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2020 50 Book Challenge

jeradjames

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8. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

A travel memoir focused on themes of death/decay/temporal being of everything rather than plot. Sebald's narrator wanders through the coast of England mediating on everything from bombings of WWII, Joseph Conrad, herrings, to the silk industry.
 

California Dreamer

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1. Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas
2. Dr Knox, by Peter Spiegelman
3. The Hills Reply, by Tarjei Vesaas
4. Cold Fear, by Mads Peter Nordo
5. The Drover's Wife, by Leah Purcell
6. The Silent Death, by Volker Kutscher
7. Darkness for Light, by Emma Viskic
8. The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides


9. Recursion, by Blake Crouch

Recursion is a time travel story with a bit of a twist. It kicks off with policeman Barry Sutton unsuccessfully intervening in a woman's suicide. It turns out the woman was a victim of False Memory Syndrome, an emerging disease where people develop ultra-realistic memories that are essentially of themselves in a completely different life. Some of them are unable to deal with the dissonance this causes, and suicides are on the rise.

Barry's investigation gets him a bit too close to a major secret and he is abducted and forced to undergo a procedure that is the cause of FMS - people being projected back into their past lives to change things that they regret. This generates two different timelines, which converge when time catches up with the date of the procedure, at which time people discover their twin pasts.

Crouch plays around a bit with concepts of time and memory here, but the central idea in this novel is the ethics surrounding the adoption of new technologies; is it ever appropriate to abandon a new scientific discovery, and can the genie ever be put back in the bottle anyway? While I found this story a bit hard to follow at times, and was not entirely convinced by Crouch's scenario, I found this a pacy and interesting read.
 

samtalkstyle

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5. Frederick Forsyth - The Odessa File

I can't remember who on this thread mentioned that this wasn't quite as good as Jackal but still a worthwhile read (may have been multiple) but I agree.

Great twist at the end though, when you find out the protagonist's reason for the whole pursuit. Enjoyed reading this one.
 

FlyingMonkey

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12. Again, Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison.

I probably read this a long time ago, but if so, I forgot how utterly atrocious this collection is. With the exception of Ursula Le Guin's superb novellette, The Word for the World is Forest, and the odd interesting story, this successor to the far superior Dangerous Visions represents everything that was bad about 'boundary-pushing' science fiction of the late 1960s and early 70s. Just as prog-rock provides the obvious rationale for punk and new wave, so this kind of the science fiction provides the explanation (and indeed the necessity) for the emergence of cyberpunk, feminist SF and a whole lot more. The main 'danger' provided by the stories seems to be either self-indulgence or heterosexual white men fantasizing about being able to get away with even more of what heterosexual white men get away with. It's made infinitely worse by the editor's interminable, blokey, inside-jokey, and altogether insufferable introductions to each story - he's great friends with all the authors and admires all their lovely, perky wives, don't you know? - and the introduction to the book itself, which basically expounds upon Harlan Ellison's favourite subject - himself and how brilliant he is - at even greater length. I'm not generally in favour of book burnings, but if all existing copies of this book happened to fall into a pit of fire, the world would lose nothing.
 

California Dreamer

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1. Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas
2. Dr Knox, by Peter Spiegelman
3. The Hills Reply, by Tarjei Vesaas
4. Cold Fear, by Mads Peter Nordo
5. The Drover's Wife, by Leah Purcell
6. The Silent Death, by Volker Kutscher
7. Darkness for Light, by Emma Viskic
8. The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides
9. Recursion, by Blake Crouch


10. When All is Said and Done, by Neale Daniher

Neale Daniher was a high-profile figure in the AFL as a player, coach and administrator. At the age of 52, he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, and has since turned his considerable energies and abilities into raising money for research to cure MND.

Ostensibly, Daniher has written this book to give his grandchildren, who he won't be around to watch grow up, a way of understanding who their grandfather was and how he approached life. He covers his growing up on a farm, a playing career cut short by injury, a frustrating period as a coach at a dysfunctional club, his eventual diagnosis, and the aftermath.

Daniher reveals himself as a somewhat reticent person who can still be blunt, and this shows through in his writing. The book reads like a mixture of a management text on leadership and a self-improvement book. What must have been crushing career lows for him are framed as almost emotionless lessons in how to deal with adversity and move on. It is only in about the last 30 pages that Daniher allows himself to translate the impact of his diagnosis into words that go to the heart of his feelings at the time. Neale Daniher is an inspirational man but, sadly, this book does not convey that very well.
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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9.How to Achieve your Optimal Personal Trajectory with Jung‘s Individuation Transformation Methodology by Paul Renolds.

