Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Bad News by Edward St Aubyn


"He checked the pills again (lower right pocket) and then the envelope (inside left) and then the credit cards(outer left). This nervous action, which he sometimes performed every few minutes, was like a man crossing himself before an altar - the Drugs; the Cash; and the Holy Ghost of Credit."

The horrific events of Patrick Melrose's childhood described in Never Mind have been set aside in a swathe of vigorous drug taking. Patrick, in his twenties, is an enticing junkie.
A trip to pick up his father's ashes in New York, beginning with a hilarious Concorde flight, St Aubyn so evilly depicts the unpleasantness of flight next to a talkative bore.
Arriving in the 'States, Patrick's adventures are centered around reaching out to friends and potential paramours, but mostly scoring an ever growing supply of drugs which he surreptitiously partakes of throughout the novel. The eye patch, the dangerously unhygienic needles and the hilariously wacky pop culture riddled highs are strangely compelling and I simply can't wait to find where he lands next.
5 out of 5, this book will have you high on literature.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon



"Some days it seems like every lowlife in town as Tail' Em and Nail' Em on their grease-stained Rolodex."

Beyond the sexy looking cover and the literary pedigree of its author, this is an intriguing read. Maxine, a small time fraud investigator in pre-911 New York is the focal point of a winding story that includes a secret, underground web "Deep Web",  conspiracies, fraudsters and a continually returning ex-husband.
It is really difficult to describe the, at times, disjointed narrative and yet that did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel. This is a rather pitiful review on my part, possibly due to the fact I've got a headache - sorry readers.
I'd be interested to hear what others made of this.
4 out of 5 noses wouldn't bother with Hitler's aftershave.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

1977 by David Peace

"My fingers  were turning cold, dripping blood."

The second of David Peace's Red Riding Quartet has left me feeling as tainted and in need of a shower as the first instalment. This gritty crime novel is not the kind of thing you might read for a relaxing up beat view of the world.
Tawdry, flawed human beings fill the pages with blood, sweat and other bodily fluids.
The vicious Yorkshire Ripper is on the loose and prostitutes are fair game. Brutality is everywhere along with bent coppers, hardened newspaper men and broken harlots.
As usual, the narrative is a little all over the place with a kind of horrific poetry about it. I'm perplexed that I wanted to revisit this grimy world after the first book, and yet I'm equally compelled to finish the series. There is something so real about it, its a car crash that you can't help rubber-necking at.
3 out of 5 stars, I couldn't say I loved it but it is kind of brilliantly executed. I guess I just needed the relentless misery to stop.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Serpentine Affair by Tina Seskis

"Sissy was the first to arrive, as usual."

25 years of reunions have led to this picnic and some serious drama. Seskis perfectly creates that tension that exists between groups of friends, the underlying tensions, the groups within groups, the festering wounds that develop over years of shared experiences.

Jumping back and forth in time, the narrative draws the reader into a compelling mystery that keeps you guessing right up until the final page. I think perhaps we all have groups of friend that we grow out of, or move away from, and then there are the groups that stay together our of sheer bloody-mindedness. Lets just say this group is even more dysfunctional than most!

I was fortunate enough to secure a signed copy through a Goodreads' giveaway and was certainly not disappointed!

5 out of 5 picnics end badly when champers is consumed in the sun.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L.Stedman

"As he realised who Isabel was talking to, his neck tingled, and his pulse raced harder."

I don't know what was stranger, reading this on my phone ( which prolonged the reading experience far past the usual time frame) or shedding tears over my mobile phone.

Prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster. Who knew so much drama could be wrought from the solitary lifestyle of a lighthouse keeper and his wife.
Personally, I think this is a book best enjoyed where the events spring forth as a surprise. There is something cinematic in scope about it, I'm sure it would make an amazing film.
 5 out of 5  wise kids know their own father.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Cain by José Saramago

"That said, the lord plucked out of the air a couple of animal skins to cover the nakedness of adam and eve, who exchanged knowing winks, for they had known they were naked from the very first day and had made the most of it too."

If, like me, you're not the religious type, you might approach the old testament blood and gore fest with trepidation. Here José  Saramago, takes an entertaining approach to query how a loving god could wreck such carnage and pain on his loyal subjects.
Cain visits some of the most famous stories of the old testament, he cooks up a whole lot of trouble on Noah's ark, his mark grows with age and he is a bit of a pants man.
This is not quite as funny as Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, yet it is expertly crafted and delightfully entertaining. A new entry to the latest edition of the 1001 books series and was the author's final work.
 5 out of 5 donkey herders live long lives.

Ulysses by James Joyce

"May I bring two men chums to witness the deed and take a snapshot?"

One of those literary classics that I have avoided for way too long. I remember it sitting ominously on an ex-boyfriend's bedside table, actually I think he was still reading it after we broke up. I was mortified that a scientist was reading a classic that I hadn't even looked at yet.
I'd read that it was nonsensical and rambling and that put me off picking it up, well that and the lump of a size of it - the book - not the boyfriend - until, I finally gave in and decided to read the damn thing.
Let me just start out by saying, starting this with one hell of a hangover was so appropriate! Rambling tales, strange interludes with prostitutes, dense text, dialogue, there's a little bit of something for everyone here. Don't expect a sane, straight down the line narrative. But, who would expect that if they'd heard anything about this novel? Banned for obscenity for many years, yet don't expect to be too disgusted by the odd smattering of the f-word, and the odd mention of a 'French letter'.
Drunken ramblings of someone with a classical education is what comes to mind. Reading this book I answered someone in French and wrote an email with a smattering of Latin. Certainly, the 5 days I spent reading this were a little scattered.
I have ticked off about 6 different best of lists by completing this one, that is just an added bonus.
 4 out of 5 messed up meandering.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

"Without knowing it, she had shaken the edge of a web, and the spider at the heart of it had awoken."

