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Brian's Book Log - Ongoing

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I have just finished another book but I thought it could do with it's own post.

 

Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed by Catrina Davies (3/5)

The blurb on the back of this book reads as follows

 

"Aged thirty-one, barely making the rent and homesick for the landscape of her childhood, Catrina Davies moves away from the city and into a tiny, dilapidated shed in Cornwall. As a child, she saw her family and their security torn apart; now, on this battered granite peninsula, she slowly rebuilds the shed and, piece by piece, her own sense of self. This is the story of a personal housing crisis and a country-wide one, showing how it can trap us or set us free, and what it means to feel at home."

 

I have two strands to my thoughts on this book. The book as a book, and what the book has to say. 

 

As a book, its works well. The writing is descriptive without being flowery, the chapters nicely defined, and thoughtful quotes used in the right places. Davies also makes it clear at the start that the timeline is tweaked and certain things changed to make it flow better but the story is truthful to her experience. This was a good decision because the book is very readable when it could easily have been a disjointed mess at the hands of someone else. It would have been nice if the book contained some photos of the building as many are available online as part of news articles.

 

Now onto what the book has to say. We have a housing crisis in the UK as a whole but it is particularly bad in some places such as Cornwall where Davies lives. Loads of houses are bought up as second homes which sit empty outside the holiday season. This means a lack of houses for those who live there year round. This lack of houses means house prices are beyond most of the residents and that rental prices are also very high compared to the average wage of locals. Davies says this is very unfair and something needs to be done about it. So far, so good. I agree with all this and I'm constantly bewildered by the rate at which house prices increase across the UK each year. 

 

After having enough of paying rent for a pokey room in a shared house in Bristol, Catrina decides to move into an old shed (more or a ramshackle studio truth be told) which has been left to run down. The shed is owned by her father and it has sat empty for years so it takes a lot of work to make it even barely habitable.This is where my agreement with Davies started to diverge. She claims the housing crisis made it a necessity but I don't believe this is true. She has a degree (but she never tell us what in) so she is educated, but hates the idea of working so picks up the odd bit of casual work here and there until she gets sick of it. This is the reason why she moves into the shed. It is a conscious choice, not a forced necessity. Many of us have to do jobs we don't really like because we know it gives us the security of four walls. Yes, there is big issue with the housing market, be it rental or ownership, but choosing not to work is a choice. I'll use myself here as an example. I would love to live in the Lake District or near the hills in Scotland. However, I work in an industry which means I need to live near a city which means I can't live in one of these areas and do the job I do. So I make a conscious choice to carry on doing the job I do because it provides me with a level of financial security that I am comfortable with (at the moment at least). My compromise is that I can't live in my dream location. It is a trade off like most of life is. Incidentally the Lake District shares many of the same housing issues that Cornwall does. 

 

Catrina seems to want to spend all her life around nature or surfing but doesn't feel like the compromises she needs to make are fair. Reading the book it is clear, and she admits as much, that she has some mental health issues brought about because of her past. I couldn't help but wonder how much of her situation is due to her mental health issues rather than the housing situation. She wants to run away to her carefree upbringing where she had no responsibilities. I feel mean writing all this as I believe there is a lot of validity in what she has to say but at the same time if we all ran away from life's hardships where would we be. She talks about landlords not paying tax and how this hurts society as a whole but then mentions ordering stuff from Amazon regularly throughout the book. The final thing which pushed me over the edge was the following quote when she came across a rotting Dolphin carcass on the beach

 

"The Dolphin had either got caught in a net, or lost its way because GPS interfered with it's sonar".

 

GPS does not interfere with Sonar in this way and the statement is utter hogwash. In the end I guess I feel a level of empathy with Davies, and because I largely agree that the housing system in the UK needs fixing I gave it 3 out of 5. 

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3 hours ago, Brian. said:

 

I hate it when publishers do but I tend to pick up a Penguin Classic every time I buy books from Waterstones. My collection so far isn't huge but it's slowly going. I had intended to collect some classics by buying Everyman editions but they aren't always easily available and they seem to change the dust jacket designs all the time.

