghanistan where elections are taking place and then for the last half of the book, on the campaign trail as Charlotte. is running for a second term in office along with her new Vice Presidential nominee, Tara Meyers.

It's a fascinating, well-crafted, concise story that Nicolle Wallace has presented. The story definitely focuses on the 3 main women, with subsidiary characters added to the mix to enrich the story. Melanie is an intelligent, hard-working, well-respected Chief of Staff who has worked for 3 different presidents in different roles. She has let her personal life slide as she focuses on serving the President and the country. Charlotte has also let her personal life be affected by her time in government, from Governor to President. Her husband, Peter, has become distant and now spends as much time as possible with Dale Smith. Dale, herself, is an ambitious reporter who is working to become one of the main network anchors.

While this might seem like just a normal romance story with many entanglements, actually, it offers an interesting insight into the running of the White House and the President's life. Oh to have a sensible, dedicated President like Charlotte Kramer! We have press intrigue; is the Pres having an affair? We have a trip to Afghanistan that turns tragic and has the potential to crash the Presidential ambitions of Charlotte. And the campaign is presented in a fascinating way, with friction between Melanie and the upcoming Vice President and many more things. All in all, it was an engrossing read and I'm looking forward to checking out the 2nd book, It's Classified. (4 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. The Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

"Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game, so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart. But the Organization won't let him go: they have other plans for him. In a violent tale that shatters as many illusions as bodies, Jean-Patrick Manchette subjects his characters and the reader alike to a fierce exercise in style. This tightly plotted, corrosive parody of "the success story" is widely considered to be Manchette's masterpiece, and was named a New York Times "Notable Book" in 2002. The Gunman is a classic of modern noir."

2019 Reading Challenges

I'll go into more detail about my 2019 Challenges in a future post. As an initial look, here are the first two books I'll be reading in 2019.

1. The Black Dudley Murder by Margery Allingham (Albert Campion #1).

"You are cordially invited to a weekend house party at Black Dudley Manor. While there, you will participate in a gruesome ritual, your host will be brutally murdered, you will be held hostage, and someone will interrogate you in a most unpleasant manner. But never fear! Albert Campion is a fellow guest . . . and you just might survive to tell the tale."

2. Undone by Karin Slaughter (Will Trent #3).

"When a tortured young woman enters the trauma center of an Atlanta hospital, Dr. Sara Linton is thrust into a desperate police investigation with Special Agent Will Trent and his partner, Faith Mitchell. Though guarding their own wounds and their own secrets, Sara, Will, and Faith find that they are all that stand between a madman and his next victim."

I'll go into my 2019 Reading Challenges next post. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 27 December 2018

My Top Ten Books of 2018

It's a nice day today. The dogs and I were able to go for a walk without it raining on us.. :0).. I'm 30% through Eighteen Acres and enjoying very much.

Yesterday I listed my Top Ten Favorite Mysteries of 2018. (Click on this link to see which books made the list - just a reminder, they were books I read in 2018, not books published in 2018). Today is my list of the Top Ten books I enjoyed in 2018. Four of them are from my Mystery list, so I won't add the reviews for those books.

So, here we go.

Bill's Top Ten Books of 2018.

1. Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (Pallisers #1).

"Can You Forgive Her? is the first book in the Palliser series written by Anthony Trollope. The book was initially published in 1865. It is a long book; my Oxford University Edition, published in 1972 is 1,000+ pages. While it is a long book, it is definitely not a slow book. On paper, it's not my type of story at all but that makes it even better.

The story centers around 3 women, Alice Vavasor, Lady Glencora and Mrs Greenow, a widow. If you want to look at in its simplest form, each is sorting out her relationship, each has two suitors and must decide between them. But, of course, there is so much more to it than just that, politics, and an exploration of English life.

The main character is Alice. She had previously been engaged to her first cousin, George Vavasor. This engagement, which was not supported by her father, was broken off when it was discovered that he had cheated on her. When the story begins she is now engaged to John Grey, a sturdy, dependable man, but one who Alice finds it difficult to love. Going on a trip to Switzerland with George's sister, Kate, and escorted by George as well, her relationship is turned upside down as she once again agrees to wed George and to help him financially with his run for Parliament. (Yes, George is money-poor and has a bad relationship with his grandfather whose estate and wealth he stands to inherit. What you have here is a woman who must decide between a steady, somewhat boring man and a 'bad' man.) Breaking her engagement is the premise for 'Can You Forgive Her?' Can Grey forgive her? Can Alice forgive herself?

