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2020 50 Book Challenge

jeradjames

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5. Jakob Von Gunten - Robert Walser

Narrator fleas home to attend a school for servant boys, the Benjamenta Institute (also, a movie I found out) ran by an odd brother and sister duo. Written primarily as a diary. Although, it lacks the form of day to day entries. Writing drifts through reality, imagination, and dream states.
 

Journeyman

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6. The Secret Commonwealth
Matt, I had high hopes for that one and, thankfully, I was not disappointed!

Here's my reading thus far this year. It does include a couple of young adult (YA) books as I was on holiday with the kids and we were swapping books around.

1. The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay

I read this years ago and thought that my son would enjoy it. A rollicking read, with plenty of amusement and pathos. A bit predictable and emotionally manipulative in parts, but thoroughly enjoyable. Courtenay did an excellent job of creating characters.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I re-read this so I could discuss it with my son, as it's on his school reading this list this year. He read it while we were on holidays, too, and really enjoyed it. It was interesting to re-read it after about 30 years, particularly from the perspective of someone who is now Atticus' age, rather than Scout's age.

3. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Another re-read so I can discuss it with my son. As depressing as I remembered from high school! My son also enjoyed it and felt very emotional and indignant about the behaviour of some of the children.

4. The Tyrant's Tomb, from the Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan

Young adult fare by best-selling children's author Rick Riordan. Essentially, he takes elements of Greco-Roman mythology and history and incorporates it into stories of derring-do by young demi-gods living in current times. Enjoyable and mildly amusing but highly forgettable. My children enjoy them as holiday reading.

5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, by John le Carre.

I read both this and le Carre's "The Little Drummer Girl" in high school and did not particularly enjoy either of them at the time. However, re-reading it was a revelation. Absolutely fantastic and compulsively readable. I finished it off in a day-and-a-half and would have finished sooner if we hadn't been tramping all over Tokyo. I need to find more of the Smiley series.

6. The Secret Commonwealth, by Philip Pullman

@LonerMatt has already discussed this book and I don't have much to add. Having really enjoyed the "His Dark Materials" trilogy and then the first book in the "Book of Dust" series, I was both eagerly anticipating this, but also felt some trepidation that it may not live up to my expectations. Thankfully, I need not have worried. Yes, Lyra is a different character - she is grown up and faces different challenges. However, the book was very enjoyable and engaging and Pullman remains a great and very creative storyteller.

7. Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz

A book within a book and a murder mystery within a murder mystery. The book starts out as an enjoyable imitation of a very mannered murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, set in the English countryside in the 1950s, but then the editor of the aforementioned story finds herself investigating a potential murder mystery, and considering the possibility that fiction and real life (within the story, that is) are intertwined. An entertaining read.

8. Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami

This was, I'm very sad to say, a disappointment. I loved certain things about it - some of the characterisation, the detail, the ability to describe a scene in a particular way. The first half was intriguing and and enjoyable, but the story flagged in the second half and Murakami essentially seemed to be recycling a number of tropes from his previous works - holes in the ground/wells, mysterious visitors, a strange quest down a hole to an unknown world. The main character essentially ends up back where he begins, which leads one to ask whether there was really any point to what happened. I feel that there was a good book inside this one, struggling to pull itself free but regrettably being weighed down under the weight of unnecessary detail and the recycling of previous plot lines. I galloped through the first half but then took the better part of a week to finish the second half and read another couple of books in-between, before finally finishing off Commendatore.
 

LonerMatt

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I have Killing Commendatore on the shelf and haven't picked it up yet, the length and lukewarm reviews are totally off putting.
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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4.Targeted;My Inside Story of Cambridge Analytica and How Trump,Brexit and Facebook Broke Democracy by Brittany Kaiser

Money it appears will buy everything, that is so long as those in the service of money lack any moral or ethical spine, or discover too late that the Faustian bargain they have struck has come back to bite them on the arse. Which resulted in the election of a vainglorious, narcissistic megalomanic with no ethical fiber or the ability to live an examined life in charge of the supposed free world. IMHO the German word Untermensch perfectly describes it, its followers and the dark forces which put it there.

A eyeopening mea culpa which pulls no punches and exposes the greed, lust for power and how Facebook and data science was turned into a psychological warfare tool to wage a rightwing war in both Britain and the USA on a unsuspecting public.
 