 

 

I've got a little more tolerant to this as I have grown older, because I can see the evolution of different authors books covers on my shelf, as I have bought their books over time (Iain M. Banks, for example).

 

What does annoy me is when an older series of books is reprinted not long after I get into them (Raymond Chandler, The Witcher novels etc.) and I end up with books of both the old and new versions!

 

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After a day or two with no reading I’ve picked my next fiction book to read, Zero by Eric Van Lustbader. I have no idea what to expect from this, I bought it a while ago because I liked the way the cover looked. 

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My reading has really slowed down over the last month so I have only finished 3 books since my last update.

 

SAS Ghost Patrol by Damien Lewis (3/5)

This is a non-fiction book all about special forces missions run against the Nazi's and Italian forces which held Tobruk and surrounding areas. I knew nothing about these raids beforehand and was constantly left amazed at the audacity of the raids. One of the main aims was to train a group of soldiers to imitate the Afrika Korps and use this to gain access to huge camps where POW's were held. To do this, the selected group lived and trained exactly the same as the Afrika Korps, stole vehicles, and then set up road blocks checking paperwork just as the Nazi forces were doing. When this was successful they would enter transit camps, rest, eat in the canteen etc, and then move on. Eventually they used their cover to enter the camps and areas held by Nazi forces and cause chaos. The story told is amazing but the book doesn't quite live up to the content.

 

Zero by Eric Van Lustbader (2/5)

The main character in this book is Michael Doss, an American living in Japan who studied martial arts in Japan as a young man. Life is ticking along until his father dies under suspicious circumstances in Hawaii. The family gets together at the funeral and his sister is kidnapped shortly afterwards. Michael's father's 'business' partner reveals a little about what his father had been doing in Hawaii. As a result Michael goes to Hawaii to see if he can work out what happened to his father and see if it leads to his sister's location.

I wanted to like this book but the forced way the Japanese culture was constantly pushed really grated on me after a while. I didn't care for any of the characters and found most of them fairly cliched. I found the Yakuza stuff interesting but on the whole it felt like a bad 80's martial arts movie that Jean-Claude Van Damme would have starred in.

 

Silence by Erling Kagge (2/5)

The blurb on the back of the book says " Behind a cacophony of traffic noise, iPhone alerts and our ever-spinning thoughts, an elusive notion - silence - lies in wait. But what really is silence? Where can it be found? And why is it more important now than ever?"

This really jumped out at me from the shelves in my local Waterstones and I was really interested as it also stated that Erling Kagge had spent 50 days walking across Antarctica on his own with a broken radio. I expected an explanation of how he felt and the mental jumps that happens when faced with complete isolation for a long time. Instead I got a collection of thoughts and short passages on silence and how it can be found anywhere. It was all a bit vague and flighty and while I am sure others will love it, I didn't get on with it.

 

 

Hopefully my next reads will be more suited to my tastes :D

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Oh dear, you aren't having that much luck with your recent books are you!? 

 

On 18/06/2021 at 2:55 PM, Brian. said:

she is educated, but hates the idea of working so picks up the odd bit of casual work here and there until she gets sick of it. This is the reason why she moves into the shed.

I think I'd have been tempted to throw the book away at this point! For her to claim that she's suffering from the housing crisis in Cornwall seems deeply unfair to the people who are working long hours in tough jobs in the same area and still struggling to find housing they can afford. You can't just not try because you don't like work and then claim to be in the same position. You wouldn't be able to afford a house anywhere if you just didn't work!

 

On 18/06/2021 at 2:55 PM, Brian. said:

She talks about landlords not paying tax and how this hurts society as a whole but then mentions ordering stuff from Amazon regularly throughout the book. The final thing which pushed me over the edge was the following quote when she came across a rotting Dolphin carcass on the beach

 

"The Dolphin had either got caught in a net, or lost its way because GPS interfered with it's sonar".

It sounds like three stars was generous to be honest :lol:

 

On 09/07/2021 at 10:11 AM, Brian. said:

Silence by Erling Kagge (2/5)

I've just read the introduction and am feeling a bit traumatised by the Everest story! 