The other relationships involve Lady Glencora, Alice's cousin, and her aunt, Mrs. Greenow. Lady Glencora, a wealthy woman, loves Burgo Fitzgerald, a handsome wastrel, but was pressured by her family to instead marry, Plantagenet Palliser, a wealthy Member of Parliament with designs on the position of Chancellor of Exchequer. Having a beautiful, young wife who might provide him an heir will only help him. Glencora still loves Burgo and wants to run off with him. Mrs. Greenow is a wealthy widow. Two men are her suitors, a penniless Capt in the Army, Capt Bellfield and a farmer, Mr. Cheeseacre. Mrs. Greenow plays the two off against each other as she doesn't need any money.

This is the gist of the story, which moves between the three women at a leisurely pace. It's well - written and kept me reading throughout. The men are all different with George Vavasor being the surliest, hardest to like. I particularly liked Lady Glencora, funny, a trouble maker but so likable. She brings me to mind of Carolyn Enys of the Poldark series. I also particularly liked George's sister, Kate who sets up her brother and Alice and comes to see him for what he is.

There is so much to the story that it's hard to describe in toto. But you have to discover that for yourself, don't you. There are 5 more books in the series. I will hopefully get to try them as well. Please check out Can You Forgive Her? (5 stars)"

2. Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott.

"What a perfect book Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott is! It reminded me of books I read back during my university years when I took my Canadian Lit course; books like Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell or Why Shoot the Teacher by Max Braithwaite. It's a gentle, loving, caring story that had me smiling and crying at different moments.

Clara Purdy lives in Saskatchewan and while driving home gets into an accident with a young family. Clara lives alone, her mother having passed away and is in a rut. When she goes to the hospital to check on the family, she discovers that the mother, Lorreine has to stay because they've discovered she has cancer. The family; Lorreine, hubby Clayton, grandmother Mrs. Pell and three kids; Dolly, Trevor and Pearce are basically homeless, living in their van as they drive to find work.

Clara makes a big decision and lets the family move into her house while Lorreine is in the hospital. Clayton takes her mother's old car and leaves (to find work somewhere?) and leaves Clary to fend with the rest. That is the gist of the story and we follow Clary (her nickname) as she recreates herself, rearranging her home to accommodate them all, learn to live a life with children (she is a divorcee who never had the chance to have children of her own) and all the things that entails.

It's a rich, wonderful story. The book is peopled with a wonderful cast of characters, starting with the lovely Clary. The kids are great as they try to adjust to living with her, trying to cope with their mother's illness. Grandma Pel is a cantankerous old biddy but a great character. Lorreine is brave, hard put. Her brother Darwin shows up, moving in with Clara and is fantastic, looking after his sister, helping Clary, recreating her home. And you've got so many others, the local priest, Paul, trying to cope with divorce and finding solace with this strange put - together family. I could go on; her neighbour, Mrs. Zenko, who helps so much and Clary's sister Grace, her hubby Morland and their daughter, Fern. There is something about them all to love and cherish.

The story is so well-written, and it draws you in. I wanted it to end a certain way, but it took a twist at the end and then another. I can't recommend this book more. It's a must read. Beautiful story and characters. (5 stars)"

3. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe #1). (Check the review in my previous entry)

4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

"What a wonderful story The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is. I've had it on my book shelf for a year or so and added it to my 12+ 4 reading challenge on the recommendation of a Goodread's friend.

It was so nice to read an uplifting, joyous story such as this. It's a story of growing up, discovering friendship and love and it leaves you feeling very positive and happy. (well, there were a few tears shed at the end but only because it was a positive ending.)

Young Mary Lennox is growing up in India. Her mother abandons her to the care of an Indian governess; she never really wanted a child. Mary becomes a loner, a temperamental, selfish young girl. When her parents die due to a cholera epidemic, she is sent to England to live with an uncle who resides at his estate in Misselthwaite Manor. Her uncle is basically a hermit who has never recovered from the death of his wife. He wants nothing to do with Mary, heading off to Europe and other places as soon as she arrives. Mary is once again alone but she slowly begins to make 'actual' friends, firstly her maid, Martha, a young Yorkshire lass, then a robin, etc. She then discovers the entrance to a locked garden; her uncle had closed it down when his wife died. It was her favorite and she died when a branch fell on her. Mary also discovers another resident in the manor, who turns out to be her cousin, Colin.