Fueco

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7. The River, by Peter Heller

two friends decide to take a trip down a river that flows into Hudson Bay. A few days into the 150 mile trip, they spot a large forest fire racing towards them. Now it’s a race for survival to get out of the woods.
 

Fueco

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8. Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain

I’ve had this on my Kindle for quite a while, and actually started reading it last April. Anyway, I finally got back to and finished this book about Tony’s time as a chef, and the beginning’s of his interest in travel.
 

FlyingMonkey

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Okay, so apparently this is where the action is and the What I'm Reading thread is dead.... so much as I dislike the idea of quantitative reading targets, I guess I'll join you.

I started this year catching up on things I missed or for various reasons decided not to read when they came out last year:

1. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
I was not all that impressed by Ann Leckie's science fiction novels, and I'm usually even less of a fan of fantasy, and these put together explained my lack of enthusiasm about starting this one. But a friend I trust said I really should, so I did. And they were right. This is an atmospheric and ingenious novel set across a vast span of the history of a world a bit like ours but one that is saturated with little gods, entities with powers, but powers that are limited in all kinds of ways, and dependent upon their environment and interactions with people. It's narrated by one of these gods, a voice we come to trust - but should we? There's an air of darkness and menace that grows through the novel but it never becomes horrific, instead remaining disturbing and rather bleak. Highly recommended, indeed I've nominated it for the Hugo Awards (being a voting member this year).

2. The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
I hated The Poppy War, the first book in this sequence. It wasn't the writing - which is effective; nor the plot, which runs along smoothly; nor the setting - a fictionalized China on the edge of modernity, but one in which power derives from shamanic interactions with the gods. It was the continuous violence, where genocide is treated as a casual act, and the fact that all the characters, including the protagonist, are basically horrible people. The Dragon Republic is more of the same, bringing in issues around colonialism (westerners turn up and make everything much, much worse) and guilt (over the horrific acts in the first book) but again everything about the story is basically violence and war, and no-one seems like learn anything or at least not learn enough to grow as characters. If you like military fantasy, you'll probably like this. I don't know if I'll bother with the final book.

Then I went back to Japanese fiction and read two things by an author I hadn't read before:

3. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
This is a subtle, wonderfully observed story of an early middle-aged woman living along in Tokyo, who bumps into one of her old high school teachers at a bar, and gradually, slowly, a rather beautiful relationship develops between them. Not much happens. They drink a lot of sake, they eat a lot of great izakaya food. The seasons change. But it's so carefully written, and of course, written for once by a woman from the woman's perspective. There are so many May-September romances that are basically male fantasies. This is very much not one of those novels.

4. The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami
I liked Strange Weather in Tokyo so much that I went straight on to one of Kawakami's previous novels. This one sees ten different women reflecting on their romantic interactions (which last in time from hours to years) with the titular Nishino who, as the novel progresses, seems less and less of a Casanova and more and more of a damaged, fallible human being, while still remaining something of an enigma. Again, Kawakami's writing is as light and effervescent as bubbles in sparkling water, but somehow also conveys some quite profound feelings. I'll be reading more of her.

5. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
This is a very variable short story collection by the undoubtedly super-talented, Ken Liu, who is also known for translating Chinese science fiction into English. There are some really superb stories here, including the title story, but there are others (also apparently award-nominated ones) that are so burdened by the real-world history and politics they are trying to grapple with and communicate that the story is just crushed under the weight. There are times when it's like someone shouting in your face about an issue rather than the issue emerging from the story such that it works its way into your consciousness. And there are still others that are overly and self-consciously 'literary', i.e. Borges and Calvino seem to be obvious inspirations - too obvious. A very variable collection.

6. Agency by William Gibson
This was delayed by almost a year because Gibson felt the need to rethink the plot following Trump's election. To be honest, if that was the reason, it makes very little difference in the book. For those who don't know, Agency is the follow-up to The Peripheral, a novel that introduced a post-disaster world, more than a century hence, which is damaged but recovering and largely dependent upon high technology to ensure a world fit for the much-reduced human population. One of the technological breakthroughs has been something that allows the creation of parallel worlds that branch off from this timeline although further back in its history - around our own time is about as far back as you can go. Communication is possible between these worlds but no more, but that still allows for significant intervention. This creation of these 'stubs' (as the parallel worlds are called) is so easy that it's become a hobby for some people, for some in particular, a rather cruel hobby as they intervene seemingly to make things worse. Agency involves the cast of the previous novel trying to prevent a serious disaster in a world that differs from our own only in the fact that the USA has elected the first female president, but getting caught up in the emergence of a genuinely independent artificial intelligence. It's all written very well, with Gibson's characteristic dry wit, but it doesn't grab you and large sections of the plot, in which a young woman gets hired by an enigmatic corporation and gets involved with mercenaries and military tech, seems to be a variation on Count Zero, his second novel from way back in the eighties.

