Monday, 30 September 2013

Stories for Nighttime and Some for The Day by Ben Loory


"That's when he sees the shark."

An imaginative and intriguing collection of short stories that is reminiscent of bedtime stories for adults. It recalls the meandering tales my mother used to tuck me into bed with, and yet amped up and beautifully written with absurd undertones and the occasional moral.
I particularly enjoyed the tale of the octopus in the city - he reminded me of myself, living away in another state and eventually returning to my relatives and my home town. The astronaut and the Martian was another favourite, and don't get me started on the perils of swimming in public pool - who knows what monsters lay beneath the surface.
Reading this little treasure on the bus to work, I could not help but giggle to myself - no fellow passengers I am not a crazy lady, just a gal who loves a good read. After a week of bizarre coincidences and unintended collisions with the past, it is rather nice to escape into a strange fictional landscape. I can only imagine what entrancing flights of fancy the author might take us on in novel form.
5 out of 5 ... don't pick on Bigfoot.


The Magus by John Fowles

" She rubbed the insides of her wrists together; grinned again and shrugged, as if one madness more was immaterial."

A young English teacher leaves his Australian girlfriend to take up a post at a school on a Greek island. His interactions with the enigmatic Maurice, the twins (June & Julie - or Lily & Rose) make for a strange and captivating tale that certainly held my attention for the entire 600+ pages.
This is not the kind of novel that follows an easy to follow plot driven narrative, yet that does little to detract from its intrigue. Who is playing mind games with Nicholas, what is going on, who is dead, who is alive and who is real?
The writing is a delight and well deserving of its inclusion on a number of must read lists. A strange and usual story that moves from school to blue movies, to yachts and Nazis - quite a wide gamut.
5 out of 5, I'd like to escape to an island, maybe not one with strange psychological experimentation.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

"And she didn't dare hitchhike because any car could be Walter and she wouldn't know till too late."

It is difficult to approach a novel so enmeshed into pop culture that the title stands by itself as common parlance for robotic-like haus-fraus. In many respects that prior knowledge detracts from the more thriller like aspects of this book. The reader comes to it with a general understanding of what might be about to unfold. It would have been far more interesting to have come to this book when it was first released, before the original film version or the disastrous Nicole Kidman version.

Back to the book, however, and it is an enjoyable exercise in heightening fear. It highlights the difference between the sexes and what they seek as outcomes from marriage, particularly with a traditional male view. Watch out ladies if you think for yourself or you might be replaced by a more compliant version.  It does so in a rather entertaining fashion and given the brevity of the novel it makes for a quick, easy and fun read.

 4 out of 5 mannequins that talk.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Shift by Hugh Howey

“He need to be alone, didn’t want anyone around him this time, didn’t want sympathetic hands comforting him while he cried.”

The flight from Sydney to Melbourne is the perfect length to allow this reader to fully immerse herself into a good book. Most recently it also provided the unexpected pleasure of running into a friend from my youth that I hadn’t seen for around ten years. That, as they say, is another story, now back to the more pressing issue, a step back into the dystopian world of Wool, with its sequel, Shift.

Hugh Howey’s trilogy appears to be quite the favourite, taking up prime real estate in a number of bookstores in which I have found myself perusing of late. There is a solid reason for this. The book delivers on the hype that surrounds it and then some.

It is rare to be so transported to such a different world.  The second book exquisitely explores the impact of absolute power and the genesis of the silos from the perspective of those in the know.  A markedly different viewpoint from the original story, filling in some sizeable gaps in the reader’s knowledge while still keeping them on the edge of their seats.

Sitting over the wings, the shudder of the landing gear descending gave me pause, I wasn’t getting out of my seat till the end of the book . I thought to myself,  those weird noises had better just mean the landing gear needs some oil or something and not be anything serious, I really wanted to find out what happened.

Now I’m cursed with longing for the next and final installment… I fear the call of the bookstore.

5 out of 5 – no more cleaning, this time its about building.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn


"Opening the cupboard under Eleanor's basin he was struck by the splendour and variety of the tubes and bottles: clear ones and yellow ones and dark ones, orange ones with green caps, in plastic and glass,  from half a dozen countries, all urging the consumer not to exceed the stated dose."

If you are expecting a light and fluffy weekend in the country as the stylish cover seems to suggest; think again! Expertly crafted this is a shocking, yet amazingly delivered punch in the guts of a novel.
The world of young Patrick Melrose is populated by some truly hideous and broken characters. All flaws are on display when his parent's social circle descend en masse for a rather unsavoury dinner party in the country.
His dad in particular is a heinous monster, whereas Marie Antoinette may have said "Let them eat cake", David Melrose is more likely to force people to swallow figs - and that's him at his nicest.
I won't be rushing for the next instalment too quickly. I need something slightly more sweet and happy ( or perhaps a stint in Eleanor's pill cabinet) before I attempt the next instalment, yet I am certain I will be exploring it at some stage soon.
5 out of 5 money can't buy happiness.