Without ruining the story by telling you anymore, suffice it to say that the two develop a close relationship and learn about friendship and love as they grow. The link with the garden, their development as the garden grows and multiplies, is most interesting. The story is full of wonderful characters; not the least Mary and Colin but also Martha, Martha's brother Dickon, their mother and even the old gardener, Ben.

I was so pleased to read this story, to read a perfect little story that left me feeling positive and happy at the end. Everyone should read! Thanks for adding to my challenge list, Alissa. (5 stars)"

5. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Green Gables #1).

"As I told my wife this morning.... stupid book! But what I really meant was what a wonderful, happy / sad, heart warming book Anne of Green Gables by Canadian author, L.M. Montgomery is. My wife and I have been enjoying the reprisal of the original TV series; Anne with an 'E'. Last Christmas I discovered almost the whole book series, 6 of the 9 books and bought them for my wife. To end 2018 Anne of Green Gables was one of the books I chose to finish the year.

Anne of Green Gables tells the story of young orphan, Anne Shirley, who is brought to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, to live with and help work on the farm of the Cuthberts, brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla. Unfortunately for Anne, the Cuthberts had asked for a boy. While Matthew is entranced with Anne's spirit and imagination, Marilla isn't. She wants to send Anne back. She finds Anne, talkative, distracting and somewhat irritating. But at the same time, she finds her refreshing and she bends to Matthew's will and lets Anne stay.

What follows are a series of vignettes that describe Anne's life with the Cuthberts and her developing friendships, with her bosom friend Diana Berry and others, as well as her enmity towards Gilbert Blythe, who makes the mistake of teasing Anne about her red (carrots) hair. There are tragedies, upsets, wonderful stories, joy and sadness. It's a wonderfully, rich, lovely book. Anne is such an imaginative, delightful character. She wins the love of Matthew and Marilla. The book reminds me of so many other 'coming of age' stories, Who Has Seen the Wind, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, etc. It made me smile, cry and just warmed my heart.

Of course, now I'll have to try the other books.. Darn!! Stupid book!! (5 stars)"

6. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #1). (Review is available in previous BLog entry).

7. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Thomas Cromwell #1).

"My wife and I got Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel as a gift about 5 years ago. It's sat on the shelf for a long time, as you can see, and I've had quite some trepidation about starting it. I can't say why. It might just have been the size, but in the end that's a pretty poor reason as I've read longer books than it. Suffice it to say, this year it was one of my challenge reads, selected for me by a book club friend of mine.

It's a historical novel, set during the time of Henry VIII in the early 1500's as he fights with the Pope to get his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so he can marry Anne Boleyn. The story focuses on the rise of Thomas Cromwell from the son of a blacksmith to Henry's chief adviser. We get to see palace intrigue, the life and family of Cromwell, those who people the court of Henry VIII and their dealings and personalities.

That's the story on its simplest level but it is indeed an intricate, complex, fascinating story. As with most large tomes, it took me awhile to get going with the story. I usually have a few books on the go and I can be easily distracted. But as I got deeper into the story, I found myself drawn to the characters, the richness of their personalities, the complexities of the court life and just the portrayal of England at the time.

Cromwell is made very human, as is Henry VIII and the rest of the large cast of thousands, from Cromwell's extended family, to the lords and dukes and ladies who you find at the King's court and in their dealings with Cromwell. The religious aspect is also well - described, the dealings between England and Rome as they try to get the first marriage annulled. Cromwell is everywhere, dealing with Henry, with Anne Boleyn, with Catherine, the lords and archbishops, etc. His rise in power is a fascinating story. His love and care of his family and of those people he seems to pick up off the street and add to his family was especially fascinating.

In the end, I enjoyed the whole story immensely and was pleasantly surprised at how much I did enjoy it. Now I have to dust off the 2nd book, Bringing up the Bodies.. I may wait awhile to catch my breath though. (5 stars)"

8. Death Without Company by Craig Johnson (Longmire #2). My review is in the previous BLog entry.

9. Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey.

