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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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