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On 14/07/2021 at 9:40 AM, Hayley said:

Oh dear, you aren't having that much luck with your recent books are you!? 


No I’m not. I’ve really struggled to get into anything much for the last month. I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts about quite a few things so it isn’t just isolated to reading. 

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13 hours ago, Brian. said:


No I’m not. I’ve really struggled to get into anything much for the last month. I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts about quite a few things so it isn’t just isolated to reading. 

That sounds very frustrating. It's funny to think how much our perception of books changes depending on how we feel at the time. Hopefully the last half of July will bring better things, including better books :hug:

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I've finished two books since my last post in this thread, both non-fiction. I'm about halfway through Pine by Francine Toon and it's starting to work for me as I struggled a bit with it initially. Anyway, back to the updates.

 

Champagne Football by Mark Tighe & Paul Rowan (4/5)

This book has been mentioned a few times on the Guardian Football Podcast by Barry Glendenning as an example of how badly football administration is often run. It covers the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) and the period in which it was run by John Delaney. It's the kind of book which would appeal to a football fan but probably won't reach many people outside this demographic. I already knew the gist of what was covered in the book as it was fairly big news at the time. What I didn't know was the size of the corruption and theft which went on. The amount of money that was mis-used under the directions of Delaney is mindblowing and how no one ended up in prison is beyond me. Sadly this sort of things isn't unique and goes on in football and sports administration (and governments for that matter) all over the world.

 

Full Circle by Michael Palin (5/5)

I'm reading Michael Palin's travel books in order and I'm now up to number 3. Having already gone around the world in 80 days and travelled pole to pole, Palin and his team travel around the Pacific pim over nine and a half months. This book is the best of the lot so far and it really helps that despite the long time spent travelling they only visit 18 countries. This allows time to feel like you are actually getting some good detail on these places and I particularly enjoyed the sections in China and South America. I really like the way that Palin always presents things are they are and how he feels about them instead of trying to project an ideal image all the time. At one point he is doing an activity which he finds painful and instead of putting a brave face on it admits that he lost his temper and started to swear at the leader of the activity. I think many writers wouldn't admit to this as it presents them in a negative light but not with Palin, what you read is what happened.

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I had a good day reading yesterday and finished Pine.

 

Pine by Francine Toon (2/5)

I'll put my hands up and admit that I bought this book mainly because I loved the cover and the spynopsis on the back sounded intriguing. I hadn't yet read any kind of horror book and this book spans a couple of genres including horror so that sealed the deal for me. The basic synopsis is that Niall, a single father, lives with his daughter Lauren in the highlands of Scotland. One night a woman stumbles out of the pine forest and Niall drives her to his house. In the morning she is gone and Niall acts like nothing has happened. We don't know who the woman is or what has happened to her. There is definitely something not right and some of the residents are clearly aware of this but keeping it under wraps.

I found this book really difficult to get into but I suspect that could be more because of my recent lack of mojo rather than the quality of the writing. It took me a good 100 pages to settle into it and feel like it was worthwhile to carry on. There isn't a huge amount of character development and I really didn't like 90% of them. It is very atmospheric in a way that few books are. It almost felt oppressive and times and the only other book I have read that managed this for me is Snow by Orhan Pamuk.

Now for the negatives. The pacing is uneven. The beginning is very slow going, the middle has jumps in pace and then the end comes so quickly that it feels far too rushed. I wasn't sure how to rate this but in the end i've gone for 2/5 because I could have easily put this on the DNF pile in the early stages. I don't think it's a bad book but I just never really got on with it in the way I hoped I would.

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I was disappointed by Pine as well, a good idea which seemed to run out of steam after a while, and ultimately went nowhere.  It feels like a first book, ie there is definite promise, and I wouldn't dismiss it totally, but it needed a better editor.  Sometimes I wonder if editors even exist any more, as any old tripe seems to get published now!

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1 hour ago, Madeleine said:

I was disappointed by Pine as well, a good idea which seemed to run out of steam after a while, and ultimately went nowhere.  It feels like a first book, ie there is definite promise, and I wouldn't dismiss it totally, but it needed a better editor.  Sometimes I wonder if editors even exist any more, as any old tripe seems to get published now!