"I've read a few books by Josephine Tey. The others have been part of her Inspector Alan Grant Series. Brat Farrar is one of two standalone mysteries by Tey. It was also turned into a TV mini-series and a movie.

I will readily admit that I had an inkling about part of the book when I was fairly shortly into it and this turned out to be correct. However, having said that, it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book at all.

Brat Farrar, an orphan, left England at a young age and traveled through France and the US until as he neared the age of 21, he returned to England. Alex Loding sees him by chance in London and realizes that he looks remarkably like Patrick Ashby, who committed suicide as a young boy after a tragic accident which killed his parents. The Ashby's live in Westover County and run an estate that makes its money breeding horses. Simon Ashby, Patrick's younger twin stands to inherit the estate on achieving his 21st birthday. Alex Lodings' proposal is that Brat should turn up at the Ashby estate and claim the inheritance and for his efforts, Alex would receive a monthly allowance from Brat.
Brat allows himself to be persuaded and after training on Patrick's life and that of the family, he introduces himself to the family solicitors to be identified as the true heir.

I won't get into the story anymore except to say that all goes well, and Brat is welcomed into the family as the long lost prodigy. There are of course mixed feelings, especially those of Simon who now loses the inheritance.

The story is an evenly paced work of fiction as we follow Brat through his introductions and new life with the Ashbys. They are wonderful characters, especially Aunt Bea, who has run the estate while Simon, now Brat, grew to the appropriate age to take over. And also, the lovely Eleanor, oldest of the sisters, who trains horses and welcomes Brat.

At times I wondered how this would work out, waiting patiently for some action. But, you know, it wasn't necessary. The story reminded me of watching one of those thoughtful, excellent movies on TCM, the classics, enjoying the characters and the story. Of course, Brat's taking over of the life of Patrick has consequences and it's a joy to see how everything is resolved.

An excellent novel and enjoyable mystery, one of those little surprising gems (5 stars)"

10. Flesh and Blood by John Harvey (Frank Elder #1). Review in my previous entry.

Well, there you go, my top ten for 2018. See anything that interests you? In my next entry, I'll do my annual statistical summary of the year in reading... How exciting!

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A Reading Update and Some 2018 Reading Summaries

Is this what you mean by Boxing Day?
It's a lazy Boxing Day here at the old homestead. Yesterday was a wonderful day, great Xmas dinner, a tearful Xmas Call the Midwife and a piece of lemon / lime cheesecake for dessert. Today we are relaxing, maybe will have turkey sandwiches for Boxing Day lunch and then Jo said she might make spaghetti for dinner.. Diets start in 2019!

I finished one more book this morning and plan to read one more by year's end. Today I'll also start some 2018 year end summaries. Today's entry will be my list for the Top Ten Mysteries I read this past year.

Just Finished

1. Passport to Oblivion by Jame Leasor (Dr. Jason Love #1).

"Passport to Oblivion is the first book in English author James Leasor's Dr. Jason Love spy series of 9 books. Ian Fleming is probably the most well known master of the spy series, but I've discovered a number of other series the past couple of years; Adam Diment's Philip McAlpine books, James Mayo's Charles Hood books and Victor Canning's Rex Carver books, to name a few. Of the one's I've tried so far, they offer different styles to that of Fleming's Bond books.

Dr. Jason Love is a country doctor who served in the British army during WWII. He now has a small medical practice, teaches veterans judo in his spare time and enjoys his flashy Cord sports car. During this time period, the British spy services are facing a major crisis. Due to traitors in their service, the spy network in the Middle East has been compromised and neutralized for the most part. At the beginning of this story, one of their agents in Iran is murdered by Russian spies.

Trying to find someone to go to Iran to see what is going on, MacGillivray, deputy head of the Secret Service searches through old files to try to find someone unknown to the Russians who he can send to Iran. He comes across Dr. Love's file. It seems that once during the war, Love had helped him find Japanese sympathisers in the Indian Army. With that information, MacGillivray persuades Love to help him again.

Thus, Dr. Jason Love finds himself in Iran trying to discover what the missing English spy, K, might have discovered. That is the gist of this story. It's an interesting premise and a well-developed story. There are some typical spy craft type equipment that appears; pens that shoot darts, transmitters implanted in teeth, sword canes and such but they just make the story more interesting. There is sufficient action and interesting baddies that try to discover Love and to destroy him.

