Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Paperback, 138 pages
Published 1982 by Pan Books
(first published 1915)
Source: used book sale

Richard Hannay series (#1)

I thought this would be fun, having seen the Hitchcock film numerous times but it was an utter disappointment. I had to really force myself to finish the book. It followed a chapter by chapter formula of Hannay on the run, meets with character, gets fed, gets new disguise, talks about case, gets sent off to next person who will help him on the way. Next chapter, repeat. Each chapter title even tells you who he is going to meet: The Adventure of the Literary Innkeeper, Radical Candidate, Spectacled Roadman, and so on. It was very tedious reading and I honestly kept forgetting what the plot was each time I picked up the book. Even though it's such a short book I had to take it in small bites. I'm the last person to judge older books by modern sensibilities, but even I found its flippant empirical racial quips hard to swallow including coming from the time it was written. "'I haven't the privilege of your name, Sir, but let me tell you that you're a white man." Anyway, it was boring and I can't see myself ever picking up a book by Buchan again.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Movies/TV/Concerts Watched 2016

This is a running list for the year. The list will include the movie and indicate whether it is a re-watch otherwise, it can be assumed it was my first time watched. My family hardly watches any TV and unlike most families who are trying to cut down on television consumption, we've made a decision to try and watch more than the none we do now to engage the family in spending time together, giving us common interests to talk about and be entertained together. Good times, good fun.

Title (the year)(rewatch?)(owned/rental/library/borrowed/theatre/Netflixed)

and a brief review which could be just one word such as good, great, just OK, whatever. If I feel like expounding on the review I will. No rules here just a list with a bit of extra information. I will also probably note who I watched it with.

January: 0

February: 0

March: 6

1-3. Bates Motel Seasons 1-3 (2013-2015) (streamed) - I went to visit my son and we decided to binge watch something for the duration. Neither of us had heard anything about this show but are big fans of Psycho so watched a couple of episodes and were hooked. Season 1 really sets you up thinking Norman is nice and wondering just where they are going to go with this show. Then Season 2 goes all out freaky and we were sad to have the end of Season 3 come. Season 4 is currently showing on TV but I don't like watching live TV so will watch it come summer when I can binge watch the entire season.

4. Psycho - (1960) (rewatch) (streamed) - the last evening we watched the last 2 episodes of the above nd decided to rewatch "Psycho" since it had been years since either of us had watched it and we wanted to see what things we were not catching in the show and what we were not remembering, etc. This is a classic. I love the filmography and the camera work. Hitchcock is my favourite. Freddy Highmore is doing a wonderful job of capturing Anthony Perkins mannerisms while still making Norman Bates his own. Anyway, great movie.

5. Anger Management - (2003) (streamed) - the three of us sat down and watched this as a family. Dh likes Adam Sandler, he's hit and miss with me but I like Jack Nickolson. 15yo Ds complained about having to spend so much time watching TV with the parents.  Verdict? It was only just ok, a few funny bits but neither I nor dh thought it was particularly funny. Ds ended up engaging more than he had been willing too, so had a good time after all, but don't tell anyone I told you. (shhhhh) Not terrible, but wouldn't recommend it.

6. Shanghai Noon - (2000) (DVD owned) - I'm going through all our DVD's and getting rid of a bunch but will be watching some first. Dh and I sat down to this Kung-fu western and ds ended up joining us. Fun comedy. Would watch the sequel (s?).

April: 1

7. American Horror Story (Season 3: Coven) - (2013) (streamed) - My favourite season so far. Brings back lots of previous actors but adds a bunch of new ones. I loved the witch part best, the voodoo not so much. Loved that I got who all the historical references referred to!Zoe was my fav. character. This was Kathy Bates first season and she was awesome! Watched this by myself and loved it. Next comes Freakshow, the season I heard about that turned me onto this show in the first place.

May: 1

8. Climate Hustle - (2016) (Cineplex, Toronto) Fabulous documentary on the climate change co2 hoax which is really all about economics and wealth distribution.

June: 3

9. Sherlock Season 3 - (2014) (Netflix) - Continues to be an absolutely fantastic show. Ends with a cliffhanger so am hoping for a season 4.

10. Sherlock: The Abominable Bride - (2016) (Netflix) - A Christmas special episode which has Holmes and Watson in the 1890s. It's very different from other episodes. It's a comedy, parodying themselves and the novels, but midway things began to flip from the past to the present and it got pretty intense and funnier. So I ended up really enjoying it. It continues the cliffhanger from Season 3 but only advances the plot a tiny bit.

