Sunday, 16 December 2018

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly| Insider's Edition by Anthony Bourdain

“My love for chaos, conspiracy and the dark side of human nature colors the behavior of my charges, most of whom are already living near the fringes of acceptable conduct.”

Friends who work or who have worked in kitchens waxed lyrical about this book, their eyes glazing over in that same worshipping manner that you see in kids talking about their football or musical idol. Reading this, I can see why. Certainly, in a post me-too world its problematic to explore an atmosphere that often borders on the abusive, but for someone who has worked in close quarters under tight deadlines with people under pressure, I completely understand the heightened circumstances.

The insiders edition has rather delightful handwritten additions from the author which feel particularly strange given his untimely passing. In some ways it is almost like a voice from beyond and there's something reassuring about that. My path to Bourdain was through his television series and I was quite late to the party. I was rather shaken by his early departure because even watching a few episodes made me feel like a kindred spirit and that always makes these difficult circumstances more troubling.

At any rate, reading this little expose was a delight that I would happily revisit. Bad behaviour has never been more entertaining.

5 out of 5 bad boys are more entertaining and often care more.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

” They met by the headstone. Nathan knew he would have to look down at some point. He delayed the moment by opening his mouth.”


When I heard the author of The Dry and Force of Nature had another novel published, I was chomping at the bit to get a copy. Thanks to the sheer height of my ‘to be read’ pile, I’ve only just got around to it. Let me start by saying how much I missed Aaron Falk as a character and it took a while for me to get into the rhythm of this standalone novel. Was it, I wondered, because the protagonist wasn’t a particularly charming bloke? Was it the fact that the other two books were so good?  Personally, I think both statements ring true. Nevertheless, I persisted, and it really was worth it in the end.

While the novel commences with the death of Cameron in the outback, it takes quite a while before, as a reader, I felt particularly invested in the mystery behind that outcome. The jury was out on the guy telling the tale, however, that distance, once you get to know the character better, is actually quite brilliant. Nathan is remote, distanced, troubled and his narrative painfully reflects that. This is one of those books that, I think, upon re-reading, would elicit even further praise.

The thing about crime novels that draws you in, is rarely the crime. Characters drive the action and as a reader, I felt I was getting to know these characters as the tale progressed. Their hidden secrets, their communication issues, their foibles and their failings trickle out in a slow, but compelling fashion. The development of the relationship between Xander and Nathan was particularly poignant. I also loved the way my perceptions of characters changed wildly as I discovered (through Nathan) what was really going on.

When I closed the last page somewhere around the witching hour, I’d come to the realisation that this was a yet another stellar read from a fantastic author. I’ll be buying whatever she ships next!



5 out of 5 dusty trails and backpackers don’t mix.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Wundersmith, The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

“Now that she was a fully-fledged member of Nevermoor’s most prestigious group, was it all right to be honest about the fact that she grew up in Jackalfax, deep in the heart of the Wintersea Republic, among the enemies of the Free State?”

Morrigan Crow is back, and I, for one could not be happier. Well, unless that means there is another volume to this delightful series. Which, let’s face it, the ending suggests ( no spoilers) that there might be. Being part of the Wundrous Society and taking lessons isn’t a case of smooth sailing for our plucky heroine. The spectre of that other, evil, Wundersmith – you know the one that gives all Wundersmiths a bad name – is ever present. Not to mention how boring lessons are.

Fortunately, Morrigan is bound to make some amazing friends, endure some challenging circumstances and entertain those reading with some wondrous feats. This is one of the books that you wish you had kids for, just so that you could read it to them.  The world that Townsend creates is a delight and tinged with the prospect of menace, which makes it all the more appealing. I love that the books central theme seems to be that everything is not black or white and there is a lot of grey in the world. Power is only evil when misused.
Grab your W pin and settle in for over four hundred pages of delight. You won’t regret it.
5 out of 5, if only I could award more points I would, as the crow flies.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

“She was designed to look human, her face the replica of a woman whose image Med’s tissue engineer had licensed from an old Facebook database.”

