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Alexi

Alex's Reading - 2017

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I think that At Bertram's Hotel was one of the few books I've abandoned in my lifetime at the time I first read it as an adolescent. I've since re-visited it and finished it, but I think I remember not liking it all that much and that's very rare of Christie's work.

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On 4/28/2017 at 3:56 PM, More reading time required said:

I think that At Bertram's Hotel was one of the few books I've abandoned in my lifetime at the time I first read it as an adolescent. I've since re-visited it and finished it, but I think I remember not liking it all that much and that's very rare of Christie's work.

 

Agree totally - I adore much of what I've read of hers. It's comforting in a way to know I am not the only one that found this one a departure and a disappointment!

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So far behind on reviews I can't remember much about a lot of the outstanding books... :ph34r:

 

Here's my attempt at something resembling the start of a catch up:

 

Ashenden by W Somerset Maugham

 

Synopsis: A celebrated writer by the time the war broke out in 1914, Maugham had the perfect cover for living in Switzerland. Multilingual and knowledgeable about many European countries, he was dispatched by the Secret Service to Lucerne - under the guise of completing a play. An assignment whose danger and drama appealed both to his sense of romance and of the ridiculous. 
A collection of stories rooted in Maugham's own experiences as an agent, reflecting the ruthlessness and brutality of espionage, its intrigue and treachery, as well as its absurdity.
  (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: This is a collection of 'spy' stories - but it's a mistake going into this expecting James Bond. Two reasons for that - it was published in 1927, and is a lot truer to life than 007! 

 

This is a collection of short stories based around Maugham's own experiences with espionage during WWI. The characters are brilliantly drawn, and the short stories are drawn out perfectly to leave the reader wanting to know more. But that's where the trouble is - it doesn't always deliver on 'more'. A couple of the stories I was left wondering if some of the pages had gone missing in my copy. 

 

What I liked about this was the author's ability to make the characters leap from the page in what appears more a study of human nature during war time than adventure and spy japes. However, it does feel a little dated now that this genre has moved on so much. This is the first I have read by Maugham, but I intend to look out for more of his work. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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On 2017-5-26 at 8:19 PM, Alexi said:

So far behind on reviews I can't remember much about a lot of the outstanding books... :ph34r:

 

:lol: I can relate. I take notes on books as I finish them, but even they aren't good enough for me to remember what happened. I'm reviewing books I read back in February, and I'm struggling a lot! :lol:

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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

 

 I honestly couldn't really remember if I had read this as a child, or if the characters were just so familiar to me that I felt I had. (The identity of a recent quiz question was the identity of Mole's best friend, and I had to guess at Ratty!) 

 

But as soon as I began reading it all swept me away in a familiar rush. Of course I had read it and it all came flooding back within the first few pages. 

 

The characters of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad became instant companions again. We can shake our heads at the irresponsible Toad, who goes out without a care in the world only to find his property seized by the masses. As a kid, there is plenty of relaxing adventure to enjoy. As an adult, knowing that Grahame was writing in the early 20th century as the 'masses' became an increasing threat on the social order, there's some more take away from it. 

 

As a child and as an adult I got so much out of this. It stands the test of time (at least to this reader born in the mid 1980s) and is a classic of the genre. A pleasure to revisit for the English Counties Challenge. 

 

5/5 ( I loved it)

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J K Rowling

 

Synopsis; The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
 (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I've avoided this for so long, desperate not to tarnish my memories of the Harry Potter series (which I shamelessly loved and devoured - the first one was released when I was about 12 and I read them as they were released). 

 

In the end, I was gifted the book and I picked it up with some trepidation. Were my fears founded? Well, sort of. 

 

This does not feel like an eighth book and I feel it's a mistake for people to be expecting that. It's a play, designed to be seen on stage and not read in one's front room (one of the reasons I rarely read plays), and there is a very definite shift away from the magical world of Hogwarts to something more character focused. This is a story focusing on the struggles of growing up, and the struggles of parenting, to a far greater degree than the entirely plot driven stories of the seven novels. 

