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Alex's 2015 Reading Log

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I hope you feel better soon about your reading, Alex :empathy::friends0:.

 

Nothing wrong with wanting to read something lighter, though :).

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Letters from Alcatraz by Michael Esslinger

 

Synopsis: Alcatraz Island was home to some of the nation's most notorious criminals. Prisoners include Al Capone, Mickey Cohen, James "Whitey" Bulger, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Robert Stroud- the Birdman of Alcatraz, Alvin Karpis, Henri Young, John and Clarence Anglin, and Roy Gardner. In Michael Esslinger's latest book, Letters From Alcatraz, the prisoners' stories come to life in their own words. With over twenty years of research, Esslinger, author of Alcatraz: Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years, has salvaged and compiled an extraordinary collection of inmates' letters, many never before published. (From Amazon)

 

Thoughts: I downloaded this three years ago when it was free on kindle - it is now over £6 which seems a bit steep. 

 

The author has a clear passion for Alcatraz which shines through, and this is a meticulous piece of work, gathering letters to and from the various notorious criminals that inhabited Alcatraz over the years. Each chapter features the correspondence of a different inmate, with a few pages describing their history and crimes. 

 

What emerges is a fascinating portrait of a group of people trying to survive in America's most notorious, inescapable jail. A lot of the letters are those written from and to relations scattered across the country - the only way prisoners could get news of home. Only relatives could visit and most lived hundreds of miles away from San Francisco and could not make the trip to see them. 

 

A lot of the letters feature mundane news, both of prison life and relatives and friends at home, but it's a magnificent collection that does give a completely different insight into the minds and living conditions of men deemed too dangerous or flighty to stay in regular prisons. 

 

I do feel I would have got more out of this if I had read the author's definitive history of the rock - which I plan to visit in September - and it has gone on my wishlist. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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The Mangle Street Murders by M R C Kasasian

 

Synopsis: Gower Street, London, 1882: Sidney Grice, London's most famous personal detective, is expecting a visitor. He drains his fifth pot of morning tea, and glances outside, where a young, plain woman picks her way between the piles of horse-dung towards his front door. 

 

March Middleton is Sidney Grice's ward, and she is determined to help him on his next case. Her guardian thinks women are too feeble for detective work, but when a grisly murder in the slums proves too puzzling for even Sidney Grice's encyclopaedic brain, March Middleton turns out to be rather useful after all... 

Set in a London still haunted by the spectre of the infamous Spring-heeled Jack, THE MANGLE STREET MURDERS is for those who like their crime original, atmospheric, and very, very funny. (From Amazon)

 

Thoughts: Absolutely loved this. It's a brilliant take on a detective story and I am delighted it's a series - I immediately snapped up book two but based on the fact that book 3 is still £7 on kindle I am going to save book 2 for holiday time and savour it. 

 

Yes, book one really was that good. 

 

Of course, a well-plotted detective story is nothing new, so what makes this stand out? Simply, the characters, their interaction and dialogue. 

 

March Middleton is years before her time, not being done down by the fact she is a woman who (we are repeatedly told) is too ugly to marry and when her father dies is taken in by private detective Sidney Grice. He, on the other hand, is a difficult, rude character used to living on his own and not working with (gasp) a woman. 

 

Both characters are hugely funny and larger than life, without turning into caricatures. The setting of 1880s Victorian London is a wonderful backdrop, and the dialogue is very, very funny - and I say that as someone who normally doesn't respond to humour in books. 

 

I've found it quite difficult to articulate exactly what was so good about this, but just please, please read it. 

 

4.5/5 (I loved it)

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The Absolutist by John Boyne

 

Synopsis: September 1919: Twenty-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a clutch of letters to Marian Bancroft. Tristan fought alongside Marian's brother Will during the Great War. They trained together. They fought together.

