Jump to content
  • Announcements

    • Hayley

      Signing Up   11/06/2018

      Signing Up is once again available. New members are very welcome
    • Hayley

      January Supporter Giveaway   01/16/2019

        I'm thrilled to (finally, sorry for the delay!) announce the January giveaway, with a Sherlock Holmes theme! Supporters can win a beautiful little hardback edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as a stylish a5 print by www.thestorygift.co.uk/, featuring some witty advice from the great detective.     As always, if you support on patreon or if you supported before patreon (and did so less than twelve months ago), you'll be entered into the giveaway automatically. If you're not a supporter but want to take part, you can support for this month here: https://www.patreon.com/bookclubforum .   The winner will be selected at random on January 31st. Good luck!  
Brian.

Brian's Book Log - Ongoing

Recommended Posts

I bought Touching The Void the other day, as it's only £0.99 on Kindle. Glad to hear you enjoyed it; I look forward to reading it. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Artemis by Andy Weir

36426750.jpg
Synopsis
Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of Jazz's problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself - and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even more unlikely than the first.

(taken from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

I picked this up at my local Waterstones a few weeks ago based entirely on the fact that I enjoyed the movie of The Martian. I never got round to reading it but I enjoyed the movie and the few people I know personally who read told me they enjoyed the book. Weir has developed a reputation as a Sci-Fi writer who likes scientific detail in his settings. This is something I can get onboard with as it generally means the writer has put a lot of thought and research into the nuts and bolts to underpin the book.

 

Our main character is Jazz Bashara, a porter at the Artemis import dock with a sideline in smuggling things in that shouldn't really be in Artemis. She is meant to be complex character who is vastly intelligent but decides to embrace criminality rather than honest work. She is somewhat estranged from her father who is an honest, hard working welder considered to be the best in Artemis. Her father is a devout Muslim, a religion which Jazz chooses not to follow. This becomes one of the main sticking issues with me. Jazz is of Arabic descent, Artemis is, by some form of political reasoning part of Kenya and is essentially a Kenyan outpost. Many of the characters in the story are from countries other than America but yet everyone and everything feels decidedly American.  I would have no issue with it feeling American if it were consistent with the background of the people who are in, and have made Artemis what it is. It all feels tacked on, as if Weir is trying to say something, but that message never comes.

 

Other topics are mentioned such as homophobia, protectionist unionisation, and organised crime but never really explored and are just left hanging. This left me feeling like it was a wasted opportunity and almost as if Weir couldn't make his mind up what topic to explore so he threw them all into the mix and never dug into any of them. The thing that links all the people together is a heist that Jazz is paid to carry out but inevitably goes wrong. The heist is ok, it kept my interest well enough but it wasn't enough to redeem the other faults in the book. The scientific detail was fine with me. I know some reviews have found it over the top and while some of it undoubtedly could have been left out I didn't find it obtrusive. At the end of most chapters there are snippets of email exchanges between Jazz and a boy in Kenya called Kelvin which start when they are both 9 years old. As far as I can tell there is no purpose for these at all except to allow Jazz access to someone on Earth who can eventually help her smuggle and sort her out with a fake ID. Again, this feels very tacked on.

 

Ultimately I found the book to be a big disappointment . The setting sounds intriguing but is left undeveloped and I just didn't care for any of the characters at all. If Weir had settled on one or two social issues to explore this could have been a much better book. There was fast paced enough to keep me reading but had it been longer I think I would have abandoned it. My lasting impression is that this felt like poor YA fiction and it could have been so much more. 1 star is too harsh but 2 feels generous.

 

2/5 (It was OK).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a shame Artemis was not a great read for you. I've heard from some people I follow, that they didn't really like it much. Others though did enjoy the book. I really liked reading your review :) .I really loved The Martian, both the book and the film. I've been unsure about whether to purchase Artemis, its premise doesn't hugely appeal to me but I loved The Martian. I guess I'll be giving it a miss, with it having got several mediocre reviews from you and a couple of others.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

XPD by Len Deighton

880282.jpg
Synopsis
June 11, 1940 – where is Winston Churchill?

A private aircraft takes off from a small town in central France, while Adolf Hitler, the would-be conqueror of Europe, prepares for a clandestine meeting near the Belgian border.