11. TINY: A Story About Living Small - (2013) (Netflix) - A documentary certainly not riveting but very interesting. I always want to go live in one of these when I see a show, photos, etc. about them.

July: 1

12. American Horror Story (Season 3: Freak Show) - (2014) (streamed) - My least favourite season. It was enjoyable and I watched 3 episodes at a time, but it just wasn't great. I did like that I knew most of the history of the real-life characters they portrayed. That's always one thing I love about this show.  This season I found a bit much for my tastes in that it was very sexually perverted. Not into that. Then it really wasn't very scary or gross. The clown stuff at the beginning was scary but after that nothing else. I liked the cameo bits from actors in the previous seasons (and I mean the ones not cast as major characters). I kept expecting a twist at the very end but it was pretty much a let down ending. So, ok, but not the best. My favourite season so far has been Coven, then Murder House second.

August: 5

13. Bates Motel Season 4 - (2016) (streamed) - This is the penultimate season which starts to catch up with the movie. I think they are going to redo the movie as part of the final season as I heard they had cast an actress to play Marian Crane. Anyway, this was an awesome season. Norman is totally a psychopath now, and I hate him so much. No more sympathy for him ever. The final two episodes I cried! The season finale made me bawl even though I knew what was happening. Can't wait for next season to start and be over so I can binge watch it!

14. The Lady in the Van - (2015) (Netflix) - Wow, I actually watched a movie! A quaint British film based on a true story with Maggie Smith portraying a homeless lady. Good, but not great.

15. Stranger Things Season 1 - (2016) (Netflix) - Wow, wow, wow!  Loved it!!! The first couple of episodes I wasn't getting into it, wondering what all the hype was but by Episode 4 I was hooked and binge watched the whole thing.

16. The Fall Season 2 - (2014) (Netflix) - I watched the first season last year and don't know why I waited so log to finish it. The second season was just as good and I absolutely loved Gillian Anderson's performance in this Irish television series. Season 3 will be airing in the UK this fall (2016). So hopefully next year we'll get it on Netflix.

17. River Season 1 - (2015) (Netflix) - A Netflix original British crime starring a Swedish detective. I loved it! Very dark, sombre and cerebral but I was hooked.The song "I Love to Love" by Tina Craig was featured a lot and I fell in love with it not having heard it before. This was only a six-episode miniseries so was easy to binge watch. I wish American TV would make more mini-series like back in the '80s, I just can't keep interested in these 6,7,8 etc seasons-long shows.

September: 4

18. Hinterland Season 1 - (2014) (Netflix) - I continue on my British crime spree. I liked this a lot, not love, but really liked. It is very dark and very cerebral, so slow at times but I loved the atmosphere. Was also really interesting to see how the police work in Wales as opposed to other UK countries.

19. Marcella Season 1 - (2016) (Netflix) - This is another British police show, a Netflix original. It was a little hard to get into but by the 3rd episode, I was hooked. Watched 4 episodes the first day and the last 4 another day. Really looking forward to the 2nd season.

20. The Do-Over (2016) (Netflix) - Dh and I decided to have a movie night and since we both enjoy Adam Sandler, dh chose this one. OMG! This is probably the raunchiest movie we have ever seen. We were laughing our heads off one minute and almost throwing up at the perverted sex. We screamed "Ewww" as often as we laughed. It really crosses a lot of lines and includes male nudity (very gross at that). Anyway, we laughed and agreed it was about a three out of five.

21. Shetland Season 1 & 2 (2013, 2014) (Netflix) - Continuing on with my British crime kick, I chose this one next because of where it took place. I'm not really familiar with the ShetlandIslands except knowing they were part of Scotland. Anyway a very good serious crime drama with great actors and characters. The crimes aren't gross but they are interesting. Not a continuing arc but each two-part episode is a separate case based on the books by Anne Cleeve.

October: 9

22. Shetland Season 3 (2016) (Netflix) - I enjoyed this a lot better than the first two seasons. Rather than being based on a book the entire season is one big drama and it's very intense.

23. Inspector Morse Series 1 (1987) (Netflix) - I've seen all these episodes but it's been a very long time since I watched the show. Each season is 3 movie-length episodes. I didn't remember who dunnit in any of these three and was thrilled to watch Morse from the beginning. I love how he drinks all the time and comes onto a woman in every episode! The whole thing is so eighties but great fun and holds up well.

24. Murder Maps Season 1 (2015) (Netflix) - Excellent British crime docu-drama focused on sensational crimes in Victorian London. Four episodes and I'd only heard of one (Crippin). Excellent. Will be watching the next season soon!