 


The letters, however, are not the real reason for Tristan's visit. He holds a secret deep within him. One that he is desperate to unburden himself of to Marian, if he can only find the courage. Whatever happens, this meeting will change his life – forever. (From Amazon)

 

Thoughts: I picked this up from the library after enjoying The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and wanting to read more by the author. 

 

This one is set just after World War I, and we meet Tristan, who is finding it very difficult to adjust to life back in England after serving in France. He was trained alongside 19 other men, and we discover very early on that he was the only one who came back. 

 

His best friend was Will, and he is delivering some letters back to Will's sister. 

 

The book is divided into parts, with alternate settings in Norwich in 1919 and then during the war, where we see Tristan and Will together. The first thing that felt off was about 150 pages through we are told what feels like it should be a 'revelation' - we are 150 pages in and it occurs on the last page of a Norwich part before we are suddenly diverted back to France for 50 pages. And yet, it's something we learn on the book jacket! Either it should be a revelation or it shouldn't be. I was confused as to which it was. 

 

Which brings me to pacing - we fanned around in Norwich for a long time before getting to the meat of the book. And yet the meat is good. We do feel the horror of the battleground and the difficulty Tristan feels into assimilating back into normal life in the years following. We come to understand the relationship between Tristan and Will, and although I guessed his "secret" - which is a further twist on the previously noted 'revelation', it didn't make reading about it any more shocking. 

 

So, plenty of flaws, but still an enjoyable read. However, I feel it could have been done even better with a few tweaks and I will look out for more of the author's work and see if I feel like that about all his work - in which case it might be time to give up and wish he had a better editor!

 

3.5/5 (I liked it) 

 

 

Phew! Up to date on reviews!

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The Absolutist by John Boyne

 

So, plenty of flaws, but still an enjoyable read. However, I feel it could have been done even better with a few tweaks and I will look out for more of the author's work and see if I feel like that about all his work - in which case it might be time to give up and wish he had a better editor!

 

Thanks for the review, this is a book that I've been very curious about. I think I need to read it at some point. I would recommend Boyne's novel Crippen. Sorry, I can't remember if you're into true crime at all, but the book is based on real life characters and a murder. But even if one's not a true crime buff, it's still a great novel to read, as I think it's suspenseful and very atmospheric, as most of the book takes place in a ship. Very good :) 

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So glad you enjoyed The Mangle Street Murders.  I loved both the main characters, and the constant banter between them. :D

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Thanks for the review, this is a book that I've been very curious about. I think I need to read it at some point. I would recommend Boyne's novel Crippen. Sorry, I can't remember if you're into true crime at all, but the book is based on real life characters and a murder. But even if one's not a true crime buff, it's still a great novel to read, as I think it's suspenseful and very atmospheric, as most of the book takes place in a ship. Very good :)

Ooh interesting! There was a synopsis for Crippen at the end and I immediately wanted to read it.

Thanks for the recommendation!

 

By the way, I took out the "revelation" from the synopsis so might be better to try and not look at the book jacket if you can. :)

 

BB - the banter between them was my favorite part. I often find humour forced in books but it felt really natural. After The Rosie Project I'm doing really well with funny books this year.

 

More of the same please :D

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Ooh interesting! There was a synopsis for Crippen at the end and I immediately wanted to read it.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Oooh, I'm very excited!! It was one of my two favorite reads the year I read it, but so far I haven't managed to get anyone else to read the book :D

 

I mean, no pressure or anything... :lol:

 

By the way, I took out the "revelation" from the synopsis so might be better to try and not look at the book jacket if you can. :)

Yeah I got the impression that I really ought to leave the book jacket alone when I get to the book. I promise I will try and remember that! :)

 

Funny books, aye? Hm.... Off to have a think.

Edited by frankie

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My goal this year was to be on 276 books by the end of the year (down by one from 1 Jan 2015). My visit to the library this afternoon has now taken the total to 306. 

 

Nightmare. 

 

I've been having a rather tough time at work and at home in recent weeks, so although I'm still reading a lot I'm turning to easy, quick reads which don't need a lot of thinking.

