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Book 15 - 2019

Book 15: Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich - 326 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Catch a professional assassin: top priority. Find a failure-to-appear and collect big bucks: top score. How she'll pull it all off: top secret. Trenton, New Jersey's favorite used-car dealer, Jimmy Poletti, was caught selling a lot more than used cars out of his dealerships. Now he's out on bail and has missed his date in court, and bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is looking to bring him in. Leads are quickly turning into dead ends, and all too frequently into dead bodies. Even Joe Morelli, the city's hottest cop, is struggling to find a clue to the suspected killer's whereabouts. These are desperate times, and they call for desperate measures. So Stephanie is going to have to do something she really doesn't want to do: protect former hospital security guard and general pain in her behind Randy Briggs. Briggs was picking up quick cash as Poletti's bookkeeper and knows all his boss's dirty secrets. Now Briggs is next on Poletti's list of people to put six feet under. To top things off, Ranger--resident security expert and Stephanie's greatest temptation--has been the target of an assassination plot. He's dodged the bullet this time, but if Ranger wants to survive the next attempt on his life, he'll have to enlist Stephanie's help and reveal a bit more of his mysterious past. Death threats, highly trained assassins, highly untrained assassins, and Stark Street being overrun by a pack of feral Chihuahuas are all in a day's work for Stephanie Plum. The real challenge is dealing with her Grandma Mazur's wild bucket list. A boob job and getting revenge on Joe Morelli's Grandma Bella can barely hold a candle to what's number one on the list--but that's top secret.


Thoughts:
I don't know if I'm just not in the mood for Stephanie Plum at the moment, but for at least the first 150 pages I was really not feeling this book. I had to keep going back and re-reading bits to remember what was going on. It's not that the books have gotten worse (they are already exceeding formulaic), and I long ago accepted that no character development would ever happen. I just feel like I have no patience for the antics at the moment. Having said that, this one did start to pick up when the plot moved to the Ranger and Russian bad guy story which was exceedingly more interesting but rather pathetically wrapped up. Standard fare but missing some of the laughs of the past.


15 / 50 books. 30% done!


3544 / 15000 pages. 24% done!

Currently reading:
Journey to the West
by Cheng-En Wu - 673 pages
Security Studies: An Introduction
edited by Paul D. Williams - 620 pages
Saga: Volume 8
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - 146 pages

And coming up:
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages
Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance between Astrophysics and the Military
by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang - 549 pages
rose

Book 16- Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

16. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. My book club was looking for a more lighthearted read after the past several books, so we settled on Sedaris. I've read Me Talk Pretty One Day, which I just loved. This book was a little more serious, especially with the first few stories. Sure, there were numerous tales he relates where I cracked up laughing, but there were a couple others I actually got misty-eyed. Not quite expecting the serious stories given the first book I read and the fact that Sedaris is known as a comedian, but  I still enjoyed this overall. I did have qualms about the story he related about touring the Anne Frank house; I understand comedians are expected to push the envelope and test boundaries but there are just some things you don't ever make light of. There is a story later on that, had it been included before this one, could have lessened the cringe level some. I did like the stories about him trying to co-exist with one of his sisters, and I loved the story about his brother's first baby- both hilarious and incredibly sweet. I cracked up over the alphabet toy. 

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Book 14 - 2019

Book 14: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - 367 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.


Thoughts:
Another book purchased at the biannual book sale for $2. Another book that always appears in the must-read list. I maybe picked up this book to read at the wrong time in my life. Dealing with my own troubling health issues, reading about the tragedy of Mariam and Laila’s life only served to depress me more. Putting that aside, this is a compelling story, particularly once Mariam and Laila’s friendship develops. Both married to Rasheed, both suffering as a result of a life that has been unkind, a country that is troubled and a merry go round of cultures that ever increasingly devalue them, they find solace, confidence and love in each other. The background story of Afghanistan in the 70s-00s demonstrates how much our lives are dictated by the circumstances of our birth. I ended up reading the last 150 pages over a single day (partly because I was in hospital!), and thoroughly enjoying it despite the heavy topic. If you’re prepared for the emotional rollercoaster and the physical violence depicted, it’s a very compelling read.


14 / 50 books. 28% done!


3218 / 15000 words. 21% done!