For more than forty years the events of this day have been Britain’s most closely guarded secret. Anyone who learns of them must die - with their file stamped:

XPD - expedient demise

(taken from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

I love the cover art on these older editions of Len Deighton books. I can't quite put my finger on why but I think it probably has something to do with the fact that they age the book into the time period it is set. Anyway, I have read a few of Deighton's books in the past, namely Berlin Game, Mexico Set, Funeral in Berlin and The Ipcress File. On the whole I enjoyed all of them and they are one of the reasons I have developed a love for spy fiction. XPD is a little different in that it is one of a collection of unrelated books Deighton wrote around World War II.

 

This book started really slowly for me and for a while I started to seriously consider putting it aside for another time. I didn't really care for the main characters and not much seemed to be going on. A large part of the story revolves around a movie documentary being made about Nazi gold and files stolen from it's hiding place in a mine at the end of the war. The aspect of this being stolen was interesting but I wasn't sure about the movie angle. It works perfectly to tie all the different plot strands together but I still found it a little problematic. Another issue early on was the sheer amount of characters. I found myself flicking back and forward a few times to try and remember certain character's roles.

 

Despite these issues, after about 120 pages it all started to come together and I started to enjoy it. The tension builds really slowly but when it comes to a head the pay off is worth the effort. Like the best books set during World War II it borrows actual events and uses these are a solid foundation.

 

I liked it and I look forward to reading more Deighton in the future

 

3/5 (I liked it).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I also finished another book at work last night, Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor. I won't be giving it a proper review as it was an audio book. I always struggle a bit with audio books and I don't want to give it an unfair review.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

39337369.jpg


Synopsis
Based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—a love story in the midst of atrocity.

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

(taken from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

In my frequent browsing of the shelves in my local Waterstones I had noticed this a few times, mainly because of it's cover. Even though I do find books based around war interesting I never got to the point of picking it up and reading the blurb on the back for some reason. Then one day at work I got a little bored and decided to listen to a podcast while carrying out some admin tasks. The podcast was Simon Mayo's Books of the Year and one of the guests was the author of this book, Heather Morris. The interview really piqued my interest as I had no idea that he book is based on a series of interviews with someone who had spent time in Auschwitz. After hearing the interview I decided I had to read the book, especially as it was getting rave reviews

 

The story is a fascinating one, starting with the main character Lale as a young man. The war is going on but is in it's early days and although rumours have been circulating about the Nazis controlling Jews no one in his home country of Hungary seems to be overly concerned. A notice is sent out that every family is to send someone to work for the Nazis as part of the war effort. Lale sees no major danger about this and tells his family that he will go as he doesn't want to see his siblings being sent. Although he doesn't know it at the time this is the start of his journey to Auschwitz, a journey which will change his life forever.

 

There are 2 stories here, one is a story of survival and the other a love story. The story of survival is pretty self explanatory but does take a few interesting looks into survivors guilt and the limits of acceptable actions related to that survival. The love story adds a really human element to the story and involves Lale and another prisoner, Gita. Their love grows understandably slowly due to the constraints of camp life.

 

I can't really go into any more details without spoiling the story so I will stop here. I really enjoyed the book and pretty much read it in one sitting which is somewhat unusual for me. My only criticism is that I wish the writing was a little better. It's not bad, in fact it's perfectly fine but I think the story would have been even better with a slightly more literary touch. Perhaps a bit harsh on my part but I can only write what I feel.

 

4/5 (I really liked it).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin

39676035.jpg


Synopsis
Jolted from sleep by the ringing of the telephone, Imogen stumbles through the dark, empty house to answer it. At first, she can't quite understand the man on the other end of the line. Surely he can't honestly be accusing her of killing her husband, Ivor, who died in a car crash barely two months ago.

As the nights draw in, Imogen finds her home filling up with unexpected Christmas guests, who may be looking for more than simple festive cheer. Has someone been rifling through Ivor's papers? Who left the half-drunk whiskey bottle beside his favourite chair? And why won't that man stop phoning, insisting he can prove Imogen's guilt?

(taken from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

Having recently read A Christmas Carol I felt like I wanted to read something else with a Christmas theme but didn't really know what. I saw this in my local bookshop and decided to give it a go as it is billed as A Christmas story with a difference. Sounded good to me as I wasn't really after something too cliched and at 250 pages it wouldn't be too long if it was dragging a bit.

 

The book starts with our main character, Imogen, at a party and we find out that her husband has recently died. At this point we don't know the circumstances of his death but we do know that Imogen thinks she should be feeling different emotions than those she is actually experiencing. Shortly thereafter members of the family start moving into Imogen's home and she doesn't have the heart to tell them they can't stay. Eventually the house starts to feel like it isn't hers anymore and that she is merely an imposition on the others.

