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Brian's Book Log - Ongoing

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OK, time for another update. As I've got quite a few books to get through my thoughts will probably be fairly brief.

 

Storming the Eagle's Nest by Jim Ring (3/5)

I orginally thought this was a book purely about the final assault on the Eagle's nest but it is in fact about was war in the Alps and Switzerland. It was a solid read and filled in some gaps in my knowledge about WWII as I knew pretty much nothing about the Alpine campaigns.

 

Minimalism by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus (3/5)

Not much of a book, more of an extended pamphlete about the basics of minimalism. It reads like a collection of organised blog posts which is what I suspect it is. My one take away thought from this book is that minimalism is a hell of a lot easier if you have already made a decent chunk of money in your life as these two have.

 

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (2/5)

This has been on my 'must read' list of years and I finally decided to pick it up. I really enjoyed the initial chapters in which we find a land-based Ishmael looking for work on a boat and meeting Queequeg. After that, a combination of the very dense language and microscopic details about whales started to grate on me. I'm glad I read it but I can't say I enjoyed it.

 

Cherry by Nico Walker (3/5)

I have no idea how this ended up in my wishlist but I bought it recently on a book buying binge. It tells the story of an American army medic who turns to drugs and bank robberies shortly after getting out of the military. A bit of further reading reveals this is a pretty autobiographical story. The writing itself is ok but nothing special and I can't say I really engaged with any of the characters. I think I was expected to have sympathy with the protagonist but I really hated him and his actions.

 

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris (4/5)

I really like Robert Harris, I don't think I've read a book of his that I didn't really enjoy. I can't really expand without spoliers but this book explores a theme I've been really interested in recently and although it doesn't hit it out of the park I think it does a pretty decent job.

 

A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre (4/5)

I've read loads of spy books but this was the first about one of the Cambridge spy ring. Superbly written as usual by Ben Macintyre, it covers all of Philby's life and how failings in the intelligence services allowed him to operate for as long as he did. It also explores the differences in the way the British, American, and Soviets dealt with their own citizens who were caught spying.

 

Night by Ellie Wiesel (5/5)

A really superb account of a young boy's experiences going from Sighet in Transylvania to Auschwitz. This book was a really emotional read and the sort of thing that should be taught in schools in my opinion. Bravely, Weisel also covers some of the more controversial aspects of his experiences when he effectively had to put his life before someone else's. Doing that must have been hard but admitting it and putting it into words afterwards for others to see must have been even harder.

 

Solar by Ian McEwan (3/5)

A novel about a scientist, Michael Beard who's life is falling apart both professionally and personally when an unexpected escape lands in his lap. He takes the escape and then has to deal with the consequences afterwards. This was an entertaining enough read and I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

 

The Girl Before by J P Delaney (4/5)

A young couple are given the opportunity to move into an amazing home as long as they stick to a long list of rules. It soon turns out that tragedy seems to be anchored to the property and the book alternates between the life of the current occupants and the previous one. I had fairly low expectations coming into this book but I found myself really drawn it to more and more. At times I just couldn't put it down and there were several times when I changed my mind about the 'truth'. It loses a star because I thought the ending was a little weak and the sex scenes a bit '50 shades'.

 

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild (4/5)

I was reading sme Goodreads reviews abouty a month ago about Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and several reviewers mentioned this book. I knew nothing about the history of the Belgian Congo and this book is highly thought of so I decided to give it a go. It's a really good history of King Leopold II and his brutal involvement and treatment in Congo. This book is really well researched, and it also covers direct accounts of normal African's who were involved instead of just scholarly sources.

 

Out of Bounds by Val McDermid (4/5)

The 4th Karen Pirie book in the series and probably the best one so far. I only discovered Val McDermid last year and the series has been really good so far. I really like the fact that Pirie isn't particularly glamorous and that she doesn't have the usual 'failings' that super detectives have in crime novels. I'm also really warming the character of Jason Murray, her slightly dopey sidekick, as well.

 

A History of Britain Vol 2 by Simon Schama (3/5)

This has been my most recent audiobook and it followed on from my listening of volume 1 of the trilogy. This book covers the period of 1603-1776 and in particular the British civil wars. I didn't find this book as engaging as the first and this is a common issue I have with the time period involved. The civil wars involve so many characters that I find it hard to keep track of them all. I'm starting to think that this is a subject so big that you could dedicate a book to each 5 year period and still have to leave out quite a lot of detail. Depsite my reservations I still thought it was a worthwhile listen and although I may take a break from the series now, I will listen to the final installment before the end of the year.