 

There's something slightly delightful in seeing our old friends as adults - struggling with the adult world, growing older, etc. 

 

However, the plot is not nearly so well thought-out and constructed, the scenes without our old friends feel like we're waiting for their return (even though the character of Albus is interesting) and there is so left to be desired. 

 

I'd like to see this as a play some day, just to see how it is staged and how they fit that all together as much as anything, but I feel that's how it should have stayed, rather than the script being released in this manner. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

 

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1 hour ago, Alexi said:

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I read it the first time for this challenge (three years ago, it seems - wow, I had no idea we'd been doing it that long!) and really enjoyed it.  The writing is simply gorgeous.

 

This is one of my favourite passages...

 

"remembering the stranger’s origins and preferences he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked, straw-covered flask containing bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes"

 

:wub:

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So glad you enjoyed it as an adult on a first read! (And I also had no idea we had been doing the challenge that long!) The whole book is so beautifully written. It was definitely a great choice for the challenge. I still have Winnie the Pooh to read, which I never read as a kid. 

 

On another note: 

 

Just discovered, to my horror, that I had The Day of the Triffids out of the library for this challenge, but we are moving in two weeks and my books have been packed away in a box.. including the library book I left on the shelf. Fail. 

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Oh no!  You'd better renew it online... or start saving! 

 

Good luck with the move.  :) Are you moving far from where you currently live?  

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I'm glad you liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child but I do understand your misgivings. I agree it works best as a play rather than a script. I wouldn't mind seeing the play some time either, but apparently tickets are already sold out until like a year from now. I hope they'll keep showing the play a while longer.

 

10 hours ago, Alexi said:

Just discovered, to my horror, that I had The Day of the Triffids out of the library for this challenge, but we are moving in two weeks and my books have been packed away in a box.. including the library book I left on the shelf. Fail. 

 

Oops :(. I hope you can get it sorted.

Good luck with the move :)!

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Well, I have now been in my house two months. It feels longer, mind. Even the cat appears to have settled in now. 

 

I lost my mojo when we went on holiday at the end of last month (bloody inconvenient timing if you ask me, and I spent around 3 weeks slogging through American Gods. Full review to come, but 640 pages of 'not my cup of tea' later, and I really have to start giving up books rather than making my way through to the end. Ho hum. 

 

Other things going on in the background which is also reducing reading time. Perhaps a good thing, given I am now reviewing books I read in APRIL. 

 

Onwards..onwards. 

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When the Grey Beetles Took Over Baghdad by Mona Yahia

 

Synopsis: Lina clings to childhood and the security of her youth during the last peaceful period for the 2500-year-old Jewish community in Iraq. When that peace begins to crumble, the usual uncertainties of adolescence are augmented by growing fear following the increasingly anti-Semitic rhetoric from the government and outbreaks of violence which ultimately drive out nearly all of the remaining 150,000 Jews in Baghdad. As Lina struggles to understand these dark changes in Iraq, her first love is forced to flee, her father loses his job, her brother is arrested, and her young friend must search among the bodies of hanged Jews for his imprisoned father. As violent coups, arrests, and executions become everyday occurrences, Lina's family must leave the country they have called home for generations. In the dangerous flight to the border, they must evade the security police, traverse perilous mountains, and entrust their lives and safety to strangers. The book will resonate with audiences of all ages. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: Wow. What a read. Light, bedtime reading this is not, but what a piece of work this 'novel' is - Yahia grew up Jewish in Baghdad and the novel appears at least semi-autobiographical. 

 

We are taught as kids about the plight of Jews in Europe through history, with obvious emphasis on Germany, Russia and Eastern/Central Europe, but what of their experiences elsewhere? Welcome to Iraq in the 1960s. 

 

We meet Lina, the novel's protaganist, as a young child in kindergarten, and follow her progress as she grows up in an Arab Jewish household, trying to hold down jobs and survive as a family against an increasingly turbulent political background. Yahia does a great job of setting the fictional Lina's 'normal' adolescence in this period and giving the reader some context to the whys and wherefores - the explosion of nationalist feeling after World War II, and the tensions between Muslims and Jews following the creation of Israel. 

