Tuesday, 31 December 2019

My 2020 Reading Challenges - Part 2

It's almost 9 p.m. on 31 Dec here on the west coast of Canada and I'm relaxing with Jo and Fiona as they watch a holiday British Baking special. Harrie and James are out trying to find a pub in town to have a New Year's Eve drink. Logan, who has had a very busy day for a little one, is sound asleep upstairs. Bonnie and Clyde, our pups are also relaxing. The humans went out for a very nice dinner at Locals restaurant. Everybody left satisfied.

So, while I'm relaxing I'm going to finish off my post from yesterday where I highlighted my first Reading Challenge of 2020, the 12 + 4 Reading Challenge - Finish some darn series. I listed all of the books I plan to read for this challenge but my first book will be Time Quake by Linda Buckley - Archer, the final book in the Gideon the Cut-purse trilogy.

I will go through my other reading challenges in this post. Before I do that, I'll do a last update on 2019. I finished my last book this morning, The Cooperman Variations by Howard Engel, a Benny Cooperman mystery. My review is below.

"The Cooperman Variations by Howard Engel is the 12th book in the Benny Cooperman mystery series. Benny Cooperman is a private eye in Grantham, Ontario, next to Niagara Falls. At the start of this story, Benny is in a bit of the doldrums. His favorite restaurant has been closed down and he's in between cases. His girlfriend Anna is in Italy and traveling with a man she's met.

Suddenly into this boring life arrives Stella Moss, an old high school mate, one who ever man in school lusted over. She is now Vanessa Moss and head of programming for a major TV network, NTC, headquartered up the road in Toronto. Someone has killed a friend of Vanessa's in Vanessa's home. The question is whether the target was Vanessa and the killer had mistaken her friend for Vanessa or whether the friend was the target. Vanessa hires Benny to be her body guard (employing him as an executive assistant).

Benny heads to Toronto and finds himself in the midst of network intrigue, with every director after Vanessa's job and trying to help the police and at the same time to fight them off. Other people die and Benny tries to tie them together or find a reason. He finds his attraction to Vanessa growing. He travels to the Muskoka region to check out her alibi and the people in cottage company.

The story is somewhat convoluted but holds your attention. Benny is an entertaining character, an excellent private eye, with strong analytical skills and great intuition. The story is very down-to-earth and written with excellent humour. I've always enjoyed the Benny Cooperman stories I've read. Engel is a great writer who makes it entertaining and fun to sit down with Benny at a café and have a chopped egg and white bread sandwich. Still a few to go for me in this series so I'm happy to be able to look forward to them. (3.5 stars)"

Now on to my remaining 2020 Reading Challenges. I'll let you know what they are and the first book in each challenge.

1. 1st Book in a Series.
Of course, this, like all of my challenges, is self-explanatory. I've got a large number of series on my book shelves that I've yet to start. So one of my challenges will be to make a start to as many series as I can.

a. Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov.

"There were six of them. Professional men and their waiter. They gather at the Milano Restaurant once a month for good food and good conversation. But lately the Black Widowers have added a new entertainment to their meetings. They have begun to solve mysteries, murders, and conspiracies of seemingly impossible dimensions.

With all the skills of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot combined, these six men and their ever-faithful waiter, Henry, take on challenging cases that will tease your deductive skills to the limit and keep you guessing to the very end.

* The Acquisitive Chuckle
* Ph as in Phony
* Truth to Tell
* Go, Little Book!
* Early Sunday Morning
* The Obvious Factor
* The Pointing Finger
* Miss What?
* The Lullaby of Broadway
* Yankee Doodle Went to Town
* The Curious Omission
* Out of Sight"

2. Next in Series.
I've got a large number of series on the go as well. So while I've got challenges to finish some series and another to make a first start on a series, in this one I'll try to at least continue a number of series I've been neglecting.

a. Nicolle Wallace - It's Classified (18 Acres #2). The 2nd in the trilogy from my favourite newscaster.

"Charlotte Kramer, America’s first female president, is beginning her second term and is determined to make her mark on history although events do seem to be conspiring against her. Melanie Kingston, her best friend, just signed on as secretary of defense. Will their relationship survive? Dale Smith is the senior communications advisor to the vice president and knows a secret that could not only ruin her own career but put the credibility of the White House on the line. Tara Meyers is the most popular vice president in recent history, but does her public image match her private life?

When a classified terror threat is made public, all the weaknesses of this presidency are laid bare—and with the country’s safety at stake, someone in the White House isn’t taking any chances."