I Wish Someone were waiting for me Somewhere by Anna Gavalda

"Hundreds of black-and-white photos of nothing but my hands"

If ever you feel like an exemplar of the internal monologue, grab yourself a copy of this beautifully rendered selection of short stories. Emotions pour out despite an economy of words in an almost poetic fashion. If that sounds too pretentious, this is anything but.
It is perhaps more amazing that this was translated from the original French, it certainly loses none of its punch. The pregnancy story in particular was gut wrenchingly honest and sad. Whether her protagonist is male or female makes no difference, Gavalda really seems to inhabit their very being,
So I checked this out because of its inclusion on yet another list and I am so glad I did. Not only is it another tick off the list, it was a delightfully experience that transported me far from the environs of the daily bus ride.
 5 out of 5 love, lust, loss and everything in between. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

"He was beginning to think that visiting the marketing floor for a cup of water was the worst mistake he'd ever made."

Guerrilla marketing has a body count in this extremely entertaining novel. This is the third Barry novel I have read and they always promise an enjoyable read. His cynical take on advertising and marketing is a joy to behold.
This particular outing is black in the extreme. Corporate heavyweights are undermining the government as a war between loyalty programs breaks out. Did I mention there's a cute kid and a killer computer virus. That's all I'm giving away, I suggest you crack open a copy and get reading... stat.
5 out of 5, forget big brother, the big corporations are scarier.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

"Strike remembered; one of the world's most photographed women, head bowed, shoulders hunched, eyes heavy and arms folded tightly around her torso, twisting her face away from the photographers."

The secret was out quite a while back that J K Rowling was responsible, under a pen name, for this new piece of criminal fiction. Like many others, I was eager to see what Ms Rowling would do with a different genre and I certainly was not disappointed.
Unlike the grim grind that was  The Casual Vacancy,  this novel provided a far more engaging experience, including great pacing, an intriguing, topical plot and a flawed, lovable hero.
I don't wish to give too much away, suffice to say, this was a rather enjoyable read and I imagine this would be the perfect airport purchase.
 5 out of 5 monogrammed hoodies are never a good idea.


Pal Joey by John O'Hara

"That is my way of putting it that I am on the bread line only I am still a little better off."

One of my all time favourite Hollywood musicals would have to be Pal Joey, it has Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak along with some amazing songs. It would come as no surprise then, that I wanted to read the source novel.

Perhaps my only quibble with the movie, was the strange way of speaking that Frank Sinatra's character Joey effected. Having read the source novel I can certainly see where the speech patterns came from.

The novel is made up of a number of letters from Joey to his fr-enemy Ted. They detail his run ins with "mice", nightclub owners and his never-ending efforts to look sharp and stay liquid.

I much prefer O'Hara's other works, yet this is an interesting collection of entertaining vignettes.

 4 out of 5 that man's a mousetrap

Monday, 16 September 2013

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

“The meek may inherit the earth, but at the moment it belongs to the conceited. Like me.”  

It seemed like the perfect, miserable weather to indulge in a quick fix of paranormal YA fiction. With the recent press junket for the movie version of this novel recently wracking up a few column inches, I decided to dive in and give it a go.

This is a speedy read with fantastic pacing. Sure, some of the standard tropes can get a little tired, but there is enough action to distract and entertain.

I couldn't help but draw out similarities with another YA series - Harry Potter. It has muggles, this has mundanes - I think you get my drift.

 4 out of 5 a snippet of distraction that entertains.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

"Andy became Emily's plus-one to all the fancy fashion parties; Andy invited Emily as her 'associate' to celebrity interviews."

I understand the need to milk the cash cow but this was just so ridiculous. The characters had all changed. The return of Miranda seemed so forced and unlikely.

The ending made me want to tear my hair out. On a positive note, I finished it in under an hour.

2 out of 5 - so last season

The Running Man by Stephen King

"The Free-Vee is killing us".

As a kid growing up in the late eighties/early nineties, my heart had a special place for the books of Stephen King and the action films of Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can imagine, therefore, my enthusiasm for reading the book penned under King's pseudonym Richard Bachman. I'm not really sure how it has taken me this long to get and read a copy, but that time finally came.

Let me start by confirming that the book has very little in common with the movie. No Lycra, no man mountain of a  Lycra clad hero, no definitely no Lycra (as per below).

The protagonist and villain's names and the idea of a killer game show are about the only similarities that I could gauge - let's just say the interpretation was exceedingly loose.

Back to the novel, because that's why you're here right? Well it is a non stop action extravaganza. The short, staccato chapters drip with increasing tension and momentum and the finale is **potential spoiler** devastating.

The novel represents a vision of the nadir of reality tv - where contestants vie for their lives and death is presented as an amusement sport for the viewing public.

While I did miss Arnie's muscular hijinks, the novel is certainly  more thrilling and cerebral than the film's amusing script. This has it all, corruption, drama, love, misery, tension and violence.