25.  Inspector Morse Series 2 (1988) (Netflix) - This is really a trip down memory lane. I watched this with my parents when it first aired in Canada. I hated the first episode as it was terribly '80s and had some really bad acting from the lead woman but the others were great.

26. Murder Maps Season 2 (2016) (Netflix) - This was an excellent series. The last episode seems to have wrapped it up and I'll be surprised if there is another season. All the episodes are top-notch but this season the dates range from the 1920s to 1950s so I didn't enjoy it as much as the first season since I loved the Victorian aspect. But still highly recommended.

27.  Inspector Morse Series 3 (1989) (Netflix) - With this season the show becomes more like what I remembered and the characters have grown. Lewis isn't such a teetotaller and Morse is less of a womanizer. Al great episodes. There are 4 movie-length episodes at this point.

28. Happy Valley Season 1 (2014) (Netflix) - A Netflix original and a brilliant British police serial. Set in my neck of the woods, Yorkshire and occasionally Huddersfield, I found this riveting. I'm extremely delighted with the main female lead who I recognised right away as Raquel from "Coronation Street".

29. Happy Valley Season 2 (2016) (Netflix) - Even better than the first season!  I hope it continues.

30. The Sopranos Season 1 (1999) (Amazon Prime) - Nothing better than good old The Sopranos. I've never seen the whole thing, just bits here and there so I'm settling in for the whole shebang. I love James Gandolfini!

November:  21

31. The Sopranos Season 2 (2000) (Amazon Prime) - Love!

32-35. Whitechapel Seasons 1-4 (2009-2010; 2012-2013) (Netflix) - Excellent. Really enjoyed the historical tie-ins within the modern setting. Season 4 wasn't that good as it started getting a paranormal vibe.

36-37. Broadchurch Seasons 1-2 (2013; 2015) (Netflix) - Really enjoyed. The second season ended on a final note and I thought it was finished but I've just found out season 3 will be aired in 2017.

38.  The Sopranos Season 3 (2001) (Amazon Prime) - Getting better and better. I'm starting to talk like the Sopranos now and use their catch phrases. LOL

39. Real Detective Season 1 (2016) (Netflix) - An amazing docudrama where each episode features one detective as he recalls the one case that made the biggest impact on him. I was very surprised at how excellent the show is.

40. Josef Fritzl: Story of a Monster (2010) (Netflix) - An hour-long UK television special which interviews the friend's relatives and victims. Filmed in Austria with lots of subtitles. It is a very impressive production without any of American TV's glitter and sensationalism.

41. Southcliffe (2013) (Netflix) - This is a British mini-series about a man who goes on a random gun rampage in his small town. It is dark and slow, not comparable to the fast pace ofAmerican TV. I really enjoyed it.

42. True Crime (Netflix) - Filmed by a joint New Zealand/Australian company these are 6 movie-length made for TV movies which chronicle real life crimes committed mostly in New Zealand. These were very professionally done and emotionally gripping. Titles shown in this collection are: A Model Daughter, How to Murder Your Wife, Siege, Venus and Mars, Bloodlines and Safe House.

43. Paranoid Season 1 - (2016) (Netflix) - A UK cop series. Very good with some familiar faces. Lots of character stuff along with international intrigue and murder. Good stuff! Hope it makes another season.

44. No Escape (2015) (Netflix) - An action/adventure starring Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan. Not great but ok enough for a mindless chase movie.

45-47. Wallander Season 1-3 (2008, 2010, 2012) Three movie length episodes per season. A UK show set in Sweden, doing the scandi-crime with Kenneth Branagh. Not the best or very exciting but some of the murders are good and after the first season, I became familiar with the characters. I'll watch the next season once it uploads to Netflix for sure.

48. Lost for Life (2013) - Movie length documentary on kids sentenced to life without parol in the United States. Very interesting! Most people they talked to were very sympathetic characters who had gone to prison age 15 or younger who I felt had certainly done the time already. One person hadhis sentence commuted and was back on the street as a successful adult. And one kid had been in for five years and was obviously still delusional about his innocence, while his partner in crime had obviously matured, grieves, and is becoming a fine young man who should have a chance again some day. We may have a terribly lax sentencing system here in Canada ut at least we don't punish children forever for a crime.

49. The Detectives Season 1 (2015) - This was great! Documentary TV with three episodes following a new sexual assault unit in Greater Manchester. Each episode deals with a crime from start to finish plus running through the whole series is the historical case radio dj Ray Teret, a long time friend of Jimmy Saville.

50. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) - Great thriller with a bit of everything starring John Goodman. Each time you figure out what's really going on they throw a twist at you. You never know what's coming next and I loved the outlandish ending!

51. Forensic Files Collection 2 (1996-2016) - 40 random episodes of this fantastic forensics TV docu-drama. Each episode is just under a half-hour making the series great for those times you can't concentrate long enough for a movie or if you want to just watch one more thing before going to bed.


52. Too Young to Die (2012-2015) - 8 hour length documentaries produced in Germany. I really, really liked this because of the international flavour. There are a lot of subtitles during the intrviews and some of the people chosen are too old to have died young but I enjyed them all except one on an obscure Communist Russia entertainer. Others featured such as Natalie Wood, Heath Ledger, Kurt Cobain and Falco.

53. Best Laid Plans (1999) - a decent thriller starring Reese Witherspoon. Not fantastic but an entertaining 90 minutes.

54. Line of Duty Season 1 (2012) - Really enjoyed this UK police procedural show. Features the Anti-Crime unit which is like US Internal Affairs. First time I've ever watched a UK cop show that starred a black man too, which was great. Plenty of black female cops in UK shows but not many male ones.

55. An Idiot Abroad Series 1 (2010) - Absolutely hilarious. I love Karl! He moans and whines and does not like travelling; he reminds myself of me and I always agree with his point of view. The theme of this first series is to send Karl to see the 7 Wonders of the World.

56. The Sopranos Season 4 (2002) - Continues to be an outstanding piece of work. I just knew Tony and Carmella would separate and it's changing my opinion of him. I loved him up to this point.

57. Sacrifice (2016) - This is a made-for-TV British movie and is just like the usual UK crime show only this has a doctor stumbling onto a crime that has paranormal connections. Alternate title could be "Stepford Sons". Ok.

58. Criminal Minds Season 1 (2005) - This is one of my favourite shows ever. I watched it religiously when it started by after Mandy Patinkin left I just watched episodes here and there whenever I happened to catch them on TV. This is great fun watching from the beginning! I just love the character of Gideon. These original cast episodes are fantastic! For some reason I was surprised to see that JJ had been in it from the beginning, I seem to have thought she'd come in a bit later, but no.

59. Thorne: Sleepyhead, Series 1 (2010) - This is a UK Crime show shown in three movie-length episodes. I really, really thought this was great. Just loved the case they were working.

60. Thorne: Scardeycat, Series 2 (2010) - same as season one but not as good. I loved the characters but the actual case was a bit boring at times. I'd certainly watch another, though, if ever made.

61. Criminal Minds Season 2 (2006) - Another fantastic season with the original cast. I was very surprised that Elle left this early. It felt like she had been in it longer. I missed her character but really like the addition of Emily Prentiss as her replacement. She's a relly good character.

62. Criminal Minds Season 3 (2007) - Major character switches but stilla fantastic season of stories. Gideon leaves with the first episode.I amshocked he really left this early.I still consider him the best characteran the episodes fromthe last seasons to be classics. David Rossi joins the team replacing Gideon and I have to say I still hate him.This is where I left off watching the show regularly when it originally aired.Rossi taints the episodes this season for me but I still love the show and Spencer Reed is by far my favourite character.

64. An Idiot Abroad S2 (2012) - This season is even better than the first! ThistimeKarl ispicking things todofrom thealist of top 100 things found on most people'sbucket list. This not Karl'slist and he starts off not wanting to doanything on it.But he has to and sothecomedy starts.I loveKarl;he has the sameattitude as Idoabout travel and why peopledostupid things such as bungee jumping. Ienjoyed every episode of thisshowand it reinforces my desire to never travel anywhere except by armchair.

65. An Interview with a Killer (2008) - I found thison Netflix and it is a British documentary based on an interview with the hideous Arthur Shawcross.I already knew his crimesand story so foundnothing new but it isalways chilling to listen to a serial killer talk. Being a British presentation it was unpretentious and not sensationalistic likesuch American shows. If you are into this kindofthing it is a decent 45 minutesof time. Nothing special but worth watching.

66. Criminal Minds Season 4 (2008) - Another great season and I 've come to terms with Rossi's character by the end of this season though my favourite characters are Dr. Reed then Garcia.

67. Hoarders Season 1 (2009) - I don't get A&E so have never seen this show before.I love it! The first season has only about 8 episodes sois very short compared to the rest. I personally know a hoarder and feel that if my life ever went through a major crisis where I lost my network of loved ones I could possibly get like this myself. Compared to these people I'm hoarder hobbyist.

