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Brian's Book Log - Ongoing

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On 30/09/2021 at 8:28 AM, Chrissy said:

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! 


From what I can gather people either really love the style of writing or don’t get on with it at all. Fingers crossed that you like it.

 

I got a bit carried away in Waterstones this morning and came away with a rather mixed bag of books.

 

Fiction

Candide - Voltaire

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

The Plotters - Un-Su Kim

The Gates of Rome - Conn Iggulden

Knife - Jo Nesbo

 

Non-Fiction

Soldier - Jay Morton

Agent Sonya - Ben Macintyre

Zonal Marking - Michael Cox

High - Michaella McCollum

Angels with Dirty Faces - Jonathan Wilson

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Time for a few updates.

 

Concrete Island by J.G. Ballard (2/5)

I have read two of Ballards other books with postive results. I loved Empire of the Sun, and really enjoyed my time with Cocaine Nights. In this book we follow the story of Robert Maitland who manages to crash his car over a divider and onto a high-speed traffic island below. I got on well with the book as a whole but it failed to grab me in the way that the previously mentioned books did. Ballard's favourite themes are all here and he does a decent job of keeping the story flowing in a compact setting. I find it interesting that this was published a year after Crash because to me it reads like an expanded experiment he may have worked on before or during writing Crash. The 2/5 rating isn't a negative one. I'm glad I read this, but at no point does it reach near to his best work in my opinion.

 

Harrier 809 by Rowland White (4/5)

Roland White is another author whose work I have read a lot of. I'm pretty confident that I have read all his previous work and he really knows how to write engaging aviation non-fiction books. As with his other books, this one is exceptionally well researched and leave no stone un-turned. The focus of this book is 809 squadron who were formed to operate Harrier's during the Falkland's conflict. This isn't an area of military history that I know loads about but I was still left surprised at how much new information White manages to squeeze into his book. Some non-fiction historical books can be dry or full of facts and figures but White turns all the research into a really good tale. The dog fighting scenes are especially good and really impart a sense of drama. I would recommend this book or any of his others to anyone interested in the subjects he writes about.

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I've spent a fair bit of time reading over the last five or so days and as a result I have finished 4 books.

 

Tornado by John Nicol (4/5)

This is another non-fiction book, there is a pattern emerging to my reading at the moment. This book is about the Tornado aircraft and specifically about it's use during Operation Desert storm. Nicol relies mainly on interviews of those involved of which he was one. This lends some real insights to the stories behind the pilots that other books would undoubtedly failed to get. The details about how the missions panned out are an eye-opening read, especially when you find out how much danger the pilots were exposed to in the early days of the campaign. Up to this point I thought the book was pretty good but nothing better than 3/5. However, the later sections of the book about the aftermath were where the book really shined for me. It is pretty emotional stuff when you read about how the families of the pilots who were shot down lived with not knowing if they were dead or alive until the war ended. The stories of reunions, and the families dealing with loss were tough to read at times. The descriptions of PTSD and how Nicol himself was initially against the idea of a psychologist were something you rarely see in modern military biographies.

I had two minor niggles. Nicol can be overly dramatic in his writing at times, especially when describing the aircraft. The other gripe I had was Nicol equating the Tornado pilots to the Lancaster pilots of the Second World War. Without doubt both had levels of bravery that far surpasses my own but the Lancaster pilots operated under such conditions for years and years, not weeks.

 

The Ghosts of K2 by Mick Conefrey (3/5)

Most people can name who completed the first successful ascent of Everest but very few can do the same for the second highest mountain in the world, K2. Although Everest gets all the mainstream coverage, K2 is seen by mountaineers as the mountain, a climbers mountain. For a long time it was believed to be unclimbable and even with the modern advances in equipment and weather forecasting, the mountain still claims 1 life for every 4 people who manage to reach the summit. Over the years I have read a lot of books about high altitude climbing but I hadn't read much about the early attempts to climb K2 so I picked this book to fill thay gap.

Overall I found the book an interesting read if a little dry in places. Conefrey does a good job of explaining technical details without dumbing it down too much. One thing he does particularly well is to present the facts as they are while also highlighting where there are differences of opinion or differing accounts. I really like this way of dealing with history as it delivers what is known and leaves all judgement up to the reader. So, all in all I enjoyed this book and I think those with an interest in climbing or K2 would also enjoy it.

 

By the Rivers of Babylon by Nelson DeMille (2/5)

I saw an old copy of this on the bookcase of a B&B we stayed at the start of the year and was intrigued by the blurb on the back.

" Two Concorde jets, bound for a UN conference that will finally bring peace to the Middle East, take off carrying dignitaries and a bomb. Forced to crash land, the men and women of the peace mission must make a stand against Palestinian commandos. "

It all sounds quite daft but also potentially a lot of fun so I found a copy online I bought it. Although I wasn't expecting anything amazing with this book I was left pretty disappointed. In fact I was so disappointed by this book that I abandoned it at roughly the halfway point because as much as I tried, I just couldn't get into it. There are far far too many characters and as a result I found none of them to be in the least bit interesting. Although there is nothing wrong with prose it failed to grab my attention, and in a book which is meant to be a thriller that is never a good combination.

 

High by Michaella McCollum (2/5)

Michaella McCollum is one part of the infamous (at least in the UK and Ireland) Peru two who were arrested at Lima airport attempting to smuggle 11kg of Cocaine out of the country. This book is McCollum's account of what happened, her time in prison, and how she came to be released. I'll start with the writing, and then talk about McCollum's account. The writing is functional but no more than that. I don't know if a ghostwriter was used or not but there is little in the way of tension built into the telling of the story. The book starts with an attempt at a dramatic introduction but it is very awkward and clunky in nature. If I compare this book to another in the same genre, Marching Powder by Rusty Young, then there is no contest. Young's book is far better and the writing is heads and shoulders above High.

So that's the writing dealt with, now onto the account itself. McCollum portrays herself as the victim at every single opportunity in this book. She comes across as a spoiled hypocrite who can't understand that actions have consequences. I am willing to accept that she was naive but I don't believe that she had no idea about what she was being asked to do. During the build up to her arrest she constantly tries to pass responsibility for the plan on to her accomplice Melissa. Once they are arrested she claims that Melissa came up with the false claim of gun-point abduction and that she only went along with it because she was scared. While in prison everything positive is because of her doing, every negative is down to Melissa and her family. She claims that Melissa constantly wanted the media involved while she just wanted to keep her head down. Since their release I've not seen a peep out of Melissa, whereas Michaella is constantly seeking out opportunities to cash in on her notoriety so make of that what want.

I think the part that annoyed me the most was an event that she recalls when they were moved between prisons. Someone she had befriended asked her to pass on some stuff to her brother in the new prison. This brother was claimed to be struggling to adjust to life inside and had be wrongfully accused of being a drug dealer when in fact he was a very quiet innocent kind of guy. Michaella sees the brother at the new prison but before she hands over the items discovers that he is one of the prison crack dealers. She is so disgusted about the harm his dealing is causing she keeps the stuff instead. This is the same girl who got caught with 6kg of Cocaine but never reflects on the harm this would have caused others had it reached its destination.

The book is a tie in with a BBC documentary series so my wife and I decided to watch a few of the episodes when I had finished the book. Parts of her account in the book differ from what she claims in the TV series, and other people who were involved in her life who are interviewed don't exactly corroborate her claims.

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