The author works in publishing so that probably helped getting it along the process a bit quicker. 

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My mojo seems to be back and with some strength. We had a few quiet days at work so I had plenty of time to read and have finished 3 books since the weekend.

 

The Greatest Football that Never Was by Sonny Pike (3/5)

For those who don't know, Sonny Pike was the next big thing in football during the mid 90's despite only being about 10 years old. He was featured in newspaper articles, on tv shows, and invited to numerous football events and award shows. He had a trial at Ajax which for a British youngster at the time was unheard of. On the surface it appeared that he had it all and it was inevitable that he would go on to be a successful player in the future. What the public never saw was that his home life was in turmoil and he was being exploited by those who should have had his best interests at heart. All of this culminated in Sonny never making the leap expected of him and walking away from football at the age of 18.

 

This book only came out 2 months ago so there weren't many reviews for me to look at before deciding to jump into it. I found it an engaging read and I learned a lot about what happened to Sonny that I was unaware of. Sonny worked with Seth Burkett while writing this book and Burkett has done an admirable job of bringing it all together into a cohesive and logical tale. There is nothing spectacular here in terms of the writing but some of the revelations about how he was exploited are pretty shocking. One individual in particular went on to become a leader in the English game and it would be nice to hear what he has to say about his actions at the time. Despite how badly Sonny was treated it is clear that he has moved on. While he probably will never forgive those who wronged him he is clearly very happy with how his life has eventually turned out.

 

One for the football fans.

 

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (4/5)

The synopsis of this book is as follows

Quote

Drawing on Maggie O'Farrell's long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare's most enigmatic play, HAMNET is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.
 

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

 

So first up I need to say that this isn't the kind of thing that I would be interested in reading. I don't really like Shakespeare after being forced to study his work at school and an imagined story of part of his life isn't my idea of fun. However. This book just kept coming up everywhere I looked. Every time I took a look at newer fiction best seller lists it was there. It kept popping up in my Goodreads friends feed and it was also on prominent display at my local Waterstones. So I finally accepted defeat and decided to give it a go, after all I could always DNF it if I thought it was stinker. I'm happy to say that I really enjoyed the book and the story that it contained. The characters are well formed (apart from one aspect of Agnes which I'll come to) and most of them serve a specific purpose in the plot. It's generally well paced even if it does fall off a little towards the end and a slight diversion about a flea works surprisingly well.

 

Now for the small negatives. There are a lot of characters introduced quite quickly and I lost my way a few times and had to track back to double check who was who. The biggest issue for me, and perhaps just for me, was the mystical woman aspect of Agnes. On one hand I understand that Agnes needed to be given a purpose in life away from just being the wife of Shakespeare but the witchy healer is done too often in my opinion. These are minor complaints however and on the whole I really enjoyed reading this book and learned something along the way which is always a bonus.

 

My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay (3/5)

This is a non-fiction book written by Lemn Sissay about being brought up in the UK care system in the 70' and 80's after being effectively stolen from his mother. During the book Sissay explores his feelings, reactions, and recollections after finally being given all the documents and reports about his time in care. This isn't an easy read and really highlights a lot of the abuse and downright criminality that went on during this time. I was left feeling quite angry about how so many young vulnerable people were handled. After reading the book I was left understanding just why so many of the people affected during this time went on to suffer mental issues as adults and often ended up with substance abuse issues.

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On 24/07/2021 at 9:42 AM, Brian. said:

I don't think it's a bad book but I just never really got on with it in the way I hoped I would.

It's a shame that the execution isn't great when the idea sounded so good!

 

On 29/07/2021 at 10:02 AM, Brian. said:

a slight diversion about a flea works surprisingly well.

Intriguing! I have been very tempted to buy Hamnet a few times. I tend to stay away from fictionalised accounts of real lives because there's often something about it that just doesn't work for me. Everyone who's read it on here has really liked it so far though, so I might have to give it a chance next time I order books. 

