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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Books 74 and 75

Book 74 The Third Reich in History and Memory by Richard J. Evans was a very thick book all about the Third Reich. It actually turned out to be a series of independently written essays by the author, who tended to verge into pedantry. The book was not particularly aimed at a lay audience but I managed to follow most of it. It was vaguely in chronological order although it tended to jump about a bit. The most interesting parts were predictably about Hitler and the insanity of WW2. There are of course parallels with our own times and the 1930s which saw a rise in populist leaders. Let's hope we don't end up with a similar outcome!

Book 75 Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate by Abdel Bari Atwan tries to untangle the mess that is ISIS and how it grew out of the conflicts in neighbouring Iraq and Syria. The situation on the ground is unbelievably complicated, it's a total mess with no solution, as we have seen in Western foreign polcy and attempted intervention in  the region over the last 15 years. I don't pretend to understand it all, but it's certainly one of the stories of the times we find ourselves and therefor well worth reading about. The author does seem to have a lid on it all and does not appear to sit in any one camp, at least to me.

There is one remaining bookcase to read in History, and I have chosen a book on 9/11.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vikings: A History

Book 73, A London Safari, turned out to have no interest at all from me, so I moved onto Book 74 Vikings: A History by Neil Oliver which was quite interesting. I then returned to Bookcase 73 to read The French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert. I hadn't realised how bloody and ruthless the French Revolution was. I knew it had taken a long time before a stable system formed, but hadn't quire realised the amount of collateral damage there was and deaths along the way! Next up I turn to Germany for my third History book (Book 75).

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Book 72, Frankenstein, was a bit of a disappointment.

I found the story fairly basic, stretchy credibility (the monster just happens to stumble across and kill his creator's brother) and very waffily. The prose was so long-winded even by the standards of Victorian novels. Dracula, in comparison, I read a few years ago, and thought that was a good novel with lots of suspense and a story plot. Frankenstein scores 5 out of 10.

Next up I move to the History section of the library and the first book is a series of walks around London for an informal history of Haringey.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Book 71, The Emperor's Soul, was so poor I couldn't even really tell you what it was about.

I think it was about a person called a forger who could craft reality but reaching back in the past and changing the way something came about. I read a similar book called The Lathe Of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin many years ago, that was vastly superior though. The Emperor's Soul scored 1 out of 10.

I think I have finished the science fiction section but Bookcase 72 is unnamed and is right next to it; it's either science fiction, teenage or a miscellaneous selection of books. In any case I picked Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a classic which I have not read before. It definitely belongs in the science fiction/fantasy realm even if the library haven't placed it there.

I read Dracula a few year ago and was quite impressed with the original, even if it has spurned legions of dross.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin

Book 70, Tuf Voyaging, is a set of long stories roughly grouped together in a novel. Many of them were published separately in the 1980s.

I used to read lot of science fiction around the this material was first published, but I don't remember George R.R. Martin from then. He's become better known since then I believe. Anyway this book is not bad, it's about a trader Tuf who acquires an ancient spaceship which allows him to become an ecological engineer. It's a bit far fetched because Tuf, who previously knew nothing on the subject, becomes one of the most powerful and knowledgeable ecological engineers in the galaxy and goes around solving ecological problems around the different star systems.

Even though it's set far in the future the characters in the books still seem to use 1980s technology and the book is already quite dated. It's not a bad read though, the format means you can right almost endless stories set to the basic format of Tuf going somewhere, solving a problem, and then leaving. I give the book 6 out of 10.

Next up is the final science fiction book.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah

Book 69, The Visitors Book, is a fairly unchallenging set of ghost stories by Sophie Hannah.

I'd have probably thought this book was good when I was about 12 and first reading books from the adult library. The books I read in the Teenage section had more complex plots, although I suppose one has to allow for the fact that this is just a set of short stories. Whatever the case I can't see this sort of book ever likely to be on my bookcase! It gets 3 out of 10.

Next up I continue with Science Fiction, this time a book by George R.R. Martin, whose name I have seen on big blockbuster books, but know nothing about.

It's quite a long book so if I don't like it then I may ditch it and try and find something thinner just to get me through this section of the library which I am struggling with, it is fair to say.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dark Entries by Robert Aickman

Book 68, Dark Entries, is a series of "dark" stories in the style of Edgar Alan Poe.