3. Anything But A Series.
This challenge cover everything but series books; non - fiction, fiction, etc.

a. John Blackburn - Children of the Night.

"For centuries, the small English village of Dunstonholme has been the scene of mysterious tragedies. Local lore traces these strange events back to the year 1300, when a sect of Christian heretics known as the Children of Paul were involved in a bloody massacre. Since that time, there have been railway disasters, mining accidents, shipwrecks, and other terrible happenings. Now a wave of suspicious deaths has the locals on edge and looking for explanations. Dr. Tom Allen and adventurer J. Moldon Mott think they know what is behind the killings: an ancient evil, dating back seven hundred years, lies hidden underground—and it is preparing to emerge to the surface..."

Monthly Challenge
Each month I will focus on either a specific genre or a specific author. For January I'm going to try and read books by Canadian authors (CanCon). I'll let you know about each other month's challenge at the beginning of that month. That'll give me flexibility to change if I wish. :0)

a. Mordecai Richler - Barney's Version.

"Barney Panofsky smokes too many cigars, drinks too much whiskey, and is obsessed with two things: the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and his ex-wife Miriam. An acquaintance from his youthful years in Paris, Terry McIver, is about to publish his autobiography. In its pages he accuses Barney of an assortment of sins, including murder. It's time, Barney decides, to present the world with his own version of events. Barney's Version is his memoir, a rambling, digressive rant, full of revisions and factual errors (corrected in footnotes written by his son) and enough insults for everyone, particularly vegetarians and Quebec separatists.

But Barney does get around to telling his life story, a desperately funny but sad series of bungled relationships. His first wife, an artist and poet, commits suicide and becomes--à la Sylvia Plath--a feminist icon, and Barney is widely reviled for goading her toward death, if not actually murdering her. He marries the second Mrs. Panofsky, whom he calls a "Jewish-Canadian Princess," as an antidote to the first; it turns out to be a horrible mistake. The third, "Miriam, my heart's desire," is quite possibly his soul mate, but Barney botches this one, too. It's painful to watch him ruin everything, and even more painful to bear witness to his deteriorating memory. The mystery at the heart of Barney's story--did he or did he not kill his friend Boogie?--provides enough forward momentum to propel the reader through endless digressions, all three wives, and every one of Barney's nearly heartbreaking episodes of forgetfulness. Barney's Version, winner of Canada's 1997 Giller Prize, is Richler's 10th novel, and a dense, energetic, and ultimately poignant read."

One last thing to say to everybody.....

Monday, 30 December 2019

My 2020 Reading Challenges - Part 1

I guess I should finish my last book of 2019 before I start making up challenges for next year. I only have one book left to read this year, less than 100 pages so I should be able to finish it. We'll see.

But I've still got my 2020 challenges set up with a few books put away in my bedside night stand. My first challenge is my 12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge. This year, and my brother will be happy to see this, I'm going to finish a number of series that I have on the go. These are the books I'll be reading in this challenge.

My 2020 12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge - Finish Some Ding Dang Series

1. Rennie Airth - The Death of Kings (John Madden #5).

"On a hot summer day in 1938, a beautiful actress is murdered on the grand Kent estate of Sir Jack Jessup, close friend of the Prince of Wales. An instant headline in the papers, the confession of a local troublemaker swiftly brings the case to a close, but in 1949, the reappearance of a jade necklace raises questions about the murder. Was the man convicted and executed the decade before truly guilty, or had he wrongly been sent to the gallows?

Inspector Madden is summoned out of retirement at the request of former Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair to re-open the case at Scotland Yard. Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Death of Kings is an atmospheric and captivating police procedural, and is a story of honor and justice that takes Madden through the idyllic English countryside, post-war streets of London, and into the criminal underworld of the Chinese Triads."

2. Linda Buckley Archer - Time Quake (Gideon #3).

"The catastrophic consequences of time travel are now impossible to ignore. Lord Luxon has set his sights on the ultimate prize: America, while, abducted to 1763, Peter and Kate begin to understand that history has arrived at a tipping point. Transformed into an oracle, Kate is able to see the future as easily as the past. Gideon does all he can to help, but he is tormented by the knowledge that The Tar Man, his nemesis, is also his brother. As they pursue him through the dark streets of eighteenth - century London, and the time quakes begin, Peter realises that this monster may hold the fate of us all in his hands."