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A Brief History of the Third Reich by Martyn Whittock (3/5)

This is an interesting book which covers German political history from the end of WWI through to the end of WWII. Although there are some areas of battle covered, the book concentrates on the political rise of the Nazi party and how they managed to take control of German and most of Europe. It goes right back to the start of the party and includes how Hitler joined the party and rose through the ranks which is rarely covered when this subject is explored. Whittock looks at policy decisions, decisive moments along the way, how the populace were handled, and eventually the downfall at the end of the war. There are some echos with what we can see today with some political figures around the world and how they use the same tactics to convince people that they are victims of some grand conspiracy. The book loses a few marks for me due to it's fairly dry tone. I accept it is hard to inject much energy into such a complex subject but I still think it is possible to make it a more engaging read.

 

Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid (3/5)

This is one of McDermid's stand alone novels and the first book of her's I've read that isn't part of the Karen Pirie series. The book starts with disgraced psychiatrist Charlie Flint being sent a package about a murder which draws her back to Oxford University where she had been a student. A groom is murdered hours after his wedding on the grounds of Charlie's old college, and despite the trial being almost over, not all is as it seems. Having really enjoyed the Karen Pirie series so far, I was really looking forward to see how I would get on with a book with completely new characters. For a while I thought that I may have come across a dud because as hard as I tried I just couldn't get into the book for the first 100 pages. There are about half a dozen new charcters introduced in one go and this caused me issues because they are quite similar. The middle 300 pages are solid and keep the story ticking along at an easy pace without ever getting up a head of steam. The final 100 pages were another dud for me. I knew where the story was going and I was pretty sure who the culprit was (I was right) but I couldn't work out the motivation. McDermid uses one of the characters writing a book as a plot device to cover some background throughout the book and this works really well in my opinion.

I felt as though the book had too many prominent characters and as a result they never get fully developed. There is a mixture of lesbian love triangles going which although start off intriguing just get tedious as the book goes on. I'm not sure if McDermid was trying to make a point or not, but if she was, it missed completely for me. The plot is solid though and this is what carries the book, a weaker plot would have killed the book. In truth this book sits between 2 and 3 stars but I gave it 3 because there was just enough there to keep me interesting in the middle part of the book. It falls quite short of her best writing which is a shame given how good a writer she is.

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4 hours ago, Brian. said:

 

A Brief History of the Third Reich by Martyn Whittock (3/5)

This is an interesting book which covers German political history from the end of WWI through to the end of WWII. Although there are some areas of battle covered, the book concentrates on the political rise of the Nazi party and how they managed to take control of German and most of Europe. It goes right back to the start of the party and includes how Hitler joined the party and rose through the ranks which is rarely covered when this subject is explored. Whittock looks at policy decisions, decisive moments along the way, how the populace were handled, and eventually the downfall at the end of the war. There are some echos with what we can see today with some political figures around the world and how they use the same tactics to convince people that they are victims of some grand conspiracy. The book loses a few marks for me due to it's fairly dry tone. I accept it is hard to inject much energy into such a complex subject but I still think it is possible to make it a more engaging read.

 

 

I don't know if you saw it, but The Nazis: A Warning From History was 99p on the Kindle last month.  It also documents how the Nazis rose to power, but it also goes into detail on how the party worked once they were in power.  The book was written to accompany the BBC series by the same name.

 

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1 hour ago, Raven said:

 

I don't know if you saw it, but The Nazis: A Warning From History was 99p on the Kindle last month.  It also documents how the Nazis rose to power, but it also goes into detail on how the party worked once they were in power.  The book was written to accompany the BBC series by the same name.

 


Thanks. I read it many years ago and I’m pretty sure I’ve got a copy of it on one of my bookcases. From what I recall it’s a better book than Whittock’s and now that you’ve jogged my memory, I might have to dig it out for a re-read.

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Doing It by Melvin Burgess (4/5)

I bought this book at a charity bookshop after reading Smack by the same author 2015. From what I can remember about Smack, I expected Doing It to be a YA book which pushes the limit and I wasn't wrong. In Doing It we follow three young men around the age of 15 to 16 who all have different approaches to sex. The book covers quite a wide range of topics including rape, pregnancy, revenge, and friendship. I enjoyed this far more than I expected to and it was a nice change from what I have been reading in recent months.