The story moves through Iran and then to Northern Canada in a quick transition; hot desert suns to frozen northern wastes. All in all, it's an interesting story. Love is a thoughtful amateur spy who manages, by his wits and physical abilities to keep ahead of his enemies. The story is positively comparable to the Bond books, easy to read and entertaining. I did like how this book refers to actual situations of the period, double agent George Blake whose traitorous actions resulted in the deaths of many British spies, Igor Gouzenko, the Russian spy who turned himself into Canadian authorities, etc. It added a different quality to this story. Most enjoyable. (4 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace. This is one of Christmas books I got this year from Jo.

"Eighteen Acres, a description used by political insiders when referring to the White House complex, follows the first female President of the United States, Charlotte Kramer, and her staff as they take on dangerous threats from abroad and within her very own cabinet.

Charlotte Kramer, the 45th US President, Melanie Kingston, the White House chief of staff, and Dale Smith, a White House correspondent for one of the networks are all working tirelessly on Charlotte’s campaign for re-election. At the very moment when they should have been securing success, though, Kramer’s White House implodes under rumors of her husband’s infidelity and grave errors of judgment on the part of her closest national security advisor. In an upheaval that threatens not only the presidency, but the safety of the American people, Charlotte must fight to regain her footing and protect the the country she has given her life to serving."

My Top Ten Mysteries of 2018
(I read them in 2018, they probably weren't written in 2018).

The list isn't in any particular order, although I've ranked from 5-star ratings through 4-star.

1. Death Without Company by Craig Johnson (Longmire #2).

"Death Without Company is the 2nd Walt Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson. It's been awhile since I read the first and I'm so glad to revisit the Absarka Police Department in Wyoming. Such a great, entertaining, engrossing story.

It's near Christmas and the snows are starting to fall in the community that Walt Longmire polices. He's waiting for his daughter Cady to come for the holidays from Philadelphia. He is interviewing and considering hiring a new detective, Santiago Saizarbitoria and also heading to the Durant Home for Assisted Living for his weekly chess game with Lucian Connally, the previous sheriff. The trip takes a turn when a woman of Basque heritage, one Mari Baroja, is found dead at the home. It turns out that Lucian was once married to her, for all of 3 hours, and he claims that she has been murdered.

Thus begins a sometimes convoluted murder mystery, more bodies will crop up and there will also be attempted murders. How is Mari involved and for that matter, how is Lucian. Family members begin to arrive to find out what they might have inherited. It turns out Mari was a bit of a financial expert and is worth quite a bit. Her second husband, the father of her children, was an awful man, one who beat her and who has 'disappeared'. Are drugs involved? What about this past? What about the granddaughter who runs the local bakery?

It's such a fascinating story. The cast is excellent, from Longmire himself, to his assistant, Vic, down to earth and sexy, to Henry Running Bear, Longmire's oldest friend, to the other people who work at the Police department and even Dog, Longmire's inherited pet. There is great wit and humor (check out the stake out at the hospital, some laugh out loud moments there) and awful violence (the incident at the river had me holding my breath) and even spirituality (Longmire has dreams and visions that are interesting to try and dissect). It's not a perfect story (some of the crime solving seems a bit convoluted) but it's just an excellent read. (5 stars)"

2. The Pusher by Ed McBain (87th Precinct #3)

"First published in 1956, The Pusher is the 3rd book in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct police procedural series. I find it hard to believe, myself, that I rated this book 5 stars, but for its small size, it packs a great punch.

The 87th Precinct is set in a fictional US city and features the cops and detectives of the 87th Precinct. In this edition, they and the city they protect are preparing for Xmas. The story starts with Detective Steve Carella and his partner, newly promoted Detective King called out to a seeming suicide. The body belongs to a young Puerto Rican addict who is found dead with a rope around his neck. To Carella, it seems to pat and he suspects that the boy has been murdered.

This begins a fascinating case involving drug dealing, an addicted Police Lt.'s son who may be involved in the murders, possible black-mailing and other murders. The story moves along at a nice pace, mainly following Carella's investigation but also covering his boss, Lt Byrnes as he must deal with issues surrounding his son.