 

I felt consumed by this book. To enjoy it is the wrong word given the content, but I did find it a truly excellent read that has stuck with me long after the final page.

 

I am reviewing this in August after finishing it in early April and I have had no trouble doing so at all. 

 

5/5 (Excellent)

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London by Tube by David Revill

 

Synopsis: If you’ve ever wanted to know where the Underground’s station names come from, then this is the book for you! London by Tube is an essential read for anyone curious about London and its historic Underground. The book takes the reader on a fascinating journey around the Tube network to reveal the history behind the names of all 268 stations. Packed full of lively stories about the colourful characters and remarkable events connected to the places that bear these names, the book delves deep into London’s rich history to recall tales of terrible fires, profligate playboys, ancient relics, devious criminals, squalid slums, lost rivers, grisly executions and unsolved mysteries. (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: Can't remember how or why I acquired this but it has been on my kindle for years - in the 'pre-2014' list on my spreadsheet. 

 

I'm a proud northerner, but I LOVE the underground - although if I had lived in London longer than two four month periods, I suspect that might change with excessive use at rush hour. Anyway. As a history lover as well, this appealed. 

 

It's an impressive project, to unearth the meaning behind the names of each station, as well as the history of the lines, stations etc. with anecdotes about historical episodes to take place in/around each station. 

 

But it does become very repetitive, and the editing is really poor in the kindle editions - some typos and factual inaccuracies. Shame, because it's actually a really nice idea, that is the main well executed, but could have been better with  a sharper editor.

 

3.5/5 

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The Go-Between by L P Hartley

 

Synopsis: During the long hot summer of 1900, young Leo Colston is invited to stay for a month at a lordly, aristocratic manor in Norfolk. There he falls in love with his friend's older sister, who commissions him to ferry secret messages to the local farmer, her lover. His naivete sustains their affair, until ultimately leading to an event that will change their lives irrevocably.  (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I had never heard of this book before it was chosen for the English Counties Challenge. 

 

I actually found this a very average read. I rated it as 3 stars (so I did like it, but it didn't do anything to earn a higher rating. Clearly, I missed something judging by the reviews on Amazon! Majority the full five stars. 

 

I will give the book 'emotional' and 'sensitive', which are two words that crop up repeatedly in said reviews. But spellbinding? Top five novels of all time? Superb? Really? 

 

This is a coming of age tale set in 1900, with the now older Leo looking back through his diary from the time he ran messages between his friend's sister and her forbidden lover, the local farmer. But it felt very slow and very dated, until we got close to the end when the pacing revved up a bit. It did give a real flavour of county life around the turn of the century, so a decent choice from that point, but I have read and enjoyed many of the other choices far more. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

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On 16/06/2017 at 4:55 AM, Alexi said:

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

 

 I honestly couldn't really remember if I had read this as a child, or if the characters were just so familiar to me that I felt I had. (The identity of a recent quiz question was the identity of Mole's best friend, and I had to guess at Ratty!) 

 

But as soon as I began reading it all swept me away in a familiar rush. Of course I had read it and it all came flooding back within the first few pages. 

 

The characters of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad became instant companions again. We can shake our heads at the irresponsible Toad, who goes out without a care in the world only to find his property seized by the masses. As a kid, there is plenty of relaxing adventure to enjoy. As an adult, knowing that Grahame was writing in the early 20th century as the 'masses' became an increasing threat on the social order, there's some more take away from it. 

 

As a child and as an adult I got so much out of this. It stands the test of time (at least to this reader born in the mid 1980s) and is a classic of the genre. A pleasure to revisit for the English Counties Challenge. 

 

5/5 ( I loved it)

 

I first read this as an adult and found it absolutely delightful, I wish now I'd discovered it as a child. It gets a 5/5 from me too. There was a wonderful animated tv series of this when my kids were small, with David Jason as Mole and Michael Hordern as Badger amongst others.

