Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

"The brilliant young Stanford dropout behind the breakthrough invention was anointed "the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates" by no less than former secretary of state George Schultz, the man many credited with winning the Cold War, in a quote at the end of the article."

I've been somewhat transfixed by this tale of fraudulent behaviour and extreme privilege, having been rather late to the story because, yes, I've just discovered podcasts. I'd seen this particular book referenced in a number of interviews and articles and was interested to discover more. What lay behind the lady in the Steve Jobs turtlenecks with the deep voice and the machine that was... just a bit of a prick?

Perhaps what captivated so many people in the story is how this young woman used her connections and persona to convince investors to bet large on a device that didn't work. Particularly at such a young age. Rarely do you see a woman portrayed as so vindictive and cut throat in the world of business. In one way it was semi-inspired. Here was a woman beating men of the very worst calibre at their own dodgy game, up to a point of course. Like all cautionary tales, the end doesn't look particularly good.

Her combination of control, secrecy and intimidation in an unlikely blonde package left me torn. On the one hand, at least it meant that there is visibility that women are demonstrably equal to men in their ability to do dodgy deals. On the other hand, I'd hate to think we were all painted in the same unsavoury hue. Was she just swept up in the momentum, was she the architect of her success and failure? The book suggests she was all in, all the time. The exploits are Machiavellian in scope.

In any case the book is well paced and features great writing - an impressive combination.
One wonders if her business had not been framed around healthcare, whether there would have ever been a problem. After all, scrutiny is high when lives are at risk. 

Did I mention this was the perfect read for the commute to and from work? Well now I have. Night all .

5 out of 5 vampires are draining.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Circe by Madeline Miller

"Ward and bulwark against ruin, worshipped like a god, for it was pure. The only thing in all the world you could be certain would not turn against you."

As a child, I was obsessed with the ancient gods of Rome and Greece. These fantastical tales had a form and structure that made more sense to me than other religious stories and they were far more compelling. Little wonder perhaps  that I am consistently drawn to novels that  revel in their retelling.

Circe is no exception. This is a fantastical tale told fantastically well. It provides an emotional tie to the central character that grounds the story, making it ever more accessible. In a week of high stress ups and downs, a demi-god's struggles seemed comparable. Well, perhaps I'm a little prone to exaggeration, but you get the gist.

I devoured the intense jealousy, grief,lust, fear, all the emotions. Miller was feted for her The Son of Achilles, and yet I find this latest offering a much more impressive work. This is one of those rare occasions where the beautiful cover art is a fair indication of the greatness that lies within.

5 out of 5 superpowers are a dual edged sword.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

"For me, at least, as I've written novels over many years, I just can't picture someone liking me on a personal level."

I've been meaning to read this for quite some time and wasn't disappointed. It is raw and beautiful. I felt like I was main-lining Murakami's brain and it was addictive.
The high that you get from running or exercise is a really interesting notion.It seems rather common in middle aged men who tend to push themselves into triathlons and the like in a last ditch attempt to stave off impending doom. It is a very vocal stance that screams I'm still vital and can achieve, despite the realisation that this could be the last push before the death knell of age and infirmity.It is also rather popular with reformed addicts as they seek a natural high.

Something that I found of particular interest was the author's sense of remove. His ability to  run and write is twinned with a sense of remove from company. In the same breath that he mentions being unlikeable and other, he also mentions that he has a wife. That troubled me somewhat. Where did she lie in that spectrum?

We are all imperfect creatures, sometimes the imperfections are delightfully perfect because they encapsulate the highs and the lows. I ran through this novel and ironically felt like I wasn't alone. There was someone else like me, removed and yet a part of this rich tapestry of a world, constantly forging forward and yet unsure of the journey's end.

If you, like me, are a fan of Mr Murakami, this will definitely not disappoint. I wish my lard arse could run, but this body is better suited to swimming. Weirdly, the sight of the black line on the bottom of the pool gives me a similar sense of calm, remove and obsession. Sadly I've not hit the pool in quite some time and this might just might be a motivating reason.

5 out of 5 pavements pounded yield thought provoking moments.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

"As the words left my mouth, I realised that, like a true aficionado  I'd just appropriated an Austen line."

If you've read my blog previously, you will know how much I love to complete a list of any kind. So, I can report with a great deal of satisfaction, that I've ticked off all 5 of Vulture's Five Essential Novels with Jane Austen as a Premise. Certainly some have been better than others, nevertheless I certainly rounded the list out on a positive note.

The Austen Escape is an escapist delight. Mary, an engineer agrees to attend a two week Jane Austen themed stay in the UK with her Jane Austen obsessed friend. It turns out however, that her friend has been hiding a rather interesting secret and is about to have a bit of a meltdown. All sorts of shenanigans are about to ensue and Mary is about to learn that the famous chronicler of manners might have some keen insight in matters of the heart even in today's cynical world.

A super easy read that was the perfect antidote to a stressful week of work.

5 out of 5 escapes should involve romance.

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.