 

Sorry to hear you've been having a tough time. I hope things are picking up for you.  :empathy:

 

If it makes you feel any better, I'm not doing particularly well with my goal to reduce my TBR pile by 1 either. :( But I'm still holding out hope!

 

The Mangle Street Murders by M R C Kasasian

 

Both characters are hugely funny and larger than life, without turning into caricatures. The setting of 1880s Victorian London is a wonderful backdrop, and the dialogue is very, very funny - and I say that as someone who normally doesn't respond to humour in books.

 

BB - the banter between them was my favorite part. I often find humour forced in books but it felt really natural. After The Rosie Project I'm doing really well with funny books this year.

 

Totally agree with all of this. The banter is fab. I keep laughing out loud, and I rarely do that with funny books!

 

Great review. :)

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Thanks Kylie! Interesting that we felt the same about the humour in both books. I have the second downloaded and wanted to read it pretty much immediately, but I've decided to save it for holidays in September and give myself something easy and funny to read on the various long flights!

 

Thank you for all the well wishes. I feel like I'm slowly getting there. As my Mum has always said, the key is to have a plan. I know I'm old because I've started listening to her ;)

 

The pile has grown again thanks to my birthday last week. Difficult to complain about getting books (!) but I am now plus 35 for the year rather than -1. Very few of those I have bought myself, and of those I have most have been daily deals and cheap purchases, so it's not the ££ I am worried about, just the sheer size of the pile :giggle2:

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Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

Synopsis: In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect.

 

Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. And Richard, a shy English writer, is in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. As the horrific Biafran War engulfs them, they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a novel about Africa in a wider sense: about the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race – and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things. (From Amazon)

 

Thoughts: This has been on my kindle languishing since late 2013, but the book box has spoken and read it I therefore must. 

 

I really enjoyed the first 50 pages where we followed the young houseboy Ugwu, plucked from his village to work as a houseboy for a Professor. Seeing 1960s Nigeria through his eyes was a joy and I wanted to devour more. 

 

Suddenly, a new chapter, and it took me a few pages to realise we weren't following Ugwu anymore but in fact his professors's girlfriend, Olanna. I should clarify this - we follow the lives of three different characters through a third person narrator. After the first three chapters it is easy to pick up what is going on - the first sentence of each chapter starts with the name of the person we are following - but it really jarred with the second chapter as it took me a while to realise the formatting. 

 

It set off on the wrong tone and I really struggled with the next 200 pages. It felt meandering, and I wondered what on earth the point of following these people were. (At this point I should mention that I had not familiarised myself with the synopsis following picking it from the book box!). 

 

Suddenly, an abrupt switch to the late 60s and this is where the book really took off. Adichie's research is meticulous and her writing style emotive in bringing to life the horrors and struggle of merely trying to survive in war-torn Nigeria/Biafra. It's a narrative that drew me and compelled me to read on. 

 

Then, just as abruptly a switch back to the early 60s again. This felt totally unnecessary. It was to explain a few things that had gone on in the intervening years but it felt like the reader was just piecing that information together for themselves when we were then taken back and explicitly shown at the expense of the very involving telling of civil war. 

 

We went back to the late 60s and followed the our cast of characters until the end of the war, but it was the late 60s that I really enjoyed and the early 60s section felt bloated, a little pointless and could have done with some more heavy editing. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

 

ETA: Just realised this counts for Nigeria in my World Challenge. The first one I've read for that challenge in the whole of 2015 so far!

Edited by Alexi

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Hmmmm, I still can't decide whether it's one I want to read or not. I think I will leave it for the Book Jar to determine. Nice review, too. :smile:

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Nice review, it's definitely one I want to get to at some point but it'll be the decision of the Book Box like BB.. I am currently reading a book set in Africa though so hope I get a few different books in between! :)

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Thanks both :)

 

Hope you both enjoy it more than I did and it's a 4 or 5 for you! The book box/jar is really kicking a few of us up the arse to read some neglected titles previously languishing on the TBR :D

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Both characters are hugely funny and larger than life, without turning into caricatures. The setting of 1880s Victorian London is a wonderful backdrop, and the dialogue is very, very funny - and I say that as someone who normally doesn't respond to humour in books. 