 

7 hours ago, Alexi said:

The Go-Between by L P Hartley

 

Synopsis: During the long hot summer of 1900, young Leo Colston is invited to stay for a month at a lordly, aristocratic manor in Norfolk. There he falls in love with his friend's older sister, who commissions him to ferry secret messages to the local farmer, her lover. His naivete sustains their affair, until ultimately leading to an event that will change their lives irrevocably.  (From Goodreads)

 

Thoughts: I had never heard of this book before it was chosen for the English Counties Challenge. 

 

I actually found this a very average read. I rated it as 3 stars (so I did like it, but it didn't do anything to earn a higher rating. Clearly, I missed something judging by the reviews on Amazon! Majority the full five stars. 

 

I will give the book 'emotional' and 'sensitive', which are two words that crop up repeatedly in said reviews. But spellbinding? Top five novels of all time? Superb? Really? 

 

This is a coming of age tale set in 1900, with the now older Leo looking back through his diary from the time he ran messages between his friend's sister and her forbidden lover, the local farmer. But it felt very slow and very dated, until we got close to the end when the pacing revved up a bit. It did give a real flavour of county life around the turn of the century, so a decent choice from that point, but I have read and enjoyed many of the other choices far more. 

 

3/5 (I liked it)

 

Read this as a teenager and was quite taken with it, not sure if I'd feel the same now.

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On 24/08/2017 at 4:15 PM, Alexi said:

London by Tube by David Revill

It's an impressive project, to unearth the meaning behind the names of each station, as well as the history of the lines, stations etc. with anecdotes about historical episodes to take place in/around each station.But it does become very repetitive, and the editing is really poor in the kindle editions - some typos and factual inaccuracies. Shame, because it's actually a really nice idea, that is the main well executed, but could have been better with  a sharper editor.

 

I have a little book called What's in a Name? by Cyril M Harris that I bought a few years ago at the London Transport Museum that does the same: "The origins of the names of all stations in current use on the London Underground and Docklands Light Rail with their opening dates."  First published in 1977, mine was the 4th edition (2001) reprinted in 2008, published by Capital History.  A simple reference book of some 84 pages, amply illustrated with B&W photos. Thoroughly recommended!

 

On 24/08/2017 at 4:24 PM, Alexi said:

The Go-Between by L P Hartley

Thoughts: I had never heard of this book before it was chosen for the English Counties Challenge. 

I actually found this a very average read. I rated it as 3 stars (so I did like it, but it didn't do anything to earn a higher rating.

 

I read this as a teenager, as it was a set book. I was underwhelmed then, and not a lot more impressed this time round either.  Average is a good word!  I gave it 3 stars too.

 

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Sorry I haven't replied to this thread in weeks - I've been ill for several of them now and in and out of hospital. Not overly profitable for reading either! 

 

Only two two books read in that time, although I am now close to the end of Lorna Doone, and I'm not sure i would have enjoyed it if not having the time to read in great chunks. 

 

Poppy - I haven't seen the TV adaptation but I will try and seek it out. I find TV series much more faithful than films, probably because they have to be less sensational and they have more time to devote to the subject. But the ones that change the ending remain unforgivable! 

 

Willoyd - thanks for the recommendation! I will seek it out. It sounds exactly like what I wanted from the Revill work and half got. 

Of the English Counties Challenge, which I'm now close to finishing, The Go-Between is some way down the list. I've enjoyed most of them, with a couple of exceptions so far. 

 

It's good to know there are others out there who don't subscribe to the Amazon reviewers thoughts of brilliance!

Edited by Alexi

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I'm so sorry to hear you've been ill and been in and out of hospital :(. I hope you feel better soon  :flowers2:.

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On 9/18/2017 at 8:59 AM, Alexi said:

Sorry I haven't replied to this thread in weeks - I've been ill for several of them now and in and out of hospital.

Gosh, Alex.  Sorry to hear this.  I hope you're on the mend now. x

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Oh, Alex, I do hope you're much better soon. It's horrible when you're feeling so unwell you can't even read. I hope you've been able to sleep your way through a lot of it. Biggest hugs :hug:

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Hope you're feeling better soon, sounds nasty.

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