 

At the same time she gets a phone call telling her that the voice knows she killed her husband. Strange goings on also start to occur when her deceased husband's things begin to appear in places where they shouldn't be. Is her husband still alive? Is someone out to get her?  Is the ghost of her husband  haunting the house? Or, is there some other plot afoot?

 

I quite liked the book and some of the twists kept me on my toes. However, the conclusion felt like a bit of a let down and an easy way out of the complicated plot built so far. I definitely wouldn't call this a Christmas book as there is very little mention of it at all. All said and done I liked it and there was enough in it to keep me entertained throughout.

 

3/5 (I liked it).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Stoner by John Williams

15790264.jpg


Synopsis
William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father's farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely.
(taken from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

Before I bought a copy of this I had no idea what it was about but I kept seeing it pop up in various bookish places. A bit of research shows that it was originally written in 1965, reissued in 2003 by Vintage, and then again in 2006 by New York Review Books Classics. It was Waterstones' book of the year in 2012 and that has really boosted its readership in the UK since then. By nature I am quite a sceptical person when something suddenly gains a lot of popularity. When this is related to books I often go into reading them thinking that I probably won't like it. I have no idea why this is and I readily accept it's a stupid mindset to hold but that's me, warts and all.

 

The book spans the life of William Stoner, from working on his parent's farm as a young man up until his death as an old man. Throughout the book many misfortunes befall him and he faces each one with his characteristic stoic reserve. Of course, along the way he finds some happiness, particularly his daughter Grace and a love affair with a younger woman. He also experiences joy in teaching subjects he loves at the university and often finds himself lost in passionate discussion with his students about literature and poetry. However, none of these periods of happiness last and Stoner just seems to accept it and get on with life. All the characters in the book seem to let life happen to them instead of going out and trying to seize it a wring some enjoyment out of it. But despite all this the book doesn't ever come across as morose.

 

The writing is sparse and to the point, so much so that for the first 80 or so pages I wondered why people seemed to love the book. I still can't put into words how it happens but the writing slowly seeped into me with it's simple elegance. I kept wanting Stoner to catch a break but when things inevitably went awry I was left thinking 'maybe this will finally break him' and yet it never does. As he ages he has some minor victories but at what cost? Had he not taken such a principled stance early in his career and played the political game he probably would have been in a better position but that is not Stoner. Had he accepted he married the wrong woman and got a divorce things may have turned out better but again, this is not who Stoner is.

 

This book is beautiful and when I finished it I was left thinking to myself 'this is why I love books'. It instantly earned it's place on my 'forever' shelf. It is the best book I have read this year, and one I will be revisiting many times in the future.

 

5/5 (I loved it).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Brian. said:

Stoner by John Williams

5/5 (I loved it).

 

It's on my shelves, is one of my Tour of the US challenge books (the book for Missouri), and has  just been moved rapidly up my TBR list!!  As ever, a very interesting review; thank you Brian - it's always good to read about a book that someone has really enjoyed and know exactly why.

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, Brian. said:

Stoner by John Williams

15790264.jpg


x

 

Excellent review - you've mentioned all of the reasons why I love this novel as well. It's difficult to explain to people why this book is so good when the plot sounds so 'simple' but this book has stayed with me even months later.

 

Glad you enjoyed the book just as much as I did. :) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 hours ago, Brian. said:

Stoner by John Williams

An excellent review, Brian.  Not a book I've heard of, but will put in on my list of books to read, as it sounds just the sort of thing I really enjoy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the kind words everyone, it makes the effort in posting my thoughts worthwhile.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

2 mini reviews to close out my reading for 2018.

 

Playing with Fire - Tess Gerritsen

I decided to read another of Gerritsen's standalone books after really enjoying Gravity earlier in the year. Its historical fiction thriller based around a piece of music that a character finds in an antique shop in Venice. Every since finding and playing this piece of music bad things seem to be happening to Julia, are the things linked? The historic element in the book taught me a few things I didn't know about the Italian part of the holocaust and overall I enjoyed this one. 4/5

 

Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike - William Fotheringham

A biography of the cycling superstar, Eddy Merckx, someone who many cycling fans believe is the best of all time. For some reason this just didn't do it for me. The content is very well researched and I am very interested in the subject matter but it just didn't flow into an enjoyable read. In many ways it reminded me of the worst kind of books about military battles, loads of stats and info but missing the heart. 2/5

 

 

2018 was my most productive reading year both in terms of books and pages read. Highlights for me were finishing the Wallander series by Henning Mankell, reading War and Peace, and discovering authors I can't wait to read more of. Of course the other huge highlight the resurrection of this forum and the lovely people it attracts.