68. Sopranos Season 5
69. Inspector Morse S4
70. Criminal Minds Season 5
71. Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour
72. Most Evil Season 1

I add to this page all year but never update the feed so bookmark it if you are interested in following.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz & In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

I've been on vacation for the past week visiting my son in Kitchener/Waterloo. Managed to get lots of reading done while he was at work but not up to writing reviews so will be putting together one post of (mostly) mini-reviews to both of my blogs.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Simon & Schuster

I loved this fast-paced thriller. A page-turner and a quick read kept me glued to the pages. I just thought the wrap-up was less than shocking but I certainly enjoyed the ride!

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 365 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Crown

I honestly don't have much to say about this book. I found it readable but not all that exciting. My exact same opinion as I had for the only other book I've read by Larson, "Dead Wake", is that it was not hard to read but it wasn't hard to put down either. Again, I found the book much more political and militaristic than my tastes lie. I'm more interested in social history and the lives of people. Since this book is mostly about William Dodd and his daughter Martha I was disappointed that they never fully came alive on the page. It's an interesting story which I hadn't known about before and I'm a lot wiser now as to why the US was so late to join WWII and it's early attitude towards Hitler. I'm glad to have read the book but it certainly was not a page-turner.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson

Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 9th 2016 by Hogarth
Source: received a review copy from Penguin Random House Canada

Hogarth Shakespeare (#2)

This is the type of book that requires a critical essay rather than a review, but that's not what I do; so some thoughts on how I found the book so readers can determine if it will be for them. I re-read "The Merchant of Venice" before reading this book and highly recommend you be quite familiar with the play or there's not much point in reading Jacobson's retelling. This is a short novel, but not a page turner as it is very heavy and literary. However, I did enjoy it very much; finding myself eager to pick it up each time. The story is also full of satire and black humour which lightens the primary dark theme of antisemitism. There are two storylines running concurrently one involving the Jew Strulovich (Shylock) and his daughter who is running around with a Christian, the second concentrates on Plurabelle (Portia) and her androgynous best friend D'Anton (Antonio). I fell in love with the Plurabelle/D'Anton story right away and found that the best part! But eventually, the two stories do merge into one. There is a magical realism to the story as Shylock the literary character from the original play is also a character in the story and it's up to the reader to decide for themselves just how he fits in. Shylock spends most of his time analyzing his character's past action and behaviour while counseling Strulovich on the nature of being Jewish. I found it amazing how many plot elements Jacobson actually included in his book from the play. I'm actually not a fan of this play and enjoyed the novel much more. Shylock becomes a sympathetic character while Strulovich isn't exactly likable but he is relatable to and it was quite meaningful to have Shylock speak Portia's mercy speech at the garden party. This is definitely a thinker's book and intended for readers' who know the play. I did guess what the pound of flesh was going to be quite early but the way it all turned out at the end was quite clever and satisfying!

The Merchant of Venice (No Fear Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice (No Fear Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare; edited by John Crowther
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 3rd 2003 by SparkNotes
first published 1596
Source: local library

No Fear Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice isn't new to me. I read the original in Gr. 9 English class, I've seen the play performed at Stratford, I studied the play with my son when we homeschooled for his Gr. 9 year, and I've watched a filmed British production. Plus I've read several children's retellings and graphic novel adaptations. I chose to read the original again though because the next book I'll be reading is Howard Jacobson's latest novel, "Shylock is My Name", a modern retelling of the play. I really enjoy these "No Fear Shakespeare" volumes from SparksNotes which have the original play on the left and a modern English translation on the right with annotations. I read the modern translation as I'm not fond of reading Shakespeare in the original middle English; I've read about a dozen plays and feel like I've done my time. Any Shakespeare reading I do now will always be modern translations like this where I can look at the original if I feel the need.

I don't particularly like "The Merchant". It's a nasty story with no likable characters. Everyone is selfish and mean. I also do not like any of Shakespeare's plays that have plots that involve men and women dressing up as the opposite sex to pull pranks on their lovers for stupid reasons and nobody recognizes them. I find these plots absurd. I hate the Portia and the three caskets storyline. There is a lot of bantering going on during this play and I take it that it's considered as one of Shakespeare's romantic comedies though it is rather uncomfortable to find it funny what with the racism and general meanness of everyone concerned. Shylock has sympathetic moments, he's lived a life of racial abuse (for being a Jew) and he has his famous speech "If you prick us do we not bleed", (which I actually did take time to read the original text) but he doesn't do himself any favours since he's downright nasty to everyone including his daughter. But then every single other person in the story is just as nasty with no redeemable moment including his daughter who elopes with a Christian but first steals a lot of precious jewels from him including ones with sentimental value. So, yeah, no love for this play. I am looking forward to Jacobson's novel though as it is going to focus on Shylock and his daughter's part of the plot in a modern setting.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Far From True by Linwood Barclay