 

 

I've now finished 66 books in 2020 and I'm running up against a bit of a mental barrier. At the start of the year I had no intention of aiming for 100 books but I am on track to achieve it quite by accident. My issue is that on the one hand I want to hit the target now, but on the other hand I find myself picking shorter books off my shelves instead of going for some of the bigger ones that I would really like to read. If I do decide to carry on towards 100 I don't think I will pick a target next year as it's definitely affecting what I choose to read.

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Your review of Moby Dick summarises how I felt about it perfectly. Great start and I'm happy I read it overall but those whole chapters about whaling... I started to dread them.

 

It's great that you've mainly enjoyed every book you've read recently though. 

 

66 books is already a considerable achievement in my opinion! I've only read 16!

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On 8/13/2020 at 3:53 PM, Brian. said:

Storming the Eagle's Nest by Jim Ring (3/5)

I orginally thought this was a book purely about the final assault on the Eagle's nest but it is in fact about was war in the Alps and Switzerland. It was a solid read and filled in some gaps in my knowledge about WWII as I knew pretty much nothing about the Alpine campaigns.

 

Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose, and Beyond Band of Brothers, by Dick Winters, both cover the capture of The Eagle's Nest.  Both very good reads, and I would read them in that order.

 

ETA - Forgot to say they are both 99p on the Kindle at the moment!

 

Edited by Raven

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Mini update time.

 

The Diversity Illusion by Ed West (2/5)

From time to time I like to read something that goes against my own personal beliefs. I feel this is something necessary to challenge myself and I think it's always a good thing to look at opposing views. This book claims to demonstrate that diversity has been harmful for the UK and that in the last few decades politicians have known this but are too scared of the electorate to speak publically or do anything about it. The first thing I would say is that the title of the book is wrong, this book is primarily about immigration and not diversity. I wonder if the publishers forced this change to make it more palatable for the general public. The book is well written and has a clear direction, and this is why it gets two stars from me, I have tried to judge the book on it's quality without letting the message cloud my judgement too much. However, the biggest failing is that many of West's claims are just not properly back up with evidence. The odd study pops in from time to time but the sources are often questionable. There are also numerous occasions when West says something along the lines of "the increase of immigrant families has led to the quality of British schools and health care to fall" without backing it up. Just because someone makes a statement doesn't mean it is a fact and this happens all too often in this book. I won't deny that West raised some points which got me thinking and I would have liked him to dig deeper into them but this never happened.

 

Coming Up For Air by George Orwell (4/5)

In this book Orwell writes about George Bowling, a 45 year old insurance salesman who decides to visit the place where he grew up without telling his wife. He is feeling disillusioned with life and hopes this trip will bring some colour back into his life. I really enjoyed this little book and it really feels as if Orwell is leaning heavily on his own experiences throughout. On returning to the area of his childhood home he quickly realises that nostalgia isn't all it's cracked up to be.

 

The Solitary Spy by Douglas Boyd (3/5)

I incorrectly assumed that this book told the account of a western spy captured by the east germans and held prisoner during the Cold War. Sadly this was not the case but instead details the life story of a signal intelligence analyist working for the west. Boyd describes how he ended up being conscripted into SIGINT work and what he did day to day. Towards the end of his story he is posted to RAF Gatow in West Berlin. During his time there he makes a stupid decision and ends up being arrested by the East Germans for spying. Overall the book was a good read but nothing special.

 

Recursion by Blake Crouch (5/5)

I loved Dark Matter so I had high hopes going into this one. Again, I think Crouch has knocked it out of the park completely and this is one of my favourite books this year. The book starts with New York City policeman Barry Sutton who is dealing with a woman who is about to jump to her death. She says she has False Memory Syndrome and as a result no longer wants to live as her memories of her false life are just too painful. At the same time Helena Smith, a neurological scientist is working on a way to capture the human memory. As Sutton starts to investigate where False Memory Syndrome their paths start to collide. That is pretty much all I can say without giving away loads of spoilers.

 

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (2/5)

I like listening to some of the talks Alan Watts gave during his life. He talks in a gentle and humourous way about religion and philosophy in a way that is really easy to understand. I listened to this as an audiobook hoping for more of the same. Unfortunately this is much more scholarly and dense than his talks tended to be. As a result I found it to be quite impenetrable and hard to get along with. I will continue to watch and listen to his talks but I won't be rushing out to listen to anymore of his books.

 

Odinn's Child (Viking #1) by Tim Severin (2/5)

Historical fiction, part of a trilogy based on the life of Thorgils Leiffson. This was ok but I can't say I enjoyed it a huge amount. The plot is slow and plodding and none of the characters are developed enough to really care about. I picked up all three books in a charity shop recently so I will probably still read the next book but if it's another dud I can't see myself reading the third.

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Recursion sounds very interesting! I find the concept of false memory fascinating but also very disconcerting!

 

It’s a shame there were so many two-stars in that last lot of books. I would have found disliking the first Viking book particularly disappointing as it’s so hard to find a whole series in a charity shop! Fingers crossed that the next one is better though.