 

Iron Coffins by Herbert A. Werner (5/5)

I have read many books about the second world war but not too many written from the German point of view. This book is written by a U-Boat commander covering the period of 1930-1945 and concentrates on his experiences as part of the Wolf Pack. I found the book slow going to start off with and wasn't too sure if I would enjoy it much. However, once I got into the swing of it I found a remarkable book which conveyed the terrible reality of operating a U-Boat. The contrast between the environment in the U-Boats and the life experienced by officers based in nice conditions in France were very stark. Werner has done a great job of reflecting just how scary it must have been to go out on patrol as the war came to a close knowing that your chances of returning were almost nil. 

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It's been quite a while since my last update as I have struggled to read much lately. We are in the process of selling and buying a house which as anyone who has gone through the process will attest to, it can be pretty stressful. When I get stressed I can't read for very long. Anyway, on to the books.

 

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (3/5)

A couple decide to take a break in a remote area in Long Island with their teenage son and daughter. Late at night there is a knock on the door from a older couple who claim to be the owners of the house. The possible owners also say that something big has happened as there is a huge blackout across the city. With no TV, radio, or internet coverage it is hard to ascertain how true this is and if there are other motives for the visit from the claimed owners.

After fnishing this book I watched a couple reviews on YouTube and although I enjoyed the book I don't quite get the gushing reviews. I guess that people feel the need to stand out in a competitve market such as YouTube so needs to extreme on either end to meet this need. I digress. I found the book to be a decent read with a pace that moves along quickly without feeling too rushed. The mystery and suspense builds up slowly as we reach towards the end of the novel and although some people didn't like the ending, I thought it was well handled.

 

Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness (3/5)

I downloaded this a while ago on Audible and only recently got round to listening to it. In the book the authors speak to people who are seen as top performers in a number of different fields and see if there is are things which they all do or have in common. If you have read anything on this subject in the past I don't think you will discover anything new here but it does bring everything together in a nice concise package. My one minor gripe is that it is very US centric with everyone they speak to being an American. This aside it is a well written, if unspectacular book.

 

License Renewed by John Gardner (3/5)

My latest Bond novel in the mission to read all the work dedicated to James Bond. So far I have read all the original Fleming books, Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis, Ice Breaker by John Gardner (although I will read this again in sequence), and Forever & a Day by Anthony Horowitz. In Licence Renewed we jump forward in time to some time in the 1980's with Bond being in his late thirties. There is a lot of change going on in the British Secret Service and the 00 program has pretty much been suspended. Spies being licenced to kill is seen as old hat and something that should be a thing of the past.

In this book the bad guy is a shadowy figure in the nuclear industry called Anton Murik. Murik claims to have invented a completely safe nuclear reactor but has been shunned by the industry. To prove his point he decides to commit a series of crimes which could end in nuclear annihilation. To find out what Murik is up to, and to hopefully put an end to it, James Bond is called into action.

Parts of this book are really good. The initial set up, the set peices, Bond's infiltration to Murik's world, and his capture are all good standard Bond fare. The deranged bad guy, the glamorous ladies and the huge henchman are all characters that anyone who has watched the movies would recognise. On the downside, Gardner leans on the movie tropes a little too much in my opinion. I always liked the stories where Bond was clever instead of being almost a superhero and in this book he definitely leans more towards the superhero side of things. The gadgets and brands are relied on a lot, again far too often to my liking.

All of this is not to say that this is a bad book. In fact I really enjoyed it and it is definitely better than Colonel Sun.

 

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I managed to spend the afternoon on the sofa with a book which I finished a few hours ago.

 

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe (4/5)

This is a non-fiction book about the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland from roughtly the 1970's through until about 2000. The book focuses on mainly the Republican side of things but it does stray into Loyalist territory from time to time. The author draws on a lot of interviews, books, and news articles and having finished it I can see why it took 4 years to research. Although there are many characters and a bit of an erratic timeline, the book hinges around the disappearance of Jean McConville, a single mother who has kidnapped in 1972. Throughout the book Keefe goes away from this central story to explore what was happening only to return to it again when new developments happen in the story. I found this to be a really engaging account of what happened in Northern Ireland, providing a great overview. We don't really dig deep into any of the main players but cover a wide scope of history. My only criticism is that I wish there were more photographs. I read the paperback edition and all we get are a few small black and white images and I would have preferred a chunk of colour images in the middle of the book.