7. Count Zero by William Gibson
I went back and read Count Zero immediately afterwards and my impression about aspects of the plot of Agency was confirmed. It also reminded my how much I enjoyed the Sprawl Trilogy.
 
Last edited:

California Dreamer

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Okay, so apparently this is where the action is and the What I'm Reading thread is dead.... so much as I dislike the idea of quantitative reading targets, I guess I'll join you.

I started this year catching up on things I missed or for various reasons decided not to read when they came out last year:

1. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
I was not all that impressed by Ann Leckie's science fiction novels, and I'm usually even less of a fan of fantasy, and these put together explained my lack of enthusiasm about starting this one. But a friend I trust said I really should, so I did. And they were right. This is an atmospheric and ingenious novel set across a vast span of the history of a world a bit like ours but one that is saturated with little gods, entities with powers but powers that limited in all kinds of ways, and dependent upon their environment and interactions with people. It's narrated by one of these gods, a voice we come to trust - but should we? There's an air of darkness and menace that grows through the novel but it never becomes horrific, instead remaining disturbing and rather bleak. Highly recommended, indeed I've nominated it for the Hugo Awards (being a voting member this year).

2. The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
I hated The Poppy War, the first book in this sequence. It wasn't the writing - which is effective; nor the plot, which runs along smoothly; nor the setting - a fictionalized China on the edge of modernity, but one in which power derives from shamanic interactions with the gods. It was the continuous violence, where genocide is treated as a casual act, and the fact that all the characters, including the protagonist, are basically horrible people. The Dragon Republic is more of the same, bringing in issues around colonialism (westerners turn up and make everything much, much worse) and guilt (over the horrific acts in the first book) but again everything about the story is basically more of the same: violence and war, and no-one seems like learn anything or at least enough to grow as characters. If you like military fantasy, you'll probably like this. I don't know if I'll bother with the final book.

Then I went back to Japanese fiction and read two things by an author I hadn't read before:

3. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
This is a subtle, wonderfully observed story of an early middle-aged woman living along in Tokyo, who bumps into one of her old high school teachers at a bar, and gradually, slowly, a rather beautiful relationship develops between them. Not much happens. They drink a lot of sake, they eat a lot of great izakaya food. The seasons change. But it's so carefully written, and of course, written for once by a woman from the woman's perspective. There are so many May-September romances that are basically male fanatasies. This is very much not one of those novels.

4. The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami
I liked Strange Weather in Tokyo so much that I went straight on to one of Kawakami's previous novels. This one sees ten different women reflecting on their romantic interactions (which last in time from hours to years) with the titular Nishino, who as the novel progresses seems less and less of a Casanova and more and more of a damaged, fallible human being, while still remaining something of an enigma. Again, Kawakami's writing is as light and effervescent as air bubbles in sparkling water, but somehow also conveys some quite profound feelings. I'll be reading more of her.

5. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
This is a very variable short story collection by the undoubtedly super-talented, Ken Liu, who is also known for translating Chinese science fiction into English. There are some really superb stories here, including the title story, but there are others (also apparently award-nominated ones) that are so burdened by the real-world history and politics they are trying to grapple with and communicate that the story is just crushed under the weight. There are times when it's like someone shouting in your face about an issue rather than the issue emerging from the story such that its works its way into your consciousness. And there are still others that are overly and self-consciously 'literary', i.e. Borges and Calvino seem to be obvious inspirations - too obvious. A very variable collection.