It's more than just an investigation, although having said that, there are interesting pieces of forensic work and excellent interrogations that are realistic and well-crafted. But you also get into the personal lives of the detectives; Carella's relationship with is lovely wife Teddy and Byrnes' troubled but powerful relationship with his wife and son. Even minor characters such as Carella's informant Danny Gimp are turned into real people. I loved the dedication of the police. I loved how McBain took time to present the city and the people who lived there.

The story ended emotionally for me. The story was only 158 pages but it grabbed me from the very beginning and held me engrossed from beginning to end. I've now read the first 3 books in the series and each and everyone has been excellent. (5 stars)"

3. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #1).

"Many years ago I enjoyed JK Rowlings' Harry Potter books. When I heard that she was writing more adult themed books under the name of Robert Galbraith I kind of hesitated to try them. Moving from fantasy to mystery seemed a bit of a stretch to me. I was wrong, to put it bluntly.

The Cuckoo's Calling, the first book in Galbraith / Rowlings' Cormoran Strike series was a real pleasure to read. The book did have one other thing going against it in my mind, it was almost 600 pages. I read authors who seem to think that the more successful they get that maybe they need to make their books longer and longer. I think that I'm getting a bit lazy in my older years; a long book doesn't mean a bad book. Quality tells.

So moving on to the story. Cormoran Strike is a down-in-his luck detective working in London. We learn over the course of the novel that he's an ex-military policeman who lost a leg in Afghanistan, he's in terrible debt, his absent father is a rock star and he's just had a nasty break-up with his on and off again girl friend. A new temporary secretary, Robin, is added to his situation. How will he be able to afford her?

A new case is dropped on his door step, one that might help him get out of his debt situation. A famous model, Lula Landry, falls to her death from her apartment. The police call it a suicide but Lula's half brother thinks it's murder and hires Strike to investigate. There is a link between Strike and John Bristow; his older brother (also a suicide victim as a youngster) went to school with Strike and was a good friend.

Initially hesitant to take the case, Strike, as he gets into his investigation, begins to come around to the murder idea. There are many interesting qualities to Strike; his methodical investigative style, his ability to put things together as the evidence starts to come together, his gruff but caring manner. Robin, his secretary is slowly developed as well. While looking for other work, she begins to like working for Strike, her interest in being involved with the case and she also shows nice detective skills. They make a very nice team.

The case is also interesting, with many potential suspects and Galbraith paces everything nicely and keeps your interest up. She is an excellent writer with great descriptive powers and is a superb story teller. I'm so glad to finally have read this. The next Strike book now awaits my attention (5 stars)" 

4. Flesh and Blood by John Harvey (Frank Elder #1).

"Flesh and Blood by John Harvey is the first book in the Frank Elder mystery series. I have previously read the first book in his Charles Resnick series; Lonely Hearts and enjoyed it. This was so much better. As a matter of continuity, Resnick makes a brief appearance in this story.

Elder is an ex-cop who retired and moved to Cornwall; partly to get away from a broken marriage. The book starts with his daughter Katherine's visit and Elder's attempt to keep a relationship with his teenage daughter. Soon his life is turned upside down when an  ex partner, Maggie, advises him that Shane Donald has been released from prison. Donald was involved with a big case of Elder's; he and his mentor had kidnapped and abused and murdered a young girl. They were also assumed to have been involved in the disappearance of another young girl, whose body had never been discovered.
Elder begins to dig into his old investigation, visiting the mother of the girl, Susan Blakelock, and rehashing the evidence. We also follow Donald, now in a half way house and being monitored by a female probation officer.

Events take a quick turn for the worse; Donald runs away from the half way house, a young lady disappears. The question is whether Donald was involved. Things really start to take off; besides the old investigation, the police are desperate to find Emma, the young girl, to find Donald, etc. (I won't get into that story any more as there has to be some surprises for you). It's a tense, well-crafted and described story. It moves along at an excellent pace and keeps your interest at all times. I found the ending both realistic and satisfying. Great story! I was given this as a Xmas present and I'm so glad that I was. (5 stars)" 

5. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe #1).

"The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler is my first exposure to this excellent writer of the noir genre. Chandler created Private Investigator Philip Marlowe, who worked the streets of San Francisco. There was a movie made of this story starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe. I think I've seen it but will now have to watch it again.