3. Tom Rob Smith - Agent 6 (Leo Demidov #3).

"Leo Demidov is no longer a member of Moscow's secret police. But when his wife, Raisa, and daughters Zoya and Elena are invited on a "Peace Tour" to New York City, he is immediately suspicious.

Forbidden to travel with his family and trapped on the other side of the world, Leo watches helplessly as events in New York unfold and those closest to his heart are pulled into a web of political conspiracy and betrayal-one that will end in tragedy.

In the horrible aftermath, Leo demands only one thing: to investigate the killer who destroyed his family. His request is summarily denied. Crippled by grief and haunted by the need to find out exactly what happened on that night in New York, Leo takes matters into his own hands. It is a quest that will span decades, and take Leo around the world--from Moscow, to the mountains of Soviet-controlled Afghanistan, to the backstreets of New York--in pursuit of the one man who knows the truth: Agent 6."

4. Evelyn Waugh - Unconditional Surrender (Sword #3).

"Unconditional Surrender is the final volume of Evelyn Waugh's masterful trilogy about war, religion and politics that began with Men at Arms and continued with Officers and Gentlemen. Guy Crouchback has lost his Halberdier idealism. A desk job in London gives him the chance of reconciliation with his former wife. Then, in Yugoslavia, as a liaison officer with the Partisans, he finally becomes aware of the futility and harshness of a war he once saw in terms of honour."

5. Jenny White - The Winter Thief (Kamil Pasha #3).

"January 1888. Vera Arti carries The Communist Manifesto in Armenian through Istanbul's streets, unaware of the men following her. The police discover a shipload of guns, and the Imperial Ottoman Bank is blown up. Suspicion falls on a socialist commune that Arti's friends organized in the eastern mountains. Investigating, Special Prosecutor Kamil Pasha encounters a ruthless adversary in the secret police who has convinced the Sultan that the commune is leading an Armenian secessionist movement and should be destroyed, along with the surrounding villages. Kamil must stop the massacre, but he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, framed for murder and accused of treason, his family and the woman he loves threatened."

6. John Buchan - The Courts of Morning (Richard Hannay #5).

"Begins in the pleasant atmosphere of a country house in the Scottish borders, where Richard Hannay is the guest of his old friend, Sandy Arbuthnot. The drama shifts to a small South American republic in the grip of a dictator. John Buchan is the author of The 39 Steps and Greenmantle."

7. Max Byrd - Fly Away, Jill (Mike Haller #2).

"The London night was damp and foggy, and P.I. Mike Haller asked himself why he'd ever left sunny California. His instincts told him this job was a setup for trouble-he never did like nosing in family troubles, especially the mob's. He didn't trust the old man who'd hired him, but the photo of the runaway bride, all peaches-and-cream pretty, had touched Haller's romantic heart. Too bad he forgot to remember the sickening surge of adrenalin that fear brings...because, out of the fog, came the hard, deadly barrel of a .38. The honeymoon was over."

8. Max Byrd - Finders Weepers (Mike Haller #3).

"Muriel Contreras, a high-priced hooker, is informed by PI Mike Haller that she'd inherited a fortune. Trouble is, someone doesn't want her to live to collect it. If he isn't able to murder Muriel, he'll kill anyone who tries to help her!"

9. John P. Marquand - Stopover: Tokyo (Mr. Moto #6).

"After serving his country as a paratrooper in World War II, Jack Rhyce takes on an even more dangerous mission when he becomes a secret agent in the early years of the Cold War. Now he and fellow spy Ruth Bogart have been dispatched to Tokyo to foil an assassination attempt on a leading liberal politician. Murder is only the first part of this nefarious Communist plot; the ultimate objective is to stir up anti-American sentiment in a country that has formed close bonds with its former adversary in the West.

Undercover as do-gooders employed by the Asia Friendship League, Jack and Ruth are met at the airport by Mr. Moto, a would-be tour guide who offers to make their stay more hospitable. The American spies immediately suspect that there is more to Mr. Moto than meets the eye. But whose side is he on? To stop the cunning mastermind behind the sinister scheme, Jack and Ruth will have to learn the secrets of post-war Japan as quickly as possible. The mysterious Mr. Moto might just be their greatest ally, or their worst enemy."

10. Ian Fleming - The Man with the Golden Gun (James Bond #13).

"A brainwashed James Bond has tried - and failed - to assassinate M, his boss. Now Bond has to prove he is back on form and can be trusted again. All 007 has to do is kill one of the most deadly freelance hit men in the world: Paco "Pistols" Scaramanga, the Man with the Golden Gun. But despite his license to kill, 007 is no assassin, and on finding Scaramanga in the sultry heat of Jamaica, he decides to infiltrate the killer's criminal cooperative - and realizes that he will have to take him out as swiftly as possible. Otherwise 007 might just be the next on a long list of British Secret Service numbers retired by the Man with the Golden Gun..."