When I spotted this novel at my local Kinokuniya store, I felt compelled to buy a copy. The premise sounded so intriguing. Unfortunately, I found that the most exciting aspect of the book. Time and time again I’d pick it up, read a few pages and then put it down.
The scene was set early for some interesting action and I looked forward initially to see how it panned out. By the time I was less than a third through, my interest had waned entirely. Perhaps this was due to my usual preoccupations inherent in a busy, stressful life distracting me from the plot. Perhaps it just wasn't my cup of tea. In any case, this review lacks effusive praise.

On a positive note, this is the one hundred and twentieth book I've read this year - hurrah!

2 out of 5 robot drugs aren't as exciting as they sound.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (Agatha Raisin #14) by M.C. Beaton

“He forgot that he had recently found Agatha attractive. Now he thought of her as a pushy middle-aged woman who might be mad.”

One of the most thrilling aspects of this murder mystery is the promise of what lies in the next book, hinted fiendishly by the author in the final page. That is not to say that this isn’t an entertaining read. It is a gem as all the Agatha Raisin tales have been to date.
Agatha has yet another new neighbour, but this one is married. Admittedly Paul Chatterton’s Spanish wife doesn’t seem to be around and when a haunted house mystery presents itself he calls on Aggie to do some sleuthing. As thirteen previous novels clearly demonstrated, Agatha is not one to say no to a handsome man with a mystery.
A hilarious scare in the night, isn’t quite what the two adventurers have in mind and it isn’t long until there is the usual body count for this otherwise quaint village. Add in a potential historical treasure hunt, passionate historical society and amateur dramatics, and you know things are about to get entertaining. Bill Wong has yet another attractive officer in tow. She and several other women are bound to get Agatha in a jealous frisson.
I just love Agatha and the return of Sir Charles is always a welcome one (ooh look he’s single and trim again). As you might tell, I just love getting lost in the little village of Carsely. It is the perfect respite from the stressful world in which we live. It’s strange isn’t it that villages with a body count seem far more idyllic than offices full of hidden malevolence.

5 out of 5 things that go bump in the night are harmless.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Milkman by Anna Burns

"No one has ever come across a cat apologising and if a cat did, it would patently be obvious it was not being sincere.”

When I commenced reading the latest winner of the Man Booker Prize, I was instantly captivated by the first-person narrative. Burns expertly weaves a spell of ever tightening walls. The walls talk; and the perceptions of others can be a death sentence.

Our heroine is being stalked by The Milkman and he is a dangerous man to know. The locals see his attempts to interact with her and believe that she is having an affair with the married man, rather than actively seeking to avoid his clutches. She’s more interested in maybe-boyfriend.

Jogging with her brother in law is a means of escape. She is an outsider reading books and taking French classes, where others fill their days with gossip and violence. Her mother’s inability to believe her is particularly frustrating and initially quite funny. That is until the humour takes on a more dangerous tone. Perhaps that is the most interesting aspect of the novel the black humour that tinges the fight or flight terror of the everyday.

As I read the latter parts of the novel in a piecemeal fashion on my way to and from work, I think it lost something. It was too easy to drift out of the peculiar parlance of the book and having to constantly re-acquaint myself with it was frustrating. That aside, this is a great read and an intriguing character exploration.


5 out of 5 - the dead cat scene is visceral.


Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

“I like the idea of keeping my world in these little compartments where there is no risk of collision.”  

I had this book in the to be read pile for quite some time and yet it was only when the trailers for its adaptation bombarded my Netflix feed that I decided it was time for action. This is an easy read, which you would expect given its young adult subject and audience.
Growing up as a gentle giant with an extremely svelte mother (not that she is anymore), I could really relate to Willowdean’s story. Actually, Willowdean seemed way more popular than me and self-assured, which was a delight to read. Clearly, she had a lot more success in high school with the opposite sex too – me, I was a late bloomer in that department by comparison (don’t worry I made up for it later).
When the pinnacle of your mother’s existence is the local teen beauty pageant and you definitely don’t fit the mould, life can be challenging. Couple that with feelings of grief for a recently deceased, much-loved aunt and confusion around a rather spunky workmate at an after-school job and you have ample fodder for a great teen story. I’ve seen some rather negative comments about aspects of the story online and yet I found it refreshingly honest and rather adorable. It captures perfectly that prickly time when everyone takes offence as they’re trying to work out who they are in the world.
If you like drag queens and Dolly Parton, double down on this little book, you won’t be disappointed. It is tailor made for Trixie Mattel fans (guilty).
5 out of 5 lip synch for your life.