Far From True by Linwood Barclay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 480 pages
Published March 8th 2016 by Doubleday Canada
Source: egalley via netgalley

Promise Falls Trilogy: (#2)

I enjoyed this a lot more than the first book because now I'm aware going in that we are in the midst of a trilogy :-) And as such there is still no answer to the big mystery which started in the first book. We become a little wiser, but there are more questions than answers and during the overall plot there are some mini-arcs going on at the same time which do get resolved. One thing that I didn't really "get" with the first book because it frustrated me so much, and because I read Barclay's earlier books when they were first published which is quite some time ago, is what the author is actually doing with this series! The Promise Falls Trilogy is populated with characters from his previous books! When I started to think about this and pay attention to it, I became way more interested in who these characters actually were because I remembered their pasts that kept being referenced! The three books the main characters are taken from are: Too Close to Home, Never Look Away and A Tap on the Window.

There is a *lot* going on in this book. Barclay has to spend a good amount of time backtracking, like in any trilogy, reminding us what happened in the previous book. I sometimes find that annoying (especially in fantasies) but in a mystery this intricate it was essential for me! I haven't got a clue who the ultimate villain is going to be as everybody I've put my money on so far has ended up dead. So all bets are off as far as I'm concerned and I can't wait for the last book to see how Barclay ties all these loose ends together!

Monday, March 7, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #9

This meme is held over on Book Date's blog and here we talk about what we are Currently Reading, What we read/posted the last week and what we plan on reading next week. I won't be posting what's coming up; you can get an idea by looking in my sidebars.

What I am Currently Reading:


I'm currently reading the play in "plain English" because the next book I'm reading is a modern retelling of the play. I've read "The Merchant of Venice" in the original before and seen it performed at Stratford, plus seen a televised British production of it also but I wanted to refresh my memory before reading the new book.


Still working on this title. The politics have been set up and the Ambassador has got his job so I'm just getting into the start of the "good" stuff.

Graphic Novel/Manga:

Love me some Batman!

 I always have a short story collection going as I read one short story every morning with my cup of coffee. I have put that aside for Lent though and am reading one chapter from The Holy Bible for the remainder of these 40 days.  I have to say I'm really missing my short story at this point!  It's become such a part of my daily routine; only 18 more days of Lent to go.  

What I Finished Reading and/or Posted This Week

Graphic Novels/Manga

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Triptych: A Mystery by Margit Liesche

Triptych by Margit Liesche
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 254 pages
Published September 29th 2013 by Poisoned Pen Press
Source: egalley via netgalley

This is a small unassuming book that packed a huge wallop. The title "Triptych: A Mystery" and the photoshop cover don't really do justice to what I found sprung emotionally upon me from amongst its pages. An overpowering, heartfelt story on a theme I am deeply interested in. The escape and survival of victims of communism the world over but especially from the cold war. I had not ever read about Hungary's "liberation" by the Soviets but have read extensively about Poland's fight for freedom from their Soviet "liberators". Heart-wrenching stuff and Hungary's tale is no less brutal. Imagine waiting for the Nazi's to leave your country and to be freed and liberated from the Fascist rule, concentration camps, etc. only to have the Communist Soviets come in behind them to enslave you, send you to work farms, teach your children to spy on you, etc. 1956 was the year Hungary choose to fight back, it lasted 3 weeks and thousands of Hungarians died on both sides before the Soviets took back control and the freedom fighters paid the ultimate price.

This story goes back and forth in time from the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 to 1986 in which a daughter from the present Cold War time goes back to Hungary to find out what happened to her mother's twin sister who disappeared shortly after the Uprising when she was arrested at night and never seen again. The characters are wonderful and the pacing switching from the past to the present is seamless. Telling the history of the Uprising through remembrances and as it happens. Mostly the book is historical fiction, but around the 65% mark a murder happens and the pacing changes to that more suited to a mystery and the daughter, Ildiko, goes on a chase to track down the murderer. I must say my reading speed increased suitably to the pace. This part wasn't difficult to figure out as the whole story had been leading in a direction that made me feel something was going to happen. It was a very satisfying read, on a topic I'm thrilled to have learned more about, well-written, with great characters and a tightly woven plot, plus a tiny bit of a fun romance in there too. I'd recommend it more for the historical aspect than the mystery but the two do go together well.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Russell Williams: The True Crime Case of the Canadian Air Force Colonel Serial Killer by Tyler Crane