11. Ian Fleming - Octopussy and The Living Daylights (James Bond #14).

"Whether it is tracking down a wayward major who has taken a deadly secret with him to the Caribbean or identifying a top Russian agent secretly bidding for a Fabergé egg in a Sotheby’s auction room, Bond always closes the case—with extreme prejudice.

This new Penguin edition comprises four stories, including  Fleming’s little-known story “007 in New York,” showcasing Bond’s taste for Manhattan’s special pleasures—from martinis at the Plaza and dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar to the perfect anonymity of the Central Park Zoo for a secret rendezvous."

12. Deryn Collier - Open Secret (Ben Fortin #2).

"On a fall day in Kootenay Landing, a local man abandons his van at a remote border crossing and disappears into the bush. Hours later and miles away another man, known to be a small-time drug dealer, is shot in the forehead along a popular hiking trail. On the surface, the two incidents seem unrelated. And yet the two men have been best friends since elementary school. As Bern Fortin works alongside police constable Maddie Schilling to connect the two cases, they discover secrets with roots buried deep in the past. Why did Gary Dowd disappear? Who shot Seymour Melnychuk? Why was Dr. Sinclair already on the scene? Who really controls the hills and forests around Kootenay Landing? Amidst the chaos of the case, a reporter shows up, asking disturbing questions about Bern’s military past. Everyone has something to hide, and no one in Kootenay Landing seems willing to talk. But Bern Fortin is well aware that no secret can remain buried forever—not even his own."

Alternate 1 - Guillermo del Toro - The Night Eternal (The Strain #3).

"The stunning New York Times bestselling vampire saga that author Dan Simmons (Drood, The Terror) calls, “an unholy spawn of I Am Legend out of Salem’s Lot,” concludes with The Night Eternal. The magnificent, if monstrously warped brainchild of cinematic horror master Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) and Chuck Hogan—whose novel Prince of Thieves, was praised as, “one of the 10 best books of the year” by Stephen King—The Night Eternal begins where The Strain and The Fall left off: with the last remnants of humankind enslaved by the vampire masters in a world forever shrouded by nuclear winter. Still, a small band of the living fights on in the shadows, in the final book of the ingenious dark fantasy trilogy that Newsweek says is, 'good enough to make us break that vow to swear off vampire stories.'"

Alternate 2 - Philippe Georget - Summertime All The Cats Are Bored (Inspector Sebag #1).

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

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

Alternate 3 - Philippe Georget - Crimes of Winter (Inspector Sebag #3).

"This winter is going to be a rough one for Inspector Gilles Sebag, for he has discovered a terrible truth: Claire has been cheating on him. Bouncing between depression, whisky, and insomnia, he buries himself in work in an attempt to forget. 

But his investigations lead him inexorably to bigger tragedies--a woman murdered in a hotel, a depressed man who throws himself from the roof of his building, another who threatens to blow up the neighborhood--all of them involving betrayals of some sort. Perpignan seems to be suffering from a veritable epidemic of crimes of passion. Adultery is everywhere! And each betrayal leads to another dramatic crime.

Sebag has an uncanny ability to slip into the skin of his suspects and solve apparently unsolvable crimes. Though professionally charmed, he is unlucky in love. He is a perfect protagonist for the town of Perpignan, sleepy and leisurely on the surface, seething with vice and violence underneath."

Alternate 4 - Cornelia Funke - Inkdeath (Inkworld #3).

"Ever since the extraordinary events of Inkspell, when the enchanted book Inkheart drew Meggie and her father, Mo, into its chapters, life in the Inkworld has been more tragic than magical.

The fire-eater Dustfinger is dead, having sacrificed his life for his apprentice Farid’s, and now, under the rule of the evil Adderhead, the fairy-tale land is in bloody chaos, its characters far beyond the control of Fenoglio, their author. Even Elinor, left behind in the real world, believes her family to be lost—lost between the covers of a book.

Facing the threat of eternal winter, Mo inks a dangerous deal with Death itself. There yet remains a faint hope of changing the cursed story—if only he can fill its pages fast enough."

So there you go. See any books that might interest you? In my next posts I'll look at my individual reading challenges.

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