The author claims to be Research Psychologist and develops a road map of the Jungian process of interaction with the Collective Unconscious to attain in Jungian terms Individuation.

The starting point I guess is to understand the major differences between Freud and Jung. Which is A the Anima/Animus idea, it has to be experienced to come to terms with it and B for Freud the Unconscious is the realm of the repressed, or as it was put so eloquently in Forbidden Planet, a 1950’s SciFi film adaptation of The Tempest, “Monsters, monsters from the Id.” Jung views the Personal Unconscious and Collective Unconscious as the archetypal repository of humanity, a well of both wisdom and horror if used by C The Shadow, which is the singular Beast and can be viewed collectively as Nazi Germany under Hitler or the manifestation of the Orange Skull.

Reynolds explains the dynamics at play in this particular sojourn comparing it at times to Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey.

Overall while parts of it did irritate me his collective Soma Gummy Bears and Zombie quips do smack of egotism, he does manage to provide a not how to manual ( thats not something I would recommend to try at home without the assistance of a Jungian therapist) but more of a descriptive postcard of the major elements involved in the process.

Reading this reminded of Jung‘s saying “thank god I’m Jung and not a Jungian.” Individuation is a life transforming process best summed up simply ”as the same... yet different.” Overall an interesting contribution to the post Jungian studies.
 

FlyingMonkey

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I was a Jungian / Campbell fan when I was a teenager - then I grew up...
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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I was a Jungian / Campbell fan when I was a teenager - then I grew up...
I was a teenage existentialist. Camus lives!

God forbid your a Lacanian.
 

FlyingMonkey

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13. Who? by Algis Budrys

Continuing my vaguely New Wave science fiction kick, this is a 1958 and very Cold War work by an author who is better known for novels like Rogue Moon. It's basically a spy novel with the premise that an Italian-American military scientist, Lucas Martino, has fallen into the hands of the Soviets and been so badly injured in an accident with an experimental technology that in curing and repairing him he has become unrecognisable. The man who is eventually released into the hands of the Americans has effectively been transformed into a cyborg, a man in metal mask, and the novel works both by flashback to Martino's life before the accident, and the cat-and-mouse game between the FBI interrogators and surveillance teams and this cyborg who might or might not be Martino. It's actually quite a bleak and pretty hopeless novel that has a lot in common with more mainstream literary existential works of the mid-century, while being dressed in SF clothing. And it is very much a period piece: this isn't the kind of SF that transcends its milieu. Am I recommending it? Only, I think, for people who have an interest in Cold War ephemera or the history of science fiction.
 

California Dreamer

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1. Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas
2. Dr Knox, by Peter Spiegelman
3. The Hills Reply, by Tarjei Vesaas
4. Cold Fear, by Mads Peter Nordo
5. The Drover's Wife, by Leah Purcell
6. The Silent Death, by Volker Kutscher
7. Darkness for Light, by Emma Viskic
8. The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides
9. Recursion, by Blake Crouch
10. When All is Said and Done, by Neale Daniher


11. How the Dead Speak, by Val McDermid

* I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review this book. *

At the outset of McDermid's latest novel, Tony Hill is languishing in prison and Carol Jordan has left the force and is struggling to deal with PTSD. The ReMIT team are picking up the pieces and trying to regroup under a new careerist DCI. When forty skeletons are unearthed under an old convent, the DCI claims the case and the team gets to work.

Carol's efforts to find peace in seclusion are upended by two women: Tony's mother demands that Carol track down and punish a financial adviser who cheated her. The second intervention os from a lawyer who pushes her to get involved in an organisation trying to free wrongly-convicted people. Very reluctantly, Carol goes along with both of these plans.

The plotting in this novel is not that complicated; things seem to move forward inexorably to a conclusion. Some red herrings are set up but disposed of pretty quickly. Tony does not play a role in the mystery-solving; it read like his storyline is there merely to serve as a sort of placeholder. This book did rather feel like McDermid was getting her ducks in a row for the next steps to be taken by the former and present members of the ReMIT team.
 

Fueco

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14. The Republic, Plato

I picked up the Penguin Classics edition a few weeks ago. This was far more currently relevant than I thought it would be going in. A fascinating look at what Plato thought any ideal society would have looked like 2400 years ago.
 