Currently reading:
Journey to the West
by Cheng-En Wu - 673 pages
Security Studies: An Introduction
edited by Paul D. Williams - 620 pages
Top Secret Twenty-One
by Janet Evanovich - 326 pages

And coming up:
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages
Saga: Volume 8
by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - 146 pages
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August 2020 - Books 42 to 49

42. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
A year’s worth of short essays on a variety of mostly everyday topics. It’s clear that the author is a poet, because every essay is, well, delightful.
43. Red Bones by Ann Cleeves
An archaeological dig on one of the islands turns up more than expected, and two people are murdered in the process. Very interesting story but sometimes a little clichéd writing.
44. Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves
Jimmy takes his fiancée home to Fair Isle, famous for sweaters (which don’t figure in the story) and bird watchers (which do figure in the story), and his holiday turns deadly and then tragic.
45. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
A young woman in 1950s India leaves her husband and hometown to become a henna artist in another city, but her position is threatened when he shows up with a younger sister she didn’t know she had. Very interesting story and main character.
46. Girl Gone Missing by Marcie Rendon
Book two in Cash Blackbear series, in which Cash is now a college student and investigates the disappearance of one of her classmates. As in the first book, the mystery is a little light, but the character and atmosphere make up for this.
47. Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages by Gaston Dorren
Based on the premise that half the world’s population speaks one of twenty languages as a first or second language, the author sets out to learn those he doesn’t know and describes them all with interesting linguistic features and quirks. Very entertaining and informative about many aspects of the human experience.
48. Dead Water by Ann Cleeves
Several months after the hair-raising events of the previous Shetland mysteries installment, the main character is back on his feet and working with a new supervisory inspector to solve the case of a journalist’s body found in the boat of the local prosecutor. I didn’t really buy the motivation for the murder(s) but was glad to see the main character back in action.
49. Thin Air by Ann Cleeves
The next book in the Shetland series takes us to the northernmost island in the UK where a couple’s wedding party goes horribly wrong after their friend disappears and then is found dead next to a small loch. Features a dizzying amount of travel across the islands and also a trip to London.
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Book #51: Why We Pray by William Philip



Number of pages: 102

The purpose of this book is best summed up by the quote it gives from John Bunyan:

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate puring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.

Unlike the previous book I read about prayer, this was very useful; I found William Philip was able to identify with his audience easily, with the analogies he uses, and he raised some points that I had never thought of. For example, the book states that if you think that you're not good enough to pray, then you're in effect being blasphemous because you think Jesus dying on the cross wasn't good enough for you.

This felt like a good practical guide to how to pray, such as avoiding having a view of it as "supplementary", which is probably a danger for many people. I liked how the book descibed prayer as an audible form of faith.

This is a relatively easy book to read, and never feels overly preachy, so I would definitely recommend it to others.

Next book: The Drawing of the Three (Stephen King)
-sg1headwall

Books 31-40.

31. Tyldesley - Daughters Of Isis: Women Of Ancient Egypt
Nicely thorough picture of what the life for women was like there: much better than in some other countries of that era (like Greece or Rome).

32. Tolstoy - Anna Karenina (English translation)
Much more than I expected, with some nice scenes among the tragedies.

33. Bowman - Contagion
A bit like the seconde Alien movie, ending with a cliffhanger for the second book of the duo.

34. Ishiguro - The Remains Of The Day
"Look at your life, look at your choices", indeed, but quietly so.

35. Toibin - Brooklyn
Entertaining though a little obvious, still like it.

36. Harrison - Dead Witch Walking
Good supernatural story, though not so much that I would continue reading this series.

37. Kusher - The Mars Room
One of the best in this ten: life choices, unfair punishment system, beauty of nature and such.

38. Gyasi - Homegoing
Follows a clear pattern, but beautifully, with bookends beginning and ending.

39. W.Gibson - Pattern Recognition
Located more in the present (now clearly our past), with a writer tone I felt very familiar though I haven't read his books for some years before this.

40. E.Bear - Ancestral Night
Nice pace of action in this scifi story, with surprising, beautiful, and astonishing scenes.
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Book #50: Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M.C. Beaton



Number of pages: 185

Usually with Agatha Raisin books, I find myself having to sit through a chapter or two before the first murder occurs, so it is refreshing in this book when Agatha discovers a corpse more or less on the first few pages.

This is the series' first foray into the world of politics and captalism; the murder victim is the parish council chair, killed before he could give the casting vote on whether to allow a large company to take over running the town's water. Nobody knows which way he was planning to vote, so suspicion falls upon all of the other councillors.

This book also continues the complicated issue of Agatha's love life; first off, there is the strained relationship between her and James Lacey, and in this book the both attempt separately to find out who the killer is; James starts off by joining a protest group who also seem to be likely murder suspects. Agatha also turns into something of a cougar in this book, by starting an affair with a younger man, who happens to be one of the water company's owners.

I enjoyed this book; it was as usual very funny in places, and it threw up a lot of red herrings; also, it was good to see that Agatha's affair with a younger man wasn't just put there to make the book feel steamy; it ended up being important to the plot, in ways that I won't spoil here.

The only real issue I had with this book was that (and I have noticed similar in previous titles) it hasn't aged well, and I noticed a few moments that felt so politically incorrect, I was surprised the publishers allowed them even in 1998, when this was written. There was a particularly crass joke that involved drooling to "pretend to be mentally handicapped"; just goes to show how times have changed, I suppose.