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Recursion sounds really good! I should probably (try to) read Dark Matter at some point as I own that one..

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On 9/1/2020 at 7:42 PM, Hayley said:

Recursion sounds very interesting! I find the concept of false memory fascinating but also very disconcerting!

 

It’s a shame there were so many two-stars in that last lot of books. I would have found disliking the first Viking book particularly disappointing as it’s so hard to find a whole series in a charity shop! Fingers crossed that the next one is better though.

I think the lack of dialogue in the book was probably what did it for me, it's very descriptive and that didn't help build any of the characters up for me.

 

 

 

On 9/3/2020 at 12:40 PM, Athena said:

Recursion sounds really good! I should probably (try to) read Dark Matter at some point as I own that one..

I'd definitely recommend it.

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Update time.

 

Dangerous Hero by Tom Bower (3/5)

A non-fiction book all about the last Labour leader Jeremy Corbin. The book charts his political career and his time as leader up until the last general election. Like many people in the UK I was impressed by Corbin when he first surfaced as a candidate for the position of Labour leader. Over time however I couldn't agree with his position on certain things and although I appreciate that politics is never black and white I just felt that he wasn't the right person to lead the country or the Labour party. This book addresses many of the allegations thrown his way when he was leader, especially his lack of action when it comes to anti-semitism inside the party. After reading the book I don't believe he is necessarily a bad person and he definitely stands by his principles but he is easily lead by those around him. The book was pretty good but I do see why there have been some accusations of it being a hatchet job even if I don't feel that way myself.

 

Stasiland by Anna Funder (4/5)

A re-read for me. In this book Funder talks to people affected by the Stasi in east Germany during the Cold War on both sides. This is a really good book with more of a human touch than others on the subject. It works so well because Funder includes those who were in the Stasi as well as those who were their victims.

 

Dune by Frank Herbert (3/5)

This is one of those 'must read' sci-fi books that always comes up in lists. I like watching Sci-Fi but I find it hard to get on with in books from time to time. I was intimidated by the size of the book but I still wanted to read it before the movie comes out. In steps Audible meaning I was able to listen to it while working and driving. I can't say how much of it's magic is lost is audiobook form but I did enjoy this one. I felt differently towards the protagonist Paul at different times which is what I imagine Herbet wanted when he wrote this.

 

Broken Ground by Val McDermid (5/5)

The 5th book in the Karen Pirie series. In this one Karen investigates a body discovered in farm land when 2 southerner are searching for something hidden by their grandfather at the end of the second world war. Every book in the series I read gets better than the one before it. The plotting is great and she writes fantastic characters who are very believable. If you haven't read any of McDermids books so far and you like crime novels then I urge you so pick one up as soon as you can.

 

Nine Lives by Aimen Dean (5/5)

This strap line for this book is "My time as MI6's top spy inside as-Qaeda" and this really grabbed my attention. I was intrigued as to how this would work, how do you get a spy inside an organisation such as al-Qaeda and get good intel back without risking their cover? As it turns out Dean joined al-Qaeda as a young man and over time he disagreed with what they were doing when it involved killing other Muslims or innocent by-standers. Eventually he gets into trouble with the authorities and opts to take this opportunity to stop what al-Qaeda is planning. This book is really, really good, written by someone who is clearly a very intelligent person. Dean looks at what motivated him and others to join up with al-Qaeda and how their networks operate. He also explains how hard spying was on an emotional, physical, and mental level. He ends up the book by explaining how he thinks governements can stop young people being seduced by al-Qaeda and how moderate Muslims must bring these men back to the fold.

 

Three to Kill by Jean-Patrick Manchette (5/5)

Late on night in France, traveling salesman Georges Gerfaut stops to help a motorist involved in what looks like a traffic accident. A few days later Georges is attacked by 2 men who try to kill him for reasons unknown to him. Georges goes on the run and tries to unravel why these men are trying to kill him. I had read one previous Manchette book which I really enjoyed so I jumped at the chance to read another. This one was just as good. His writing is tight and is pretty much perfect 70's French noir in style. I have already added his other books which have been translated into English in my wishlist.

 

Into Thin Air by John Krakauer (5/5)

Another Audiobook read. This book is Krakauer's well received account into the 1996 everest disaster. I know quite a lot about the disaster as I have read about it quite widely but had avoided Into Thin Air thus far. I had read that Krakaeur treated climber Anatoli Boukreev unfairly in the book when I read The Climb and this put me off of reading Into Thin Air. I finally decided to give it a shot and I'm so glad I did as this book really lives up to it's reputation. Krakauer climbed a fair bit when he was younger but his career as a journalist had taken him away from his hobby. He wanted to write about the growing commercialisation of Everest expeditions and was commissioned to do so by a magazine. One thing lead to another and the magazine bought a place for him on the best expedition companiy at the time, Adventure Consultants lead by Rob Hall. By the time the expedition was over, 12 people had died including very expedition leaders and experienced climbers, Rob Hall and Scott Fisher. The book looks into Krakauer's personal experience of climbing Everest and tries to piece togther what actually happened with the benefit of speaking to others involved after the event.