The first couple of stories I found ok, the last few I was turning the pages dutifully and struggling to even follow the plot. I must admit I don't like the short story format because by the time I am really interested, it's finished! Some of these short stories are quite long, but overall I found them rather dull and award Dark Entries 3 out of 10.

Next up I continue with Science Fiction, with another book of short stories, except these are ghost stories.

I wouldn't call ghost stories science fiction but, in the name of variety, I will read this book anyway.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher

Book 67, Made to Kill, has to be one of the worst books yet on this project.

Supposedly a science fiction book in the style of Asimov/Dick, it's a private detective story set in an alternative history when robots have been a failed experiment and there is just one left who happens to be a private detective.

I cannot express how poor this book is. The science is appalling, this robot seems to come straight out of the 1950s, the plot is beyond awful, some Soviet conspiracy to take over America, and the style of writing is dreadful, I believe this book was followed up by two others to make a trilogy. I cannot even concede of the mind set of anyone who could enjoy any of these books - they can't be human! I read hundreds of science fiction books when I was young but this was poorer than any of them. It scores 1 out of 10, it failed to contain even a good sentence.

Next up I return to Science Fiction, the first named shelf in this section anyway, for a book of short stories, by Robert Aickman, who is supposedly a classic horror writer - albeit one I have never heard of even though he wrote in "my" era of the 1980s.

I briefly wrote a few science fiction short stories when I was 18, none of them were published, but it was the nearest I ever got to being a writer. Let's see if he's any good.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

Book 65, The Anchoress, I am afraid falls under the same problems so many historical novels do: lack of plot.

What I usually find happens is the author finds a minor historical figure whose story interests them, does lots of research, and then comes up a book dripping with "facts" but where not much happens. This is one such book. Great idea, great start, interesting opening, and you keep turning the pages, and, just, nothing happens! The end finally comes and you wonder, "was that it?!" So many historical novels suffer this problem, it's actually quite rare to find a good one, so I generally avoid them I have to admit. Overall The Anchoress scores 5 out of 10.

Next up I head to an unnamed bookcase, bookcase 67, which is next to the Science Fiction section and contains a miscellaneous set of books which look like science fiction

I used to read loads of science fiction between the ages of 16 and 22, after which I gradually got bored of it. The cover says Adam Christopher's book is part Asimov, part Dick. I was a big Asimov fan about 16, and a big Dick fan about 20. Let's see if the passage of time has whittled down any interest I have in this book.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

If I Fall, I Die by Michael Christie

Book 65, If I Fall, I Die, was a real disappointment. I liked the idea of the book about a mother and her son who never leave the house until one day the son goes outside and gradually makes his way in the world.

As a general rule I look "coming of age" books, but this one was just too strange. It started ok when Will emerges from the house and start to go to school. Gradually I lost track of what the story was about. It goes off into a tangent about his mum's past and how his family were all destined to die young on working on the docks in Toronto. Will, and his native Indian skateboarding mate, follow the same path. I totally lost track of who the characters all were and was just glad when it finished. Overall it gets 2 out of 10, good start, but I lose my way.

Next up I return to Bookcase 65 as I realised If I Fall, I Die was actually from Bookcase 66!

The Anchoress reminds me of a novel I read about the eponymous The Anchoress of Shere, a nearby village where there was an eponymous Anchoress in the middle ages. I really liked that book. Hope I do this one!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ancient Light by John Banville

Ancient Light is a love story about an affair between a teenage boy and his best friend's mother.

It's written 50 years after the event from the perspective of an old man looking back on his past. The style of the book, as well as elements of the story, very much remind me of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro , which in turn I thought borrowed on Coming Up For Air by George Orwell. All three are written by oldish men looking back on their past.

Ancient Light flips between the past and the present, when then teenage boy has become an old, failed actor, whose daughter killed herself ten years ago, and is sort of drifting aimlessly towards the end of his career. I found it difficult to maintain an interest in the "present day" part of the story, I must confess. I thought the other two writers I mentioned did that part better. The point and purpose of this part of the narrative rather escaped me I am afraid.

Next up is a book, If I Fall, I Die, which looks rather ambitious and difficult to read, but I will give it a go!