 

My plans for 2019? Well I will have a target of books to read but the number will be small, probably in the region of 30. I want to focus on quality and not just quantity and finally read stuff like Moby Dick, Jane Austen, and James Joyce. I also want to  re-read a few favourites in particular Crime & Punishment.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Really intrigued about Stoner now, I'm also adding it to my list! Playing with Fire sounds really good as well so that's going on the list too :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As usual I donated my read books to the local charity bookshop and came away with some replacements to read. I got very lucky and managed to get Folio Society editions of Huckleberry Finn and Dickens' London for less than £6. I also received my prize books from BCF/Secret Book Club UK. I haven't unwrapped them yet as I want to take a few photos to post on the forums.

 

I just finished my first book of the year Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar so I will be posting up a review shortly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow! What charity shop did you go to? Dickens' London is one of Folio Society books I'd really like to get. I found one for £10 once but it was missing the slipcase so I decided against it.

 

I'm really looking forward to seeing what you got in your book box! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, Hayley said:

Wow! What charity shop did you go to? Dickens' London is one of Folio Society books I'd really like to get. I found one for £10 once but it was missing the slipcase so I decided against it.

 

I'm really looking forward to seeing what you got in your book box! 

 

The shop is an Oxfam bookshop and sadly it's the last of the charity bookshops surviving in my town. Years ago we had a Mercy in Action bookshop which was superb in terms of both range and price but the council wanted the shop back so it had to close. It's stood empty ever since which makes it even more annoying. We also had a good Salvation Army bookshop up until recently but again the landlord wanted the property back.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That is very annoying, to close down a shop that was both useful and doing something good, just for it to be yet another empty building. I've found that Oxfam bookshops do tend to have a good selection though, and a lot of them have antique books which is nice. I used to have one near me but it closed down very quickly, unfortunately. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I won the monthly prize for being a supporter of the site and have waited until today to open it so that I can post a few pictures. The prize was a package from Secret Bookclub UK and I chose the Crime & Thriller package. I haven't read either book or author before so I'm really looking forward to getting round to reading them.

 

 

red1.jpg

red0.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar

20706708.jpg
 

Synopsis
What happened that night on Dead Mountain?The mystery of Dead Mountain: In February 1959, a group of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains died mysteriously on an elevation known as Dead Mountain. Eerie aspects of the incident—unexplained violent injuries, signs that they cut open and fled the tent without proper clothing or shoes, a strange final photograph taken by one of the hikers, and elevated levels of radiation found on some of their clothes—have led to decades of speculation over what really happened.
(taken from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

I found this book whilst flicking through recommendations on Amazon because I had bought Touching the Void recently. I read the synopsis and knew that I just had to read it as the mystery really grabbed my attention. I had never heard of it before and I was unfamiliar with the mountain pass that they were traveling through when tragedy struck the group.

 

There isn't much to add without spoiling the book which makes reviewing it a little tricky but I'll give it a go anyway. The book covers 2 things, firstly the incident, and secondly the author's experiences in Russia while trying to research the book. Both fit together really well and I didn't feel like the travel aspect of the book detracted away from the story at all. I do wonder if it was included to pad it out a little as the book is quite short but if this is the case then the padding is a welcome addition.

 

The author looks at all the theories behind the incident and explores if these are realistic or not. The theories range from fairly sensible (they were killed for seeing a secret military experiment) to downright insane (aliens). The theory that the author settles on in the end is a little disappointing but only because the crazier ones are somehow more appealing. In conclusion the book was a good read and is clearly well researched but I'm not sure I would really recommend it others.

 

3/5 (I enjoyed it).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm glad you didn't have either of the books from the Secret Book Club! I've read 'The Odessa File' by Frederick Forsyth and that was really good so hopefully 'The Fox' will be too.

 

'Dead Mountain' sounds like a really intriguing mystery, it's a shame that the end felt a bit disappointing 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read a book on the Dyatlov Pass Incident last year. The one I read was by Alan Baker, and it was a chore. He too focused heavily on the alien theory, and while I don't remember that much about it, I recall it getting pretty silly. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now



×