 

Krakauer is a very good writer and that alone had earned the book 4 stars from me. Where he earns the 5th star is in the final section of the book where he reveals the negative correspondence he got following the publication of the article he wrote. He has been accused of not helping and in fact ignoring those in peril amongst other things. At this point I think most writers would have ignored this correspondence or chose to defend their position but Krakauer does neither. He presents it as what it is, a different opinion on what happened and leaves it as that for the reader to decide. Having read this book, my opinion on him with regards to the event has changed, and although I still think he is a little harsh on Boukreev I don't begrudge his opiniom even if I disagree with it.

 

Binary by John Lange (2/5)

A rich political radical John Wright is plotting a terrorist event and federal agent John Graves is charged with trying to find out what it is and to put a top to it. This book was a pretty by the numbers thriller and nothing more in my opinion. The characters are not very well developed but as the book reaches it's conclusion it does get pretty exciting. John Lange is a pseudonym for Michael Crichton and it's clear that this was one of his early books.

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9 hours ago, Brian. said:

Dangerous Hero by Tom Bower (3/5)

A non-fiction book all about the last Labour leader Jeremy Corbin. The book charts his political career and his time as leader up until the last general election. Like many people in the UK I was impressed by Corbin when he first surfaced as a candidate for the position of Labour leader. Over time however I couldn't agree with his position on certain things and although I appreciate that politics is never black and white I just felt that he wasn't the right person to lead the country or the Labour party. This book addresses many of the allegations thrown his way when he was leader, especially his lack of action when it comes to anti-semitism inside the party. After reading the book I don't believe he is necessarily a bad person and he definitely stands by his principles but he is easily lead by those around him. The book was pretty good but I do see why there have been some accusations of it being a hatchet job even if I don't feel that way myself.

 

*cough* it's Corbyn! *cough*

 

I don't blame you for getting it wrong, though, the man is thoroughly forgettable and deservedly so.  I resent him thoroughly for his lack of a position on Brexit.  You cannot lead Her Majesty's Opposition and be absolutely nowhere on the single biggest issue of the day...  Gifted the Tories another 10 years, and that is utterly unforgiveable.

 

(apologies for the rant!)

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On 9/24/2020 at 11:28 PM, Raven said:

 

*cough* it's Corbyn! *cough*

 

I don't blame you for getting it wrong, though, the man is thoroughly forgettable and deservedly so.  I resent him thoroughly for his lack of a position on Brexit.  You cannot lead Her Majesty's Opposition and be absolutely nowhere on the single biggest issue of the day...  Gifted the Tories another 10 years, and that is utterly unforgiveable.

 

(apologies for the rant!)

 

Oops, I can't believe I got that wrong :blush:

 

For what it's worth I agree with your sentiments, I was trying to be diplomatic :lol:

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Shame about the audiobook for Dune, I really like the paperbook and have read it 3 times (I believe). I hope the new movie will be good and that you will enjoy watching the movie :) .

 

I've heard amazing things of Into Thin Air from a few people I know, I'm glad you liked it a lot.

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I’ve been reading at a great rate all year and now all of a sudden my reading mojo has done a runner.

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I managed to get into a bit of a reading run yesterday so it's time for another update.

 

Crossfire by Miyuki Miyabe (3/5)

This is one of the many books on the '1001 books' list. I've had a copy for quite a while but it isn't the easiest to track down. I had purposefully avoided reading the synopsis and assumed that it was a Japanese crime novel. Well it kind of is, but it's more of a supernatural thriller than anything else. The story concentrates around 2 main characters, Junko Aoki who can set people on fire with her mind and a detective, Chikako Ishizu. This was a decent book and I really liked the way that my emotions towards Aoki constantly changed throughout the book.

 

Athelstan by Tom Holland (3/5)

A very short book which serves as a really good primer on Athelstan. Without a doubt there are far more studious books on the subject but this is a good place to start for those interested in the subject.

 

Stasi Wolf by David Young (2/5)

The second book in the Karin Muller series. This time we see Karin involved in a case of baby abduction in the model town of Halle-Neustadt. Being a model town Karin has to investigate the case on the quiet as there is meant to be no crime. I enjoyed the first book in the series but I found this to be a bit of a let down. The amtosphere and setting are very well delivered but the plot is ridiculous. The ending in particular is very badly telegraphed and a step too far on the believability scale.