This was also adapted for Sky One several years ago, but I didn't remember anything about it, so I was able to enjoy it all over again.

Next book: Why We Pray (William Philip)
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Book 13 - 2019

Book 13: Saga: Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - 152 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Finally reunited with her ever-expanding family, Hazel travels to a war-torn comet that Wreath and Landfall have been battling over for ages. New friendships are forged and others are lost forever in this action-packed volume about families, combat and the refugee experience.


Thoughts:
This is probably the saddest of all the Saga volumes thus far. After the last volume ended with our favourite family reunited and some joyous news, by the end of this one we've lost three characters, one that had been awhile, two not so much, all important and all heartbreaking. Now reunited, Alana, Marko, Hazel, Robot and Petri are trying to get back to the planet Robot's son was left on. Things don't go to plan and they find themselves stuck on the hellish comet Phang - a dreadful battlefield in the never ending war. Planning to be there a few days, the gang gets stuck there for 6 months, befriending a local family along the way. Hazel's made a friend, but Robot's not happy he's been stuck for so long. Accordingly, he effectively goads Isabel into doing some investigating for him and it all goes downhill from there. Meanwhile, we pick up with The Will again, who decides to track down Sophie and Gwen but doesn't like the response he gets from them. Again, another awesome addition to the series. I'm conscious that I've only got two volumes to go - I've heard volume 9 is a killer, so I'm starting to get nervous!!


13 / 50 books. 26% done!


2851 / 15000 pages. 19% done!

Currently reading:
Journey to the West
by Cheng-En Wu - 673 pages
Security Studies: An Introduction
edited by Paul D. Williams - 620 pages
A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini - 367 pages

And coming up:
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages
Top Secret Twenty-One
by Janet Evanovich - 326 pages
rose

Book 15- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

15. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson. Well. What can I say? This was interesting, like watching a train wreck in slow motion is interesting. Basically, this is Thompson's somewhat fictionalized account of his "covering" two events in Las Vegas, a big race and a convention for narcotics officers (I say "covering" because he spends maybe 10 minutes cumulatively covering the events and the remaining time at the bar, getting high or avoiding getting caught). It's tough to figure out what may have been fictionalized; honestly, I wonder if Thompson even knew, given how trippy this gets. The latter scenario with the officer convention is amusing because Thompson and his "attorney" are high out of their minds through most of this, so the thought of them covering an event crawling with police and detectives is pretty funny. There were a couple other scenes where I laughed out loud- one moment early on involving a hapless hitchhiker, the other when he and his attorney are giving this over the top story to a clueless schmuck about how bad the drug issue is getting in parts of the country, and the schmuck is buying it hook, line and sinker. But for the most part, my overriding thoughts were "why would someone do this to himself?" and "what on earth did I just read?" While I don't regret reading this, I don't see myself re-reading this, or trying Thompson's other works. This was plenty. 

Currently reading: Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi

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Book #49: Not Dead Enough by Peter James



Number of pages: 619

This is the third murder mystery thriller starring Roy Grace, and I've noticed now that the first two have been, or are going to be, serialised on ITV, and I'm curious to see if I overlooked this, or if it is yet to be screened. I was surprised at the casting of John Simm in the lead role, just because of him being older than the character he is playing (supposed to be 39 in this book).

This book felt more like a straightforward serial killer novel to begin with; two murders took place near to the start, connected by one man, who happened to be married to the first victim, and was apparently having an affair with the second.

In this case, the narrative seemed to be trying to pinpoint the husband as the killer quite early on, and when this sort of thing happens, it usually means there is more to it than meets the eye. I was getting a shrewd idea of what was really going on before I got even halfway through this book, but thanks to some neat double bluffing, I found myself constantly being surprised at the book reached its denouement.

The book made clear quite early on whenever the killer chose his next target, so it ended up being just a matter of finding out when or where they would end up being murdered. In this book, the stakes got a bit higher by having the killer target a recurring character.

There were a few other plot strands; one of them involved another detective being kicked out of his marital home and having to stay at Grace's house, which didn't have much impact on the main plot. There was also a subplot about a drug addict who was stealing cars for their parts, which was almost entirely disconnected from the plot, until the two storylines dovetailed into eachother in a way that felt mildly contrived.

The book also gave more weight to the recurring theme of Grace's missing wife, Sandy, by having her apparently sighted in Münich, resulting in him spending a portion of the book over there attempting to find her. Without saying too much, this book doesn't entirely wrap up this plotline, but it did further the relationship between Grace and his colleague Cleo that was referenced in at least one of the first two titles.

I already mentioned there was one plot contrivance, but apart from the killer having a petty reason for choosing one of his intended victims, I enjoyed this book, and will make sure I read the next title, Dead Man's Footsteps at some point, and make sure I get to see the TV show at some point.

Next book: Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death (M.C. Beaton)