Russell Williams: The True Crime Case of the Canadian Air Force Colonel Serial Killer by Tyler Crane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kindle Edition, 74 pages
Published November 5th 2015
Source: Kindle Freebie

A short but well-written, detailed walkthrough of the shocking Russell Williams serial rapist turned killer case. This was a truly staggering crime for Canada when it came to light that such a long-term, decorated career military man could live a double life as a deadly degenerate, the country was astounded. Crane has put the case together chronologically starting with who Crane was and his sudden flip to the dark side. Crane writes well, though not in a narrative style but more journalistic. Factually he's presenting no more information than one could find scouring all the newspapers but here it's put together in a natural cohesive order with asides from Crane. The author wonders about Williams and the victims and through telling the facts of the crimes he shows great respect for the victims and families by not adding anything gratuitous or more than is needed to show William's true cold-blooded monstrosity. I haven't read anything else on Williams except the news at the time but it's an interesting case for two reasons: Williams seems to be atypical waking up one day in his forties to start upon the path to becoming a serial killer and secondly he's the first Canadian military member to be stripped of his rank, his name fully removed from historical records, had his uniforms burned and medals cut up. A good introduction to the case!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Orleans Noir: The Classics edited by Julie Smith

New Orleans Noir: The Classics edited by Julie Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paperback, 300 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Akashic Books
Source: egalley via edelweiss

Akashic Noir Anthologies

I've long wanted to read one of Akashic's Noir anthologies and was pleased to have my first tour a sampling of southern fiction set in New Orleans. Each story here is set in the city and this being the second collection to be set here has been given a secondary theme of "classics". The stories are presented chronologically from 1843 up through to fairly modern offerings. The definition of "noir" is broad. This can mean classic private eye, gothic, dark, menacing and generally involve murder, but one thing they all have in common is ominous troubled endings. There were a couple of stories that missed the mark with me but generally the rest were good to excellent. I certainly look forward to reading other's in this publisher's series.

1. A Marriage of Conscience by Armand Lanusse (1843) - This first story is noir in the sense that it is dark but otherwise is more fairly termed as Gothic. A melodramatic piece of a pure-hearted young woman who finally gives her heart to a man who does her wrong once he has her. She cannot stand the disgrace afterward and publicly involves him in her own suicide. I loved the despair. (3/5)

2. The Little Convent Girl by Grace King (1893) - This is sad and morose with a final depressing ending. After the death of her father, the little girl who has been raised in a convent travels on a Mississippi steamer to Connecticut to meet her mother for the very first time. One needs to take some time to ponder what may have caused the tragic ending. (4/5)

3. The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin (1894) - A selfish woman gets her just deserts. (3/5)

4. Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking by O. Henry (1899) - This is the last story in part one and the closest to an actual noir in the sense that it has a crime though it is a happy story and a Christmas story to boot. A hobo meets some unexpected adversity one day, but along the way also meets unexpected kindness. He ends up with some friends who want to pull off a robbery but he's not that sort. He saves the day but in the end, chooses freedom over luxury. Pleasant story but I'm not really big on O. Henry. (3/5)

Part Two skips almost forty years in time to the era when noir is more what we can expect it to be.

5. The Purple Hat by Eudora Welty (1941) - A tale told at a bar by a man in the know to a bartender but is he perhaps really telling the story to the young man sitting alone at the other end of the bar. It's the story of an exotic older gambling woman, a seductress, who always plays and wins at the saloon the man works in. She's been murdered twice and wears an enigmatic purple hat. (4/5)

6. Desire and the Black Masseur by Tennessee Williams (1948) - I have no idea what to make of this; written in the US in 1948 the racial element must mean something as must the blasphemy. However, to me, it reads as a disgusting BDSM story of a cannibalistic serial killer, quite repugnant. I don't know how to rate it. I haven't read enough Williams to know whether this is typical of him. The theme was sickening, the writing was good. (3/5)

7. Miss Yellow Eyes by Shirley Ann Grau (1955) - Whoa. Heavy duty. An epic family story set during WWII of an African-American family and issues they face within their own community such as a couple who plan to move north and pass as white after the war is over. A powerful story that gets more intense as it goes along, reaching a point where things take a downward turn until the tragic ending. This is the longest story in the collection so far. Powerful. (5/5)