 

Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo (4/5)

This is another book that has been on my wishlist for a long time but as happens far too often I can't remember where I first heard about it. The story revolves around the communities in the Chinatown of Soho in the 1960's. We focus in particular on one family who are trying to make the best of their situatiion in a strange place. Along the way we see how others get by and how the triads do their business. This was quite unlike anything else I've read before and I really ejoyed it.

 

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (4/5)

This is an abridged edition of volumes 1, 2, and 3, and I listened to it on Audible. I knew that this was a very important book in Soviet and world history and having read it I can see just how important it is. It feels wrong even giving this a rating.

 

Dictator by Robert Harris (4/5)

This is the last book in the Cicero series and ties up the later stages of Cicero's life. I assumed that I had read the other books in the series a few years ago but after checking my records it turns out I read them in 2011. Despite the long gap I slipped into this as if I had read the others last week. The life events in this book are dramatic but because of the long timeframes invloved it feels less exciting overall. I really liked this way Harris wrote about the death of Caesar, it was very well done. When it comes to well researched historical fiction there aren't many out there better than Harris in my opinion.

 

 

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Time for my latest update. I feel like I haven't read much but the numbers indicate otherwise.

 

The Order of the Day by Eric Vuillard (4/5)

This is a short novel based on meetings between heads of German industry, Hitler, and the leaders of the main European nations in the run up the second world war. Vuillard won the 2017 Prix Goncourt which is what lead me to pick this up. I found it quite timely considering the political world we find ourselves in today. The writing is precise and to the point and I found this very readable. I have read some criticism that the book bends the truth in places but I don't really see that as valid as it is clearly marketed as a novel.

 

Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid (4/5)

In this book our main character Daru Shezad is fired from his well paying job in a bank and starts a spiraling descent into poverty and drug abuse. Along the way we see how his associates from both sides of the social spectrum see life. The story is anchored from the start on a court case in which Daru is in the dock for a murder that he may or may not have commited. Another solid book from Hamid which feels as though he is writing from personal experience.

 

My Life in Football by Kevin Keegan (3/5)

An entertaining if unspectacular biography about ex footballer Kevin Keegan. I suspect this will only appeal to football fans like me and I read it over the course of a single day.

 

The Protocol by Grigory Rodchenkov (4/5)

I listened to this as an audiobook, mainly while at work. I knew a little bit about this story due to the Netflix documentary Icarus but I wasn't prepared for all the extra detail in this book. Rodchenkov reveals how he went from a student to head of the WADA approved testing lab in Moscow and how he and his team defeated drug testing in sport for decades. The content of the book is 5 stars, the writing is 3 so I settled somewhere in the middle. One criticism of the audiobook I have is that the narrator pronounced some of the scientific words incorrectly which I found quite distracting.

 

Land of Fire by Chris Ryan (2/5)

During the Falklands war in 1982 SAS trooper Mike Hood risks his life to rescue a suspected Argentine spy from a burning ship. 20 years later and Argentina have designs on another invasion but there is limited intelligence about how or when it will happen. Mike Hood is now a patrol leader and is sent to find out what is going on as troops mobilise in Tierra del Fuego. I gave this book 2 stars as I finished it, but it really isn't very good. The writing is pretty basic, but that isn't where my issue lies with the book. The leaps of realism in the book are pretty stupifiying and there is a love scene which I am sure is meant to be passionate but which comes across as pretty rapey. There is a really interesting premise in this book but it is spoiled by the delivery and so much more should have been done with it.

 

A Long Night in Paris by Dov Alfon (3/5)

An Israeli tech specialist goes missing in Charles de Gaulle airport immediately after getting off a flight. Surveillance footage shows him following a blonde woman in a red dress and then disappearing. On investigation it would appear there isn't much to the incident as the missing man has no links to Israeli military or intelligence. The information is passed to Israeli intelligence officer Lieutenant Oriana Talmor who decides to look a bit deeper.

While reading this book I jumped between loving it and feeling a bit flat about it. The plot is superb and the writing is engaging most of the time but it needed to lose about 50-60 pages in my opinion. There are a myriad of interconnecting lines which pull the main characters in various directions at the same time. However, there is a section about 3/4 of the way through the book which goes nowhere to move the plot along. There are also far too many peripheral characters who only serve to confuse matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I also might have got a bit carried away in Waterstones this morning stocking up before lockdown kicks in. I picked up

 

The Ice Princess - Camilla Lackberg

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

Fleishman is in Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens

Before the Coffee Gets Cold - Toshikazu Kawaguchi

The Guest List - Lucy Foley

2666 - Roberto Bolano

Trick of the Dark - Val McDermid

Vox - Christina Dalcher

Battle Royale - Koushun Takami

A Monk's Guide to a Clean House and Mind - Shoukel Matsumoto

The Prophet - Kahlil Gibran

The End of the World Running Club - Adrian J Walker

When the Dogs Don't Bark - Professor Angela Gallop

My Name is Why - Lemn Sissay

 

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3 hours ago, Hayley said:

Wow, that is an epic book haul! I strongly approve :lol: 

 

Also, 2666 is huge! How many pages is it?