FlyingMonkey

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14. My First Murder by Leena Lehtolainen

This is the first in a long-running series of Finnish crime novels featuring Detective Maria Kallio, which is now running at a dozen or so, with 11 of them translated into English so far. As a fan of scandi-crime, I'd been curious about them for a while, so when the Kindle Store suddenly had them on sale for the ridiculous price of 99c each, I bought every single one... so you'll be getting to hear about all of them over the next few weeks!

My first impressions are not to be overwhelmingly impressed. There are some very strong points. It's good to have a protagonist who isn't a middle-aged alcoholic male walking disaster (the standard scandi-noir hero) - and in fact, in a nice twist in this one, it's Maria's (largely absent) boss who fills this role and you have no sympathy for him at all, especially once he returns from his absence to royally mess things up at the last. At the same time, Maria isn't an overdrawn hyper-competant retort to all that. She's intelligent enough, fit enough, good-looking enough and so on, but is remarkable in her job largely only because she's the only woman, and that situation isn't really too her liking. She's only working for the police supposedly temporarily after having left to pursue a law degree. The novel also doesn't dwell overly on the violence in the way that some of the darker Scandanavian crime novels do.

This story finds her having to deal with the suspected murder of a member of a local choral society, a handsome and charming lothario, who any number of rivals, husbands and spurned lovers might have wanted to kill. The slight complicating factor is that Maria used to hang out with this crowd while she was at university and there are all kinds of unresolved feelings hanging around the case.

The less good aspect is simply with the plotting. The story is straight. Too straight. With the exception of the prologue where the body is found, it's all written from a very simple Maria-centred viewpoint. There aren't really any serious twists or red herrings or major diversions. The investigation just proceeds, interrupted, but not diverted, by a little bit of drinking and self-doubt, towards its conclusion.

The Helsinki atmosphere is good enough, although the city does not, at least in this first novel, emerge as a character as strongly or distinctively as the Stockholm of Martin Beck, the Edinburgh of Rebus, or the Bergen of Varg Veum. This vagueness is partly reflective of the somewhat indistinct character of Detection Kallio. Maybe she's just young, but while there are some gesturing at social justice, there's little in the way of political critique (again as in the Beck novels) or a really powerful depiction of social reality. And above all, if you had told me this novel was written by a man, I wouldn't have disagreed - there's actually very little about Maria Kallio that suggests a distinctive women's view, with the exeption perhaps of a short side case to do with a serial park rapist - and even that seems remarkably blasé. Those Finns, eh?

Because first novels are often far less impressive than those that follow, and characters grow and become more interesting as stories progress, I'm going to continue with these. This first one really wasn't bad at all, just relatively unremarkable in a very crowded field.
 
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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
8. Hunger
9. Legacy of Ash
10. When we were Vikings
11. The Yellow Notebook

10. When we were Vikings


This is a hilarious and original take on the 'narrator with an intellectual disability' novel that's been a bit popular in the last few years. In this story, Zelda is a young woman (teenager) who has Feotal Alcohol Syndrome. She lives with her older brother Gert - after her father has run away and her mother died of cancer - and her life is pretty simple. She has a boyfriend with Down Syndrome, a devotion to Vikings and the desire to be the hero of her own legend.

However, Gert is only 21 and is a low level drug dealer, having to borrow some money from a supplier to move himself and Zelda out of an abusive uncle's home in the wake of their mother's death. This makes life complicated as he unsuccessfully tries to sheild Zelda from how he gets by and how much pressure having to look after her places on him.

Zelda also explores: having sex, getting work, being found attractive and being manipulated by people.

This is a hilarious and touching novel that pulls no punches but absolutely sits in the grey area that is the reality of life for so many people living with disability. Unlike something like 'The curious incident' or 'the rosie project' material wealth and health is a huge part of this novel - something I think a lot of these novels have unfortunately ignored. Finding a space somewhere between the lighthearted Rosie project and the absolutely devastating 'Eye of the Sheep', When were were vikings is a great read and highly recommended.

11. The Yellow Notebook


A few years ago Garner started putting out books containing very short observations about people and behaviour. I really loved that writing, it merged her whip sharp wit with a rarely seen love of people, her descriptions of her son in law and grandson are among some of the most love filled writing I've ever read.

This book is extracts from her diary over a 4 year period (82-86 I think) where she was established but not celebrated. So much of the content deals with writing, relationships, perception and doubt. As someone who often wonders if I'll ever stop having doubt and existential crises, this is eerily reassuring to know that a 40 year old professional writer with a slew of successful novels, awards, reviews and fans still finds herself wondering if she'll ever 'get there'.

A tad long for my tastes, and I didn't care much for the passages on love and relationships, but that's the way it is. Not bad, not great.
 

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