Monday, 10 June 2019

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aitken

"She was afraid that her faint cry would not be heard, but at least one member of the group responded to it. for there was an answering halloo, and a small finger detached itself from the rest and darted forward."

I started reading this aloud to my mother and instantly understood how it could be a children's classic. The initial descriptions of the surrounds and the manner of Miss Slightcarp are so chilling and foreboding that they leave Hitchcock for dead. The very best children's tales are ones that hold as much appeal for the child lying dormant in every adult and this is a perfect exemplar.
I just want to read more.
None of your cotton wool covered, safe children's tales here. This is life and death stuff! Told from a child's perspective makes it even more effective. For cousins Bonnie and Sylvia, the world they know is about to experience rapid and terrifying change. Joining them on the journey is rather magnificent. How fantastic to discover this is merely book one of a series. Nicki - this one has your name all over it - although I suspect you've already discovered it.

5 out of 5, settle down under the doona for a chilling winter's night's entertainment.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

"On his face was a complicated look - of confusion, of anxiety, of mirthless hilarity."

I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of this new work from McEwan because I'm slightly obsessed with the idea of Artificial Intelligence and its ramifications on every day life. The fact that this particular work is set in an alternate 1980s London was quite possibly my least favourite aspect of the novel. I found the timing and events a little distracting because the rest of the action seemed so contemporary.

There were moments where the story of Charlie, Adam, Miranda and Mark was all consuming and I felt confused by talk of Thatcher and Turing.

To me their tale was entered around the premise that Haddaway sang of - What is love? Love is such a fractured, strange, complicated beast, can it ever be understood by a machine that seeks answers in patterns and absolutes?

The lives (if that's how you can describe them) of the synthetic humans are tortured mirrors of our own inability to deal with the horrific complexities of life. Their struggles are compared against the intensely complicated back story of rape and revenge that is Miranda's tale, the mired childhood of Mark and Charlie's general confusion about everything that is playing out.

My first response to the novel was to discount it a little and yet it plagued my mind. Upon further reflection, my appreciation of it is increased. In some ways it is the perfect reflection of the goldfish bowl times where we jump from story to story, time to time and person to person seemingly at a digital pace. Always seeking the new and improved without adequate reflection on the repercussions. That was my takeaway at least, and I suspect others might take differing views because we all hold varying opinions on what it is to be human.

5 out of 5, uncomplicated, hot robots are just as mixed up as the real deal.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

“There was something appealing in thinking of a character with a secret life that her author knew nothing about. Slipping off while the author’s back was turned, to find love in her own way. Showing up just in time to deliver the next bit of dialogue with an innocent face.” 

It is entirely possible that you may have heard of this novel before. I'm almost entirely sure I've seen the movie adaptation and yet nothing detailed springs to mind. I really needed a delightful foray into the realms of light romantic comedy in order to escape some really, rather stressful times. This should have fit the bill. After all, I was very taken with Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and was therefore keen to explore more of the author's work.

While trying to complete a list of five essential Jane Austen inspired works - indeed I've only got one more to go -  I stubbed on this one and was enthusiastic about cracking the spine. Sadly, I was a little disappointed. I've been naturally distracted by visits to the local hospital, so perhaps not all the blame can be laid on the book - rather, perhaps its just me. I have vague recollections of the characters and the action and yet my overwhelming impression is one of misty confusion. That and a fleeting discussion about Ursula Le Guin. Actually I don't even remember the movie adaptation, other than it starred Emily Blunt.

I'm looking forward to my good friend and fellow bibliophile Nicki's take on this one to see whether I should re-visit in in less distracting times. My current romantic confusion is a life raft in turbulent times from unexpected quarters and everything is being called into question. Ergo, my ability to provide some well thought out review at this point is unlikely. Think re-examined feelings a la Persuasion,  rather than any Sense and Sensibility.

2 out of 5 book clubs are fuelled by vino.

Inverted World by Christopher Priest

“I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.”

While I have to say this particular novel took me what seemed like an age to complete, upon reflection, it is perhaps better than I initially thought. I say that because its world building style is strange in proportion and bears reflection upon completion.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you too much more. There were moments of keen interest and yet the laborious read I endured, distracted by a new job and other circumstances, rather detracted from my enjoyment of it.

This is one of those rare instances where the visual elements of the novel suggest to me that it would make a more interesting film or TV series than a novel. After all the author did pen The Prestige  which was adapted as a Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johansson movie - so anything is possible.

3 out of 5 - spatial awareness is intriguing but not quite enough to keep me engaged.


Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.”

I was lucky enough to see Max Porter's opening address to the Sydney Writer's Festival and immediately invested in a copy of this. His speech was a roller coaster of emotions about the impending doom that is change. I'm afraid my review will be a little light on, as it is difficult to discuss an amazing narrative around grief and loss when you're trying to focus on the more positive outcomes in life.

I've spent a week visiting my mother in hospital and it has been rather trying and all encompassing. I will posit that you should explore this slim volume that couches a torrent of emotions in a highly poetic style, despite my rather insignificant review. I wish I could write and indeed deliver an address as passionately as Mr Porter.

5 out of 5 feathers make me sneeze.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

“Dear God, she thought, was that what she was known for? Although it was true she was an eater —she had eaten  her way through grief, she had eaten her way through what had passed for love, she had eaten her way through the war (when she could).”

I have always loved a good spy novel. One of the most attractive aspects of this fantastic example of the genre is its female protagonist. A far cry from any James Bond style hero, Juliet Armstrong is a naïve eighteen-year-old recruited by M15 to listen in on potential enemies of the state. Her duties are transcribing conversations ( hence the title) and yet she is drawn into more thrilling intrigues. Never leave your handbag behind ladies!
Later, as she reflects on her exciting past, shadowy figures reappear and it seems like her relatively harmless role at the BBC might not save her from the threats of the past. 
Unfortunately, between reading (and thoroughly enjoying) the novel, it has taken me a few weeks to be close to a functioning computer (alas poor Mac Air —your death has rocked my world). That is the reason why my review is so little light on detail. The old grey cells have turned to mush without use.
Don’t let that dissuade you from seeking out this engaging and thrilling work. This was one of those books that I closed with a particularly satisfied smile.

5 out of 5 walls have ears.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

“I am not entirely persuaded that selling a book is like selling a pig.”

Lately I have been without a laptop and it has been an almost unbearable pain. As such my reviewing capability has been severely impeded! I know you are just dying to know what I’ve been reading… and who am I to let you down?
I’m working my way through a top 5 list of Jane Austen adjacent novels and the premise for this one is fabulous. Imagine having the technology to go back in time and potentially retrieve a lost work by one of your literary idols. Crazy!
When Rachel and Liam do exactly that, they can hardly foresee the impact they might have on the future. Rachel is a Doctor in the future and Liam pretends to be one under her tutelage. Their entrée into the Austen family is Jane’s ailing brother. The adventurous time travellers will need all their cunning and fake currency to inveigle themselves into Jane Austen’s world. As if that’s not distracting enough…. The rather comely Liam is a source of romantic distraction and the world will never be the same.

Such a delight. If you adore time travel tales and are secretly a literary nerd – this is the ticket!!

 5 out of 5 trips backwards can trip you up.