 
893 pages. I had a copy many years ago that I got about a quarter of the way through but I can’t find it so I assume I gave it away.

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20 hours ago, Brian. said:

 
893 pages. I had a copy many years ago that I got about a quarter of the way through but I can’t find it so I assume I gave it away.

Ah, that's a shame. Hopefully you'll be able to enjoy the whole thing this time :) 

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Some annual leave from work and the second English lockdown happened to coincide so I have read quite a bit since my last update.

 

The New Cold War by Edward Lucas (3/5)

I read the second revision of this book which was published in 2014, the first edition was published in 2008. The book details how Russian president Vladimir Putin came to power and how he used this power to increase his control over the all aspects of Russian life between 1999 and 2008. Lucas warned in his first edition how he could see Putin's push for more power going and how, if the rest of the world, specifically the EU didn't stand up to him he would only become more of a menace. As it turns out, most of the predictions were accurate and second edition expands on what Putin's next steps will be. The book is pretty easy to read and although I largely agree with the author's position I do worry that some of the steps he advocates seriously risk armed conflict between NATO and Russia, something I'm sure no one wants. 

 

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (4/5)

Sinks start sinking for no apparent reason and strange lights are seen above the deepest parts of the ocean. Some kind of alien life form has arrived on earth and the human race doesn't know how to deal with it. I assumed, wrongly, that this would be about some deep water uber squid attacking ships due in no small part to the rum. I really enjoyed this book, it's the exact kind of classic sicence fiction that really gets my juices flowing and I can instantly see how it has served as an influence for other Sci-Fi writers.

 

When the Dogs Don't Bark by Angela Gallop (3/5)

I picked this up based on the blurb on the back cover which explains that the author has 40 years experience in British forensic science and has worked on cases such as the Yorkshire Ripper and the murder of Damilola Taylor. I found this to be a bit of a let down if I am brutally honest. There is some good insight on a few cases and how forensic science has changed over the years but quite quickly turns into a self congratulationary tale of Gallop's business acumen. I wasn't really interested in her various forensic companies, I wanted to learn more about how forensic science has been used to solve the biggest cases in modern British history.

 

Brick Lane by Monica Ali (2/5)

This book was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker prize and I've had a copy kicking around on my book shelves for at least 5 years so I decided it was time to read it. I really didn't think much of this and I am quite surprised that I managed to finish it. I kept hoping something would happen with the 2 main plot threads but they just fizzled out. I didn't really care for the main character Nazneen, she was very one dimensional compared to the other more colourful characters. I found the whole thing plodding and going nowhere.

 

A History of Britain: Vol 3 by Simon Schama (3/5)

This is the last book in the History of Britain series and it covers the period of 1773-2000. In this book Schama takes a different approach and instead focuses on a few main historical characters such as George Orwell and Winston Churchill. I can understand this approach as deciding what to include or exclude without causing controversy would be an impossible task. There were parts of history covered which I knew very little about despite being monumental events, such as the Indian Famine in 1876. Due to the approach this was the least enjoyable of the trilogy for me but praise must be given for taking on such a monumental task and largely doing it justice.

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (4/5)

I have an embarassing admission to make, I always been a little sniffy about the Harry Potter series as an adult. I don't know why this is but I would probably put it down to the fact that it was very popular when I finding my way in the world and I had a natural aversion to anything popular. I have always admired the way that the series got children reading, something which I think should be encouraged at all costs, but I never saw myself reading any of the books. As we are in a second lockdown in England I wanted something light to read and people always seem to describe the Harry Potter world as somewhere comforting to return to so I decided to give it a go. Well I have to admit that I am a convert having read the first book and I wish I had read it earlier.

 

Motherland by G.D. Abson (3/5)

This is a crime novel set in modern day Russia, complete with all the corruption and shady dealing that goes with it. The main character Natalya Ivanova comes across the possible kidnapping of the daughter of a very rich Swede and is tasked with investigating it. However, there are complications. Due to the wealth of the family she must solve the case quickly but at the same time deal with departmental politics and the FSB at the same time. I quite enjoyed this but having recently been reading a lot of Val McDermid it fell short of the mark. This is perhaps an unfair comparison because McDermid is a master of the craft but it is how I feel nonetheless. The plot is fast paced and although I quickly suspected the main 'villain' It took me a while to suss out how he fitted into the bigger picture. There is a second book in the series and I will probably search it out at some point in the future.