 

I'm exactly the same!  I just don't 'do' books that set out to be funny, but I do love it when the humour comes naturally from the characters and the dialogue, and I think he nailed that :smile:

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Hope you both enjoy it more than I did and it's a 4 or 5 for you! The book box/jar is really kicking a few of us up the arse to read some neglected titles previously languishing on the TBR :D

 

Yup. :D And with some of my picks, there's a reason why they languished at the bottom of my TBR pile. :giggle2:

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Thanks Kylie! Interesting that we felt the same about the humour in both books. I have the second downloaded and wanted to read it pretty much immediately, but I've decided to save it for holidays in September and give myself something easy and funny to read on the various long flights!

 

Good choice. I think the Gower Street books would be perfect for long flights. Short chapters, engaging reading...what's not to love?! :)

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I'm exactly the same!  I just don't 'do' books that set out to be funny, but I do love it when the humour comes naturally from the characters and the dialogue, and I think he nailed that :smile:

 

I think it'a really interesting that you, Kylie and I all felt the same on this - he's obviously doing something right to appeal to us non book humorists ;)

 

I often find if an amazon reviewer says a book is funny I wholeheartedly disagree!

 

Yup. :D And with some of my picks, there's a reason why they languished at the bottom of my TBR pile. :giggle2:

 

Oh yes, there are definitely some duds languishing on mine :D 

 

 

Good choice. I think the Gower Street books would be perfect for long flights. Short chapters, engaging reading...what's not to love?! :)

 

Exactly! Can't get down to anything too heavy on a flight, just as you get to the crux of it someone pushes past you go to the toilet or you hit some unexpected turbulence. ;)

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The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

 

Synopsis: Lionel Logue was a self-taught and almost unknown Australian speech therapist. Yet it was this outgoing, amiable man who almost single-handedly turned the nervous, tongue-tied Duke of York into one of Britain's greatest kings after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 over his love for Mrs Simpson.

 

The King's Speech is the previously untold story of the remarkable relationship between Logue and the haunted future King George VI, written with Logue's grandson and drawing exclusively from his grandfather Lionel's diaries and archive.

 

This is an astonishing insight into the House of Windsor at the time of its greatest crisis. Never before has there been such a portrait of the British monarchy seen through the eyes of an Australian commoner who was proud to serve, and save, his King. (From Amazon)

 

Thoughts: I read this about a month ago so excuse the brief review. 

 

This book was written around the same time as the film was made, rather than the film being based directly off the book per se. Written by Logue's grandson in collaboration with a journalist, it draws extensively on Logue's personal diaries and tells the story of both Logue and King George VI from birth to death, rather than simply the period they knew each other. 

 

I enjoyed reading this but it lacked a certain something - what one Amazon reviewer has described as 'punch'. I'm inclined to agree. Sometimes it got a bit bogged down in detail and at other times it felt like skimming - presumably depending on how detailed the diaries were for that period!

 

I must look out the film soon. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor 

 

Synopsis: Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. 

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. 

But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting. 

Follow the catastrophe curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake ... (From Amazon)

 

Thoughts: I can't remember who recommended this, but whoever it was, thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed this romp through history through the eyes of Maxwell, recruited for St Mary's early in the book as a historian - someone who travels through time to observe and record what she sees to make history more authentic. 

 

Time travel, history, the odd dollop of romance - it's all in this book that kept me up late to find out what happened next. It's certainly an easy read, but the plot and characters really do keep this one racing along. 

 

The humour is undeniably British - the amount of cups of tea if nothing else would tell you that - and Max is a heroine you can root for from the first page, intelligent, witty and with a good line in comebacks. 