 5 out of 5, working up a sweat from all that running

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The House Of Dr. Edwardes by Francis Beeding

"The castle must have been impregnable, the only way in being the narrow cleft through which the road ran like an arrow aimed at the heart of it."

In my continuing quest to read the source novels that inspired the works of Alfred Hitchcock comes this gripping thriller. While it may have inspired Spellbound  the similarities are in the minority. The initial impression of Constance Sedgewick is far from that of Ingrid Bergman for a start and the plot continues off in quite a tangent.
The mood and increasing climate of fear is as seductive as it is intriguing. Who could resist the charming Doctor Murchison? Connie is not the best judge of men, her naiveté could have diabolic consequences. You will have to read it yourself to find out more.
4 out of 5 open the gates and stop the lunatics running the asylum.


Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

"A tall awkwardly put-together fellow, he had no more idea of farming than the man on the moon, but anyone could make things grow on the river-flats."

I wanted to like this much more than I did. It feels almost un-Australian to feel ambivalent about such a well realised tale of the bloody struggle between the early settlers and the indigenous population. In terms of the way the novel is written, no fault could be found, perhaps I was just not in the mood for an unflinchingly grim tale.
On a more positive note, by finishing this novel I completed the Top 10 Aussie books to read before you die as per the First Tuesday Book Club list, but it seems I have a lot more lists to complete before that final (and hopefully far off) death knell.
 3 out of 5 crops of corn are a waste of time.

Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

"My classmates are all repressed monkeys."

This weekend has been chock full of fictional tormented outsiders and shocking parents - this & the movie What Maisie Knew  certainly fell into that category. Whilst the movie's saving grace was the delightful Alexander Skarsgård (the stuff that dreams are made of), this book featured a mixed up teen with a seriously horrid mother.

There is something ultimately life-affirming in Leonard's struggle to deal with the traumas of his life and his **spoiler alert** dismissal of his original plans of murder and suicide. This novel is as easy to read and strangely enjoyable as Quick's  The Silver Linings Playbook.

Who wouldn't love a Humphrey Bogart obsessed teenager with a crush on a religious zealot?
In any case, I'd recommend this for someone that needs a hug, because that is the feeling it leaves you with. A reassuring big bear hug of a book.

 5 out of 5, a bad hair cut is always the start of a bad day.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

"When my mother died and was cremated herself, we worried that, acting on instinct, our father might run out and immediately replace her."

I was completely oblivious to the works of Mr Sedaris, but his approaching tour brought his name up in conversation with a true fan. As such, I was prompted to seek out one of his oeuvres. I'll admit I had seen this in a bookstore before and had been put off my the poor English of the title. Reading it, however, proved just how hilarious and apt the title was.
I think everyone has craziness in their family, in themselves, the world is a 'special' place, and Sedaris' delightful vignettes are proof positive of this assertion. Maybe not everyone has a father that eats hats, nonetheless, I think we are all capable of putting forward a similarly unpredictable anecdote about ourselves or our family. If only we could tell those tales with the refreshing honesty and hilarity of this little offering.
 5 out of 5, more edible than the unidentified brown object in the bottom of the suitcase.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Don't Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier

"The twins were standing there, the blind one still holding on to her sister's arm, her sightless eyes fixed firmly upon him."

The slight problem I have with considering a collection of short stories is that rarely do they all deliver the same standard of efficacy. It is quite possible that one tale might blow you away, while another might leave you cold.
I have long been a big fan of Du Maurier's work, particularly Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel. I had not stumbled upon this particular collection previously. When I realised that the author was behind the titular tale and its 1970s cinematic interpretation, replete with a whole lot of Donald Sutherland (and the requisite infamy about its love scenes), I was intrigued  to visit the source material.
The first tale is rather short and it is quite unexpected, reading it in a vacuum, that its interpretation could warrant an entire film. Having said that, it remains moody and intriguing, while suffering by comparison to the film version.
The remaining stories are a bit of a mixed bag, devoid of a unifying thread, but interesting, nonetheless. I particularly enjoyed A Border-Line Case. However there were other tales which were less engaging.
 4 out of 5 psychic twins in Venice are a bad sign.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

"When you die it's the same as if everybody else died too."

I was completely surprised by how much I loved The Road when I take into consideration my dislike of McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
An all pervasive atmosphere of fear and dread contrasts beautifully with the familiarity of a father and son rapport in this relentless journey through a ruined world. Travelling the road could be seen as a relentless drudge, fighting off starvation, the threat of thieves and bandits, and yet there is something amazing about the writing that almost makes you taste the hunger at the pit of your stomach and palpably feel the fight or flight senses taking over.

One of the strengths of this novel appears to be the depth of detail about the relationship between the father and son, and the strong sense of sensory depiction, contrasted with the vague depictions of the source of the world's problems and clear details of place and time.
5 out of 5, canned meals are a life saver