6. Agency by William Gibson
This was delayed by almost a year because Gibson felt the need to rethink the plot following Trump's election. To be honest, if that was the reason, it makes very little difference in the book. For those who don't know, Agency is the follow-up to The Peripheral, a novel that introduced a post-disaster world, more than a century hence, which is damaged but recovering and largely dependent upon high technology to ensure a world fit for the much-reduced human population. One of the technological breakthroughs has been something that allows the creation of parallel worlds that branch off from this timeline although further back in its history - around our own time is about as far back as you can go. Communication is possible between these worlds but no more, but that still allows for significant intervention. This creation of these 'stubs' (as the parallel worlds are called) is so easy that it's become a hobby for some people, some a rather cruel hobby as they intervene seemingly to make things worse. Agency involves the cast of the previous novel trying to prevent a serious disaster in a world that differs from our own only in the fact that the USA has elected the first female president, but getting caught up in the emergence of a genuinely independent artificial intelligence. It's all written very well, with Gibson's characte]ristic dry wit but it doesn't grab you and large sections of the plot, in which a young woman gets hired by an enigmatic corporation and gets involved with mercenaries and military tech, seems to be a variation on Count Zero, his second novel from way back in the eighties.

7. Count Zero by William Gibson
I went back and read Count Zero immediately afterwards and my impression about aspects of the plot of Agency was confirmed. It also reminded my how much I enjoyed the Sprawl Trilogy.
Welcome. Don't worry about targets; people are mainly interested in what you think of the books that you've been reading.
 

Fueco

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9. The Odyssey, by Homer

Another audiobook. I figured that since were going to Greece in June, I should catch up on Greek literature. I read The Odyssey 22 years ago this month, while hanging out at Barnes & Noble in El Paso during the climbing trip to Hueco Tanks, which gave me my screen name (freehueco).

Anyway... The book was excellent, though not as earth-shatteringly awesome as I’d remembered it.

Also, I swear I’m almost done reading Ulysses.
 

FlyingMonkey

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8. Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Well, I had to, didn't I? This novel brings the Sprawl Trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, and it's a lot more complex and fast-moving than Count Zero. It still stands up to scrutiny, and I love the computing-future-that-never-happened aspect of it all as much as the worst aspects of the world Gibson created, which are essentially where we are living now (or soon will be).
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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5.This Is What Happened by Nick Herron

I bought this some time ago due to the review and the author winning the Golden Dagger for Crime Fiction.But it ended up languishing on the shelves for over a year.

What initially begins as spy novel cleverly morph’s into something much weirder than I expected. At times touchingly vulnerable and incredulous in the sense of how could this happen ?

Its narrative strength lies in its psychological study of self righteous obsession and disintegration as the protagonist descends into madness.

Not sure if I would invest the time to seek out works by this author, but overall entertaining.
 

FlyingMonkey

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9. Faster by Michael Hutchinson
Just picked this up because it was a deal in the Kindle store, and because I saw Hutch race back when I was a semi-serious cyclist. This is an effective combination of autobiographical reflection and sports science, as the author, a former pro-cyclist seeks to understand why he, despite having extraordinary biophysical gifts (even compared to other pros), never quite made the top level. He reflects on his own career and discusses the fads and fashions in diet and lifestyle that athletes have pursued over the last 30 years, and talks to other athletes, coaches and researchers about what really makes a difference and makes you, well... faster. It's of interest to anyone who has ever been (or could have been) any kind of athlete or has taken any kind of sport seriously (but probably no-one else!). Hutch has a wryly amusing style and is never anything other than direct and honest about himself.
 

LonerMatt

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Flying monkey - make sure you read Ken Liu's novels, they are total bangers. BANNNNNNNNNNNGERS!
 

LonerMatt

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1. The Tangled Land
2. The Test
3. Grace of Kings
4. Wall of Storms
5. Where there was Still Love
6. The Secret Commonwealth
7. Children of Ruins

7. Children of Ruins

Ever read a book that most other people like but bores you senseless? This happened to me with Children of Ruin.

The follow up to the really fascinating Children of Time, this was a novel about a different human exploratin (in the face of human extinction) where the legacy was a race of quickly evolving and communal octopi. However there's an encounter with an expansive alien creature that creates a threatening overtone.

The octopi civilisation meets with human/spider one from the previous novel and there's the story.

Too much detail about what didn't matter, laboured and plodding pace and a totally pointless climax saw this reader totally bored. Despite the rave reviews from everyone else who has read this I'm unconvinced.
 

FlyingMonkey

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Too much detail about what didn't matter, laboured and plodding pace and a totally pointless climax saw this reader totally bored. Despite the rave reviews from everyone else who has read this I'm unconvinced.
Actually, I'm with you here. It didn't make my SF of the year list. And I didn't think Children of Time was all that great either. Okay, but no more.
 

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