 

Things take a darker turn midway through the book when we get an insight into the 'evil' that Max and her colleagues are fighting, and we do lose some characters along the way to death and destruction - it's not all light hearted. 

 

My only reservations were the jumps in time (haw haw) - in the actual time line of the book, rather than the travelling. For example, we learn Max has been at St Mary's for several years when actually it feels like it should be months from what we've witnessed - the jumps in timeline aren't signposted. 

 

My other reservation is a major spoiler - please do not read if you intend to read this book at any point!

 

 

When Max miscarries the baby and decides not to tell Chief this is obviously not ideal, and the way he finds out is horrible, particularly considering his own personal history. However, the way that he then screams at her in from of other people, accuses her of not telling him because it isn't his and washing their dirty laundry in public is horrendous.

 

This is one of the worst things a woman can go through, and yet 10 minutes later it's all swept under the carpet as if he did nothing wrong? Huh? And if he was so bothered as to treat her like that how can he then sweep her actions straight under the carpet?

 

Really didn't sit right with me.

 

 

Hard to explain why I liked this book so much, so I'll just tell you I've immediately gone out and bought the second and third in the series and leave it there. ;)

 

4.5/5 (I loved it)

Edited by Alexi

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Super Casino by Pete Earley

 

Synopsis: In this lively and probing book, award-winning author Pete Earley traces the extraordinary evolution of Las Vegas -- from the gaudy Mecca of the Rat Pack era to one of the country's top family vacation spots. He revisits the city's checkered history of moguls, mobsters, and entertainers, reveals the real stories of well-known power brokers like Steve Wynn and legends like Howard Hughes and Bugsy Siegel, and offers a fascinating portrait of the life, death, and fantastic rebirth of the Las Vegas Strip. 

Earley also documents the gripping tale of the entrepreneurs behind the rise and fall and rise again of one of the largest gaming corporations in the nation, Circus Circus -- to which he was given unique access. In his trademark you-are-there style, he takes us behind the scenes to meet the blackjack dealers and hookers, the heavy hitters and bit players, the security officers, cabbies, and showgirls who are caught up in the mercurial pace that pulses at the heart of this astounding city. (From Amazon)

 

Thoughts: Brian sent me this book ages and ages ago, but it never made it off the shelf. However, I now decided the time was right to crack it open ahead of my US trip, which includes Las Vegas, in September. 

 

I'm in love with the USA and would emigrate to New York tomorrow if they would employ me (grrr), and I find the country's history fascinating, including the way the different cities and areas grew up. 

 

This book is perfect for both history and Las Vegas excitement. Earley takes us on a ride through the city's history from conception to 2000 via Hollywood, the mob, 'grind joints' and leading right up to the birth of the super casinos, the impressive and gaudy structures which now adorn the strip. 

 

He's a great storyteller and it never feels too detailed or boring - although the subject matter, entertainment, gambling, the mob and a little of Elvis certainly helps here! The second part focuses on the Luxor, after the author was granted extensive access of the casino and its staff as they tried to rebuild, redesign and attracted more high rollers towards the end of the 90s. 

 

Throughout he introduces us to an extensive cast of characters, ranging from the dealers there for 20 years, the newcomers, the hookers, the showgirls, the bartenders - we hear their stories of what it is really like to live and work in one of the world's busiest vacation spots. 

 

Brilliantly done and I can't wait to go now!

 

4/5 (I really liked it)

 

Phew - up to date with reviews! 

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I loved Just One Damned Thing After Another as well. I have books 2 and 3 on my Kindle.....I really must get to them soon!

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I didn't know The King's Speech was originally a book! I must read it. The film is great!

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Great review of Just One Damned Things After Another! I've never heard of it before, but the title is terrific and your review is excellent. But alas, it's another series! I'll be back to shake my fist at you (jokingly) if I end up adding another series to my wish list because of your review. :P

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