 

I'm not sure what to read yet. I shall consult the shelves and see what jumps out at me.

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2 hours ago, Brian. said:

 

I managed to spend the afternoon on the sofa with a book which I finished a few hours ago.

 

 

Sounds like a good way to spend an afternoon!

 

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I finished two books yesterday,

 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (3/5)

Before deciding to listen to this audiobook I had a general understanding of what the book was about as it has been made into a movie. I haven't seen the movie but I had seen the trailers so I was expecting a book about a young woman walking the Pacific Crest Trail and 'finding herself'. What I wasn't aware of was that Cheryl had lost her mother to cancer at a young age. This resulted in the break up of her marriage and a descent into a chaotic life punctuated by substance abuse and casual sex. On a bit of a whim Cheryl is inspired by a guidebook to hike the PCT and leave all the chaos behind.

I am pretty conflicted having finished the book. On the one hand it is pretty well written with some truly touching parts, especially when she talks about her mother. On the other hand the PCT isn't covered in much detail and jumps about all over the place. Cheryl skipped large parts of the trail due in part to severe snow. This was a wise move on her part but as a result it feels like a highlights tour of the route. Two other things bugged me about it as well. It seems that she never met a man along the trail who didn't want to sleep with her. I doubt that this is realistic. Having done several week long hikes I can tell you from experience that everyone is gross after a few days. My biggest issue isn't with the story or her writing but the fact that this book now seems to be held up as proof that it is possible to do something like the PCT with little to no experience. Cheryl only touches on it through the book but in reality she could have died due to her negligence. This attitude is what leads people to thing it's ok to take such risks. I have no grumble if people want to hurt themselves, but this year in the UK a member of mountain rescue suffered life changing injuries trying to rescue an equally unprepared idiot. I personally have had to guide a few people off mountains and moors in poor weather conditions because they thought it was ok to give it a go with no idea on how to naviagte and with the wrong clothing.

Giving it the benefit of the doubt and focusing on the book and not the foolishness of the writer I think 3/5 is about right.

 

Shuggie Bain  by Douglas Stuart (4/5)

I bought this during a recent buying splurge as I kept seeing it on the shelves and I got sucked in by the Booker prize win it received. The story follows the life of a young boy called Hugh 'Shuggie' Bain growing up in social housing during the 1980's. The policies of the Thatcher government have resulted in the closing of the local pits so the families of the miners fall into a life pf poverty. To make matters worse, Agnes, Shuggie's mother is an alcoholic who relies on Shuggie when she is suffering from the results of her drinking.

I started reading this about a week ago but read the bulk of it yesterday afternoon. I had been working nightshift the night before and feeling the fatigue from nightshift has a big bearing on my mood. I was having a low day and reading this book did not help. The book is full despair which doesn't really relent throughout. If I had to pick one word the describe the book I would choose Bleak. I did struggle to get through parts of it as the plot is very slow in places and not much happens for chunks of the book. I found the writing fine but unspectacular and I did end up feeling quite strongly towards the main characters. I do wonder what a different editor would have done with the story as I feel it is missing something.

I am glad I decided to read this but I would offer a bit of advice to anyone thinking of doing likewise. Read something light-hearted and upbeat along side it. I do like a book full of melancholia but this was soul crushing.

 

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The last 3 books I've read have been a bit of a mixed bag with one notable disappointment.

 

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright (2/5)

The full title of this book is Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. I picked this book up because I was interested in the science mentioned in the strapline. I have read a little bit about how meditation changes the brain and I expected more of the same here. Unfortunately the science in this book is very light with most of the 'proof' coming in the form of philosophy. The book isn't bad, in fact I would think that if you picked it up for the philosophical arguments alone you would be more than happy. For the misleading strapline the book gets 2/5 of from me. I expect more from authors and publishers and anyone using clickbaity titles or straplines on books should be expelled to go and live by the village dung heap.