Marlowe is hired by a wealthy San Francisco family to try to sort out a black-mailing situation. The wealthy senior of the family has two wild daughters, especially Carmen, who is the subject of 'personal' photos. The investigation moves Marlowe into the criminal underworld and into close contact with various criminals and also murders. It's a nicely confusing plot, with many twists and turns and enough action to keep you very interested in the story.

Chandler has a way with telling his story. His characters are so well-described that you can picture them clearly. They have unique personalities and you do find yourself drawn to some and repulsed or afraid of others. His story telling is straight-forward, with a touch of humour and also a nice flair for the written word. I love this line, "I went back to the office and sat in my swivel chair and tried to catch up on my foot-dangling." I know it's just one small sample but it's so perfect and the story is filled with such perfection.

You don't necessarily get to know a great deal of Marlowe's past but you definitely get a feel for the type of character he is. Even though a private eye, he's got friends in the police force who respect him. He's similar to Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer, John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, a loner private eye with standards. I don't know that I see Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe but I'll have to think more on that subject. I do know I am looking forward to reading the other books in this short series. Excellent and for lovers of great mystery, must-reads. (5 stars)"

6. Banquets of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov ( Black Widowers #4).

"I've read many of Isaac Asimov's science fiction books; the Foundation and Empire trilogy, the robot books, Fantastic Voyage, etc. He was such a good story teller. It's been many years since I last read one of his books and recently I discovered this mystery series; the Black Widowers and I bought one of them; Banquets of the Black Widowers.

The Black Widowers are a group of six gentlemen who meet on a monthly basis for a dinner and drinks and then to interrogate a visitor about a mystery in their life. They are ably assisted by their waiter, Henry, maybe the smartest member of the group.

The collection of short stories are gentle and cozy. They follow the same formula for the most part. In each one, one of the members is the host of a visitor; they chat and have dinner and then while they relax over drinks afterward, they interrogate the visitor. Even their interrogation starts off in a similar fashion; first the member must justify their lives and then they tell a story that has troubled them while the members try to offer a solution that might help the person.

There is no violent crime just incidents in their lives that they need help either remembering or rationalizing. The six widowers are middle-aged or older, curmudgeonly and interesting. Their waiter Henry serves and observes and is the voice of final solution, deferred to by the others. I enjoyed this collection very much and will search for the others. Excellent concept. (3 stars)"

7. The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy.

"The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Emma Orczy was a little gem. I'd read her adventure, The Scarlet Pimpernal, and had enjoyed quite a bit. While I was reading it, my wife mentioned that she remembered a radio series she'd listened too many years ago, which was based on Orczy's book about The Old Man in the Corner. It sounded interesting and so I decided to see if I could find a copy; which I did at The Book Depository (one of their print on demand books).

Basically, the book is a collection of short story mysteries. They remind me somewhat of Isaac Asimov's books about the Black Widowers, in which a group of older men, meet regularly at their club and meet someone who explains their circumstances (normally involving a crime) and then without leaving their club they try to solve it (usually with final words from the waiter). The Old Man in the Corner features a similar situation. Newspaper reporter, Polly, meets regularly with The Old Man at a local cafe (an A.B.C shop as it's called) and the old man details a recent court case; a robbery, a murder etc. Polly basically listens while the old man tells her the story and then solves the case, a case that has continually befuddled the police and courts.

There are a variety of stories in the book and each is interesting as is the Old Man's solutions. I enjoyed each case and the Old Man's quirks (he is impulsive about tying a string in knots as he goes through each case). Once solved he basically disappears until the next meet. The stories are short and grab you right away and the solutions are also interesting. What I particularly enjoyed was the final case and Polly finally getting in the last word. It was a surprising ending that actually had me laughing out loud in amazement. I enjoyed this book very much and recommend highly. (4.5 stars)" 

8. Who Killed Marilyn Monroe? by Liz Evans (PI Grace Smith #1).

"Who Killed Marilyn Monroe? by Liz Evans, the first book in the PI Grace Smith series, was an entertaining, fun surprise. Of course, I was somewhat mislead by the title, of course, it had nothing to do with Marilyn Monroe. Grace Smith is a struggling PI working for Vetch Associates, somewhere on the coast of England (struggling because she never seems to have any money and seems to get the odd ball cases).

