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      Summer Supporter Giveaway   08/31/2020

      Going on a Summer Holiday (Sort Of...)     The summer giveaway for Patreon supporters is finally here and this time we're doing something a little bit different. I want supporters to tell me where you would go on holiday, if you could go anywhere. The winner will receive a bookish prize based on their answer!   Terms and conditions are as usual. Patreon supporters will be automatically entered into the giveaway and selected at random. As we're a little late this year the draw will be held on the second weekend of September. If you aren't currently a supporter but want to be involved in the giveaway you can sign up to support us here:   https://www.patreon.com/bookclubforum  
Brian.

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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