 

The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke (3.5/5)

I picked this up a while ago at a second hand book shop and I'm pretty sure it's my first Arthur C. Clarke book. I've been trying to get into science fiction for a while with mixed results. One thing that has seemed apparent to me is that I prefer works of classic science fiction. This book was published in 1951 so I would say that it falls into that category and the artwork on the cover definitely does. The book tells the tale of renowned science fiction writer Martin Gibson who takes his first trip to Mars. The crew occasionally give him a hard time about his writing and any inaccuracies but the journey goes well until he lands on Mars. The colony on Mars has been slowly building and Martin end up putting all of it at risk during his exploration of the red planet.

I really enjoyed this book and read it in pretty much one sitting. The science fiction is well developed and the technology explained without being forced down the reader's throat. I liked all the characters and could definitely see this making a decent light-hearted movie some day.

 

For Special Services (James Bond #18) by John Gardner (2/5)

Finally we get to the notable disappointment. At the start of the month I read Gardner's first book in the extended James Bond series and thought it was solid enough. My main gripe was that Gardner wrote like the movies and less like Fleming did in the original books. Sadly this book is more of the same. What loses this book an additional star is that the basic structure of the plot is exactly the same. Bond infiltrates the life of a suspected villain and ends up in their secure compound. He finds out what they are up to and has to get out to alert the authorities. Ok so the bad buy is different and the threat posed is different but the basic idea is exactly the same. What is even worse in this book is the way the character Cedar Leiter is written. She is daughter of Bond's good friend Felix Leiter. It would be obvious to anyone that she would be 'off limits' due to the relationship between James and Felix but Gardner has Bond perving over her for the entire book. I'm not sure if we are meant to be impressed by the fact he manages to restrain himself but it feels icky. To top it all off though, at the end of the book Felix practically gifts his daughter to Bond to do with as he pleases. I'm far from a prude and I enjoy the ropey innuendo in the Roger Moore movies but this is just too far.

Having written this I feel like I have been generous in giving it 2/5 but it is exciting to read so I guess I'll stand by it.

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Attempts by Dan John (3/5)

I'll start this mini review by saying that I don't know why or how this book ended up on one of my many 'to read' lists. I must have heard about it on a podcast or read something about it online because I have no idea how else it would have come into my awareness. The book is a collection of essays on what Dan John has learned while coaching strength training over the last 3 decades. The book is a mixture of thoughts on what works in training and what doesn't and how these things link into our everyday lives. The essays are very simple and the essence of his training approach is to do something, regularly, for a long time. Consistency is the key and will win out every time. He argues that people spend far too often looking for the perfect training approach instead of just sticking to the basics and sticking to it over a long period of time. I don't think this is a book which will appeal anyone else on this forum but for those interested in strength training it gives an entertaining insight into Dan John andhis philosophy.

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Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (5/5)

It's been a few days since I finished this book and I still don't know where to start with it. When I bought this book I knew nothing at all about it and I hadn't even read the blurb on the back cover. I thought the title sounded familiar and due to it's relatively small size I decided to take a chance and see where it took me. This gamble really paid off and by the time I had finished it I was left thinking that I probably won't read a better book this year. The book is a stream of consciousness tale narrated by a man called Piranesi who lives in a massive building with interconnecting halls. The building is very old in style and extends in all direction. Certain rooms have sea in them and others have birds etc, basically everything we have in our world, contained in one huge building but without any modern technology. Piranesi lives there alone apart from one other person he meets on a regular basis who he knows as only 'The Other'. The Other claims he is trying to work out the Great and Secret Knowledge and needs Piranesi's help with his research.

 

Everything is a mystery which is slowly unveiled over the course of the book and I think the best way I can describe the experience is that it is like watching a Christopher Nolan movie. You have to really think while you are reading and when you think you have a handle on what is going on you probably don't. I haven't read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell yet but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for a copy of it next time I am in a bookshop.

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I bought Piranesi in the recent daily deal on kindle, so I am delighted to see that you have given it a 5/5. I am fairly certain I also have Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell around here somewhere. There will be shelf rummaging later! 

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