Marilyn Monroe is a donkey, belonging to December Drysdale, who runs them down to the beach for tourists to take pictures of and to ride them. Unfortunately, Marilyn has been murdered and Drysdale doesn't think the police will take the death seriously enough. Grace 'Smithie' is assigned the case and thus begins an interesting, odd case which might also involve the murder of one of Drysdale's neighbors, a young woman, who was also murdered the same evening.

While it seems an unlikely story, but Evans puts it together nicely, making for an interesting, even fascinating story. She develops her characters with loving care and you find yourself drawn into them and the story. As Liz Lemon would say, "I want to go to there" and meet Grace and the other people in her community; from bar owner and aging rocker, Shane (who feeds Grace for free and entertains with loud rock music), her co-worker, Annie (sarcastic and a tolerant, helpful friend); the residents of the old age home, even Drysdale's donkeys. You find yourself loving these characters.

Evans weaves a fun story, somewhere between Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone mysteries. Grace Smith is at times hapless, but always determined. She's scruffy, sexy and lovable. I've already ordered the next book, JFK Is Missing!. If you like a cozy, but action-filled, at times humorous mystery, try Liz Evans (4.5 stars)"

9. Stranger in my Grave by Margaret Millar.

"I discovered Canadian mystery writer Margaret Millar a few years ago and since that time I've been hunting down her books. She is such a great writer. A Stranger In My Grave was originally published in 1980. While it wasn't necessarily my favorite of her books so far, I still enjoyed it immensely.

Daisy Harker has been having dreams where she is looking at her grave stone showing Dec 2nd 1955 as the day she died. Of course, she is still alive, or she wouldn't be having the dreams. ;0) The dreams have disconcerted her very much and she is not given any real support by her husband, Jim or by her mother Ada. A chance occurrence, the arrest of her absent father provides Daisy with the opportunity to find out the significance of what might have happened on Dec 2, 1955. Her father, while visiting San Felice, is arrested in a bar fight and the detective / bail bondsman who gets him out of jail, contacts Daisy to pay the bail.

Daisy hires Steve Pinata to check into events of Dec 2 to see what it might signify to Daisy's dreams. This begins a somewhat meandering detective investigation into Daisy's life. It turns out that the headstone she sees in her dream does exist but there is a different name on it, that of a man Carlos Camilla, who supposedly committed suicide on the same day. Daisy doesn't know him but does he have some relationship to her?

As I mentioned, it's a slow paced story but as it progresses we begin to find out secrets, connections that keep your interest up as you wait to see how everything will tie together. Margaret Millar has a sparse, at times unemotional style, but she gathers in your interest and attracts you to her characters. I enjoy her story-telling so very much and she has so far not disappointed in any way. I recommend you explore this fantastic writer and also the stories of her husband, Ross MacDonald. (4 stars)"

10. Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang (Detective Jack Yu#1).

"What a great introduction to the Detective Jack Yu mystery series, Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang is. Jack Yu is a detective in the 0-Five Chinatown precinct. He is adjusting to the death of his father, leaving Jack without any other family members.

The story develops very nicely, introducing us to the setting, Chinatown in New York, and to the main characters; Mona, mistress to a Chinatown gangster, 'Uncle Four', who desperately wants to escape; Johnny Wong, the limo driver who loves Mona; and others such as Lucky Tat, an old acquaintance of Jack Wu's who now leads the Ghost Legion, a gang of killers.

Jack Wu first gets involved in the rape of a young Chinese girl. Mona is sorting out a way to get away from Uncle Four, who is very abusive. Johnny Fong also has dreams of escaping his life and becoming successful.

The way I've described it, makes it seem a very simple story. But there is an intricate richness and many intriguing sub-plots that tie the various stories together. The story, itself, is very gritty at times and as it develops, builds up a great head of steam to the ultimate ending. I like Jack Yu very much and enjoyed how his character and relationships grew over the course of the story. It's such a unique world for me and made the story even more fascinating. Well - written, excellent first story. (4.5 stars)"

In my next entry I'll provide my list of the Top Ten books of all genres that I enjoyed this year. There will, of course, be some overlap with this list. :0)  Have a great Boxing Day!
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