The opening sentence sprung out at me because it does not make sense. I like a challenge so let's see where this takes me!

Friday, April 22, 2016

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

My third attempt to read a book from Bookcase 60, This Dark Road to Mercy, proved to be successful.

Mercy is not a conventional crime book. It's a story, written mainly from a child's point of view, about being kidnapped by her estranged father, who is a petty criminal on the run. There are several other perspectives too, a former police officer, trying to find the children and a hired killer trying to find the father. It's a bit of a jumble altogether, and all seems a bit pointless to me. A baseball title clincher is a sort of backset to the story, and all the characters drawl sentences starting with the words "you's all", but other than that everyone speaks normal English. The plot seems a bit vague, and the characters other than the elder child, Easter, and her father, all seem a bit contrived. The book just doesn't seem to go anywhere, I was waiting for the plot to really open up, but it never did. It gets just 4 out of 10.

Next up, I return back to A-Z fiction, to Bookcase 64, to resume my journey with no gaps left behind me. I start with a book by someone called John Banville, who I have not heard of before.

All I know about it is that is a love story about an affair between a teenage boy and his best friend's mother.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Book 62, Things Fall Apart, is a sad fable of the destruction of native customs in Nigeria by the "white man".

It's told from the point of view of a village elder, who is gradually broken by the onset of Christianity and colonialism. My problem with Things Fall Apart is it only really gets going in the last 50 pages; the author spends the majority of the book setting the scene, and then the ending feels rushed. I award Things Fall Apart 5 out of 10, but the last part is probably a 7/10.

Next up I return to Bookcase 60 for my fourth attempt on it to read a crime book! I think this is the worst failure rate yet.

I have studiosly avoided anything with the work homicide anywhere on the covers, but I've still tossed aside three books after a few pages. This Dark Road to Mercy is an American book, but it's about children who become orphans, not the cliche-ridden forumla fiction which litters the crime shelves, I hope

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Three Tales by Gustave Flaubert

Book 62, Three Tales, is three long short stories that are all tales of morality.

They all take on Christian themes or depictions of semi-fabulous figures such as John the Baptist. I am not a practising Christian. I don't mind books like The Alchemist which are about fulfilling your potential. All of these stories were about people realising the error of their ways. Quite frankly I found all the stories quite boring and I got nothing from the book at all. I won't be reading Flaubert again, and award Three Tales 2 out of 10!

Finally I move to the A-Z fiction which is the bedrock of any library. Every bookcase will contain authors I am familiar with but I am not allowed to read those as I have already read material by the same writers. First up is an African novel that caused quite a sensation when it was first published.

Things Fall Apart is published on the Penguin Classics label so I am hoping it's just that.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell

The latest attempt at Book 60, The Sirens Sang of Murder, ended up on the reject pile, I hated the style of the first few pages. It is proving very hard to find anything worth reading on this bookcase, which is the last outstanding crime bookcase.

I'll come back again at a future date but for now I move to on "Quick Pick", which is Bookcase 62, and sits in between the Crime section and the A-Z fiction which I still haven't even started (many people would regard this untouched area as "The Library" I suspect). I presume "Quick Pick" are books which the library themselves are recommending. Who, what, or how this selection process takes place I do not know. Nevertheless, it was a mixed bag of fiction books from which I selected this one:

I've heard of Gustave Flaubert before of course, but I don't think I had ever read anything by him before, otherwise - under my own rules - I wouldn't be allowed to read this book. I always imagined though that I would be able to try a few "new" (to me) Classics writers during this project, and this will be the first one I believe. I've read a fair few classics in my time but there are probably hundreds if not thousands of "probably should read" books that I haven't read. It'll also be the first short story collection that I've read. They aren't my favourite genre. It always takes me a while to get into a book and with this sort of thing by the time it has your full attention it's finished! But let's see - anything has to beat mass murder crime thrillers.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

Book 61, The Truth and Other Lies, at its heart is quite a simple idea.

A bestselling author actually writes none of his books, his wife does, and he kills her by mistake when he is intending to kill his mistress. What let's it down is the sub-plots of a man driven to expose the writer as a fake, and the police detective investigating the case. For me they are just a distraction and just get in the way of the main storyline. I think this book is one you'd categorise as having elements of magic realism, as things happen which can't possibility take place in real life, but are portrayed as reality.