 

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Update time.

 

The Guest List by Lucy Foley (4/5)

A large group of people collect on an island off the coast of Ireland to celebrate a wedding. The groom, and less so the bride, are celebrities so everything has been planned down to the smallest detail and it has to go right. As the celebrations progress we find out about the tensions and nuroses under the surface. As things come to a boil someone ends up dead. The killer is obviously on the island, but who is it and why did they strike?

I enjoyed this book a lot even if the plot is a bit fare fetched. Each chapter focuses on a different character and jumps backwards and forwards in time to slowly reveal what is going on. This works really well because even though there are quite a few people at the wedding it only focuses on the important characters. This is a book I bought on a whim and I'm glad I did.

 

Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beevor (5/5)

I listened to this on Audible, mainly while at work. As expected from Beevor this is a superbly researched book which leaves no stone un-turned. It is a little dry in places but I didn't find this to be a problem given the serious nature of the subject. If it had been purely about the soldiers and commanders it would have been good, but what propels it to that 5th star for me is the fact that it also focuses on what happened to the civilians caught up in the downfall in Berlin, and in particular the women. What soldiers on all sides faced was bad, but even more horrific was the routine rape and abuse of pretty much every woman the soldiers came across regardless of age. This isn't an easy book to digest but delivers eveything it promises.

 

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma (1/5)

For some reason I thought I had read this and fancied reading it again. After a short period I realised 2 things. First, I hadn't read this before and must have mistaken the title for something else similar. Secondly, I thought it was a true story but it quickly dawned on me that it was a tale told as a parable. The basic premise is that the high flying boss of a law firm has a heart attack and decides to leave the company immediately. No one hears from him for several years and when he comes back he is unrecognisable both physically (he looks 30 years younger) and spiritually. He promises to reveal all the secrets of the world to our narrator over the course of a long conversation.

I gave up after 100 pages as I thought it was total rubbish. I could see what the underlying message was but it is handled in such a clunky way I was too grating to get through. At times it felt like I was reading a book designed for 5 year olds because the questions were so telegraphed. Apparently this tale is losely based on Sharma's own spritual journey and he would have been far better served writing about that in a factual way instead of trying to turn it into a fable.

 

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (3/5)

The second book in the Game of Thrones A Song of Ice and Fire series. I really enjoyed this first book and for about 250 pages I was worried that this was going to be a disappointment. It felt quite plodding and I just couldn't get into it for some reason. I initially thought that perhaps then sheer size of it was putting me off (900 pages) but in hindsight I think it was just the set up to bigger events that I found a bit slow. At the end of the book I felt satisfied with what I had read but I have to admit that I don't think I would feel that was if I hadn't watched the TV series. The reason for this is the sheer amount of characters. I just don't think my brain would be able to keep track of who is who without the previous mental image I have of some of them from the TV show. All in all a good book and I look forward to reading #3 in the coming months.

 

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17 hours ago, Brian. said:

The Guest List by Lucy Foley (4/5)

A large group of people collect on an island off the coast of Ireland to celebrate a wedding. The groom, and less so the bride, are celebrities so everything has been planned down to the smallest detail and it has to go right. As the celebrations progress we find out about the tensions and nuroses under the surface. As things come to a boil someone ends up dead. The killer is obviously on the island, but who is it and why did they strike?

I enjoyed this book a lot even if the plot is a bit fare fetched. Each chapter focuses on a different character and jumps backwards and forwards in time to slowly reveal what is going on. This works really well because even though there are quite a few people at the wedding it only focuses on the important characters. This is a book I bought on a whim and I'm glad I did.

 

I've heard good things about this book, glad you liked it!

 

17 hours ago, Brian. said:

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (3/5)

The second book in the Game of Thrones A Song of Ice and Fire series. I really enjoyed this first book and for about 250 pages I was worried that this was going to be a disappointment. It felt quite plodding and I just couldn't get into it for some reason. I initially thought that perhaps then sheer size of it was putting me off (900 pages) but in hindsight I think it was just the set up to bigger events that I found a bit slow. At the end of the book I felt satisfied with what I had read but I have to admit that I don't think I would feel that was if I hadn't watched the TV series. The reason for this is the sheer amount of characters. I just don't think my brain would be able to keep track of who is who without the previous mental image I have of some of them from the TV show. All in all a good book and I look forward to reading #3 in the coming months.

 

I preferred book 3 (A Storm of Swords) over book 2. I hope you enjoy book 3 more :).

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Yes I found CoK a bit clunky but it does build up to a great finish.  Book 3 is much more fast paced and readable.

 

I haven't read The Guest List yet but have read her first book The Hunting Party which follows pretty much the same structure that you describe and is also very readable.