8. Pleadings by John William (1976) - A novella divided into parts or chapters, even longer than the previous piece and is quite different than the others as we have twenty-year gap chronologically in writing. Several themes are covered here but first we have a lawyer story one who becomes involved not so much in a case but in some people's "troubles" because they are brought to him as being friends of someone he knows. A domestic case where the man is seeking divorce, making up allegations, because he cannot deal any longer with their "vegetative" son in a home for the "feebleminded" since birth. This is a dark story and hard to read, practically every derogatory word imaginable (from the era this story was written) for the mentally ill is used from the beginning and gets worse as the lawyer actually takes a tour of the asylum. The father and the lawyer refer to these patients, not as he or she but "it". Though this takes a strong stomach, it suits the story as "Pleadings" is ultimately a tale of reconciliation, and a purging of sin through fire, a suitable redemptive ending, though not happy in the typical sense of the word. Powerful, well-written. (5/5)

9. Ritual Murder by Tom Dent (1978) - I've never heard of this author but this is the most powerful story I've yet read here. And it's not actually a story but a play; it's been a very long time since I've read a play (excepting Shakespeare) and the effect is moving. This is a story of black on black violence in the '70s but is a hard-hitting and gut-wrenchingly realistic read today to see how much things stay the same even though they change. A frank and potent play which would be chilling to see performed live. (5/5)

10. Rich by Ellen Gilchrist (1978)- The first story in part three is written in the same year as the last story and even after a string of 5-star stories is my favourite one so far. A true blue Southern Gothic about a seemingly wonderful well-off southern family. Life isn't perfect, but they go with the flow, have common sense and make the most of everything seeming to have the best of everything. But, being faithfully Catholic, they know everyone has a cross to bear and they bear theirs well. It wears them down eventually, nevertheless, until tragedy strikes and one of them breaks so hard he goes beyond the point of no return. Gloriously gloomy. Loved it! (5/5)

11. Spats by Valerie Martin (1988) - The story of a woman whose husband leaves her for another woman, but worst of all he leaves his beloved dogs behind because they aren't allowed at the new lover's home. I didn't connect with this. The woman moaned about being alone and one of the dogs was viscous, so she took revenge on her husband. I had no feelings for any of the characters, including the dogs. (2/5)

12. The Man With Moon Hands by O'Neil De Noux (1993) - This is short and strange. A cop meets up with two weirdos with guns and shoots one but not the other, who turns out to be a nutcase who thinks he has moon hands and waits every night with a bag packed for his ride to Alpha Six. The cop ends up watching him for a few years, then gets transferred to homicide, Now three years later he's called to a self-defense shooting by a cop. Didn't seem to have a point. (2/5)

13. Rose by John Biguenet (1999) - Very short. After his wife's funeral, a man discovers to what length she had gone to remember their little boy who had been killed in an accident when he was young. (3/5)

14. Mussolini and the Axeman's Jazz by Poppy Z. Brite (1995) - Duke Ferdinand was not really killed by the assassin charged with his murder, in fact, it was a three-hundred-year-old Italian mage. Ferdinand's spirit come's back, inhabit's a drunken ex-cop's body and seek's out the mage in the 1919's before he can go on to an imminent future and another World War and become another Italian terror. In the meantime, the Ferdinand embodied cop becomes known as the New Orlean's Axeman. Pretty strange, but I liked it! (4/5)

15. GDMFSOB by Nevada Barr (2006) - A woman plots to murder her husband and he just won't die, but what he finally dies of is hilarious. Loved it! Well-written. (5/5)

16. Jesus Out to Sea by James Lee Burke (2006) - A group of guys are experiencing a very bad hurricane (Katrina I'm supposing) and they end up floating along with a Jesus statue. Atmospheric. (4/5)

17. Last Fair Deal Gone Down by Ace Atkins (2010) - Good ole New Orleans blues and jazz scene murder mystery. A detecting sax player gets caught up in the seamier side of life while solving the death of a beloved local sax player. This is totally my type of story. (5/5)

18. Pie Man by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (2012) - This has a very abrupt ending; I had to check and make sure I hadn't skipped a page. Plus I'm not sure why it's called Pie Man as he's only a peripheral character. However, this is quite an intense story of race violence set a few years after Hurricane Katrina. The story labels it as "brown-on-black" violence and we see a neighbourhood under attack by its youth because of an instance of robbery gone wrong. Baby, a fourteen-year-old is the main character and narrator but we see the situation from most sides except the shooter's, a Latino carpenter, who was robbed. Baby is quite mature in this situation, though, having been close friends with Sanchez, he can at times see his point of view, but, in the end, becomes a victim of his gang pride and peer pressure. A riveting read and well-placed story to end the collection with. (5/5)