Yes I know I am always complaining about fiction which adheres to a strict formula, and now I am moaning about the opposite, but this didn't quite do it for me. It's been translated from German, so maybe something is lost in the process.

I have returned to Bookcase 60 for another crime book, there seems to be a dearth of anything decent on this bookcase, but I have managed to find this, my second attempt to navigate this case:

It's set in the legal profession, as we my first ever book in this challenge: Errors of Judgement by Caro Fraser. One this bookcase is out the way then Crime and Thrillers is completed.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Patience of the Spider by Andrea Camilleri

Book 60, The Patience of the Spider, is one of those "atmospheric" crime novels where some foreign detective (Montalbano) investigates yet another murder in an exotic location. I tossed it aside after 10 pages, I have to confess. I struggled to grasp the plot but somehow knew I wouldn't like it.

So I will return to Bookcase 60 when I have located another crime book I can stomach from it. In the meantime I have a more promising book from bookcase 61 which is The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

This is a book about plagiarism, not murder. That's a good sign (at least to me) because the best fiction book I have read so far (The Last Chapter by Edmund Power) was also a crime novel about plagiarism. I just hope they haven't nicked one another's stories.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

Book 59, The Pocket Wife, saw me return to Crime, the section in the library where it all started. It's a Dostoevskian tale of a woman who thinks she has murdered her neighbour in alcoholic blackout, and the effect on her of the subsequent guilt. The police detective investigating the case also has a direct interest in it, as his estranged son turns out to also been involved with the neighbour (unlikely as that might seem as he doesn't live in the area at all). Guilt in turn affects the detective in a different way.

I actually didn't like the book at all. I couldn't get interested in any of the characters and felt the plot was a bit light for the length of book. Nothing really happens in large parts of it. Two individuals, tortured by guilt, plod along, until some sort of climax and all is revealed. Dostoevsky could definitely do a better job, and Susan Crawford scored just 3 out of 10.

It's one of those books that is vaguely inspirational but you instantly forget. There were a few things I got from it that I hope will stay with me for a bit. Firstly, it's better to spend money on experiences than things, and secondly that money will never make you happy for very long. Other than that it's all a bit vague and gets 5 out of 10.

Next up for Book 60 is another crime book which looks a bit different from the formula fiction I hate so much. I have gone for The Patience of the Spider by Andrea Camilleri.

Let's hope it doesn't tax my patience!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

I read book 59, The Happiness Hypothesis, over quite a long period so to me it's all a bit of a blur. It's OK in patches but I'm honestly not sure what it's actually about even though I have read the whole book!

It's one of those books that is vaguely inspirational but you instantly forget. There were a few things I got from it that I hope will stay with me for a bit. Firstly, it's better to spend money on experiences than things, and secondly that money will never make you happy for very long. Other than that it's all a bit vague and gets 5 out of 10.

Next up I return past the door and start my second loop of the library. That will see me return to crime to complete the section where I started.

Hopefully I've managed to get something not full of cliches and stereotypes like so many books on the crime shelves.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault

I finished The Persian Boy a couple of week ago, and a very annoying book it was. It didn't start too badly and then deteriorated, which is the worst way round because by that stage it's too late to ditch it and I was forced to plough through the last 200 pages with no enjoyment or interest.

The Persian Boy is a historical novel set in the time of Alexander the Great and told from the perspective of a eunuch who attaches himself (no pun intended) to Alexander. They go on lots of campaigns and endless wars. There are lots of characters with names I could never recall and stopped trying to remember who they all were. Eventually Alexander dies, sort of mid-campaign, and it ends. His eunuch is a pathetic creature who adores Alexander and doesn't regard his life as worth living without him.

Next up is a work of psychology in the style of The Road Less Travelled (I presume) called The Happiness Hypothesis

I am guessing this is one on those vaguely inspirational self-help books which really make you question your life and then promptly forget. I did like The Road Less Travelled and even read it twice, but it no longer has any sort of role in my existence.

I'm taking the Library Challenge a bit slower this year as I have a few other books to catch up on, some also from the library, but they are books I want to read rather than ones I stumble across. Once I have got them all out the way it will be full steam ahead again, but at the moment I am reading about six different books.