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On 24/09/2020 at 11:28 PM, Raven said:

 

*cough* it's Corbyn! *cough*

 

I don't blame you for getting it wrong, though, the man is thoroughly forgettable and deservedly so.  I resent him thoroughly for his lack of a position on Brexit.  You cannot lead Her Majesty's Opposition and be absolutely nowhere on the single biggest issue of the day...  Gifted the Tories another 10 years, and that is utterly unforgiveable.

 

(apologies for the rant!)

 

Came to this late, and know that one shouldn't discuss politics in polite company, but FWIW, I think you pretty much nailed it in barely a line and a half.

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Fleishman is in Trouble  by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (2/5)

Toby Fleishman is recently separated, over 40, heading for divorce, and living on his own for the first time in ages. Unlike in his younger days he finds casual sex extremely easy to obtain, mainly due to the modern phenomenon of dating apps. His newly found way of life is disrupted when his wife disappears and he is left trying to balance his new life, taking care of his children, and attempting to find his wife.

This is a promising sounding summary but I struggled with this one. The writing is fine and the plot doesn't really go anywhere but the thing that really spoiled it for me was the fact that I hated every single character. They are all self obsessed bores with first world problems and I just don't get the praise that this book gets.

 

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (3/5)

I've been listening to a podcast recently where this book was briefly discussed and as I've been meaning to read it for years I decided it was time. Fortunately I didn't need to buy it as I found a copy on my wife's bookcase that she was given by a friend many years ago. This book is considered a spiritual classic with Buddhist leanings and often pops up on lists. The core message is that you can remove a lot of your 'problems' by focusing on the now and not worrying about the past or the future.The first chapter is very very good but after that it does get a bit repetitive and a lot of the chapters cover similar ground. The book also contains questions he has been asked along with his answers. While these do work in the main, there are some answers he gives which are not great and there is rarely any counter questions to these weak answers.

 

The Lying Room by Nicci French (3/5)

Neve Connolly is leading a bit of a double life. On the surface she is a hard working, caring wife, and mother to two children. However she does have a secret, she is having an affair with Saul and she thinks no one knows about. After spending the evening with Saul she gets a text message the next morning telling her to come to his secret apartment. She arrives to find him brutually murdered and is thrown into panic. Obviously she should contact the police, but then her secret would come out and ruin the lives of her family.

For most of the book this was a 4, dropping a star when the book reached it's conclusion. As the story progresses we get glimpses into how things really are despite appearances, and why Neve makes the decisions she does. The plot moves quickly and I read this book with ease. Without spoilers, all I will say about the ending is that I thought it was very weak. Along the way many people are suspected of the murder and the eventual outcome felt like an easy get out to me.

 

Trafalgar by Roy Adkins (4/5)

This is my most recent Audible listen and I have found myself really enjoying audiobooks this year. As you would probably guess by the title, this is a non-fiction book about the most significant naval battle in British history, the battle of Trafalgar. This book blends scholarly history with a little bit of drama which works really well. We learn a little about each of the main players away from the battle, the history of the ships, and how country found itself in this situation. Throughout the book we are also treated to accounts from the actual sailors, thanks to letters they sent home. I found these to be a great insight into the everyday lives of the men and women who served and add real value. Going into this book I knew very little about the actual battle and this is a great book for those who want a strong overview into what happened.

 

A Bit of a Stretch by Chris Atkins (4/5)

Chris Atkins was working as documentary film maker at a time when tax breaks were easily available for those in the British film industry. Struggling to get his new film off the ground he signed up to a funding scheme which he knew was a bit shady. After a while the fund was investigated and the parties involved were taken to court. I got the impression that Chris thought he would be relatively ok, but the judge sentenced him to 5 years, of which he would serve 2 and half behind bars. This book is an account of his time at Wandsworth before later being moved to an open prison. In it he describes how massive under-funding has lead to prisons barely being able to function. As a result, education and reform of prisoners are non existant. To top it off the prisons are full of drugs and the facilities are falling apart. It's hardly surprising we have such a high re-offending rate in the UK.

The book was a great insight into a lot of the issues that the general public don't see. It is a damning indictment of how successive government justice ministers have failed to even scratch the surface of the problem and the same failings are still present. After reading the book I did a bit more research and was unsurprised to learn that prisons in the UK are run by private companies for profit. How anyone can logically justify running medical care, education, and justice for profit has always been beyond my comprehension but I guess greed is more important than humanity.

I'm sure the author wouldn't really care, but by the end of the book I really didn't like him. He rails against a prison system that he proudly acknowledges he gamed to make his life inside easier. I understand why he did it, and I admit I would do the same if I were in his situation, but it still doesn't quite sit right with me. He might have been wiser to dial down his tone considering some of the perks he got as a 'white-collar' criminal.

 

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