Plucky heroine, Sally Lockhart, seems to take everything in her stride. Her father has died, her guardian is dodgy and her father's business has gone to hell in a hand basket. Did I mention that people may be out to kill her? What the heck is the mystery of the Seven Blessings?

Get ready for a rollicking adventure set in Victorian times and with the ever present shadow of nefarious opium traders. The pages flew by in a flurry, as Sally sets about unmasking bad guys and uncovering the truth about her father and the titular ruby.

My only quibble, and it is a little one, was Sally herself. Perhaps the brevity of the book does not lend itself to a lengthy amount of character development, yet there seems something a little wooden and formulaic about her. I loved the His Dark Materials  series, so perhaps my expectations were just set too high. I also loved the television adaptation of this novel, with the always delightful Billy Piper as Sally. I just wanted a little more from this novel. I'm still keen to explore the rest of the series, perhaps it improves.

 4 out of 5, every body is out to get poor Sally.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Redshirts by John Scalzi

“Kerensky screamed, and Dahl then felt ill as Kerensky plunged the shuttle into evasive maneuvers.”

I have to admit to being a little slow on the uptake when it came to the title of this Hugo award winner. At page 30, I had a sneaking suspicion that something felt particularly familiar, reminiscent of weekend viewing of original Star Trek episodes with my father (in syndication - I'm not that bloody old).  By page 90 or thereabouts the connection was made explicit. 

Redshirts are the away team's uniform for missions off ship. In shows like Star Trek, the extras in the redshirts have a propensity for getting killed, unlike the protagonists. 

I don't want to give too much away, but, if like me, you loved the movie GalaxyQuest, I imagine you too will enjoy this.

When I wasn't laughing my head off ( ker plunk), I was marvelling at how entertaining it all was. I've read some pretty dismissive reviews online ( party poopers). Perhaps they longed for something more serious. Ultimately this is just a fun read and one I'd recommend to any tv sci-fi lover.

5 out of 5, shoddy scriptwriters can kill.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Glass Houses by Rachel Caine

"Really, really scared. What she'd seen in the Monica Mafia's eyes today wasn't just the usual lazy menace of cool girls versus the geeks; this was worse."

Another supernatural series, I hear you say. Withhold your judgement, my penchant for the paranormal is a fancy I cannot deny. There is something so seductive about yet another town full of ancient vampires and hidden secrets. Throw a genius of a 16 year old protagonist in the mix and you have yourself a winner.
I devoured this with a rapacity reminiscent of a thirsty vampire recovering from a bout of vegetarianism. This first instalment is a mere morsel and I'm determined to enjoy the full menu  - I wonder how many novels this one consists of, a quick search tells me 15- that seems like a bit of a commitment.
Like any good series this gives just enough to peak your interest and leaves enough questions to keep you seeking out the sequel. No doubt I will. I did happen to want just a wee little bit more from it - hence my score.
4 out of 5 haunted youths cry you shall not pass when vampires stand at the door.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elberkin


"Our apothecary  contains Balzacian balms and Tolstoyan tourniquets, the salves of Saramago and the purges of Perec and Proust."

I discovered this little gem whilst visiting Melbourne. A friend and I had been mesmerised by Readings at Hawthorn and set about some serious shelf diving, in typical bibliophile sightseeing style. I could not look away and decided this was a very necessary addition to my bookshelf.
Feeling a little peaky? Look up your symptoms and find the book that cures your ills. An insightful discussion, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of some well known, and others less so, works of fiction will delight the reading population. The perfect gift for your friends from bookclub. Actually, the novels cited would make for a fantastic book-club reading list.
I might not agree with all their choices, but I have been inspired to discover a number of works not previously in my goodreads "to read" shelf.
 5 out of 5, what am I going to read now?

Millennium People by J G Ballard

"My seduction by Dr Richard  Gould, and the revolution he launched at Chelsea Marina, began only four months earlier, though I often felt that I had known this disgraced children's  doctor since my student years."

Another intrusion into the always fascinating world of Mr Ballard. This rather contemporary novel, set and published in the naughties, takes on the notion of a rebellious middle class, turned terrorist under the destructive influence of Dr Richard Gould.
David Markham's first wife, Chelsea falls victim to an act of terrorism at Heathrow airport and he becomes obsessed with finding the responsible party. This reminded me of a more subtle version of American Psycho.
It is decidedly less violent than some other earlier works of Ballard - perhaps he mellowed with age? The black comedy remains, and as always that is my favourite kind of comedy. Who ever liked red, green, blue or yellow comedy anyway? This is the prose of the sly giggle rather than the out and out guffaw and it remains surprisingly suspenseful.
 5 out of 5, revolutionaries are so unreliable.


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Marnie by Winston Graham

"If I could have done it at that minute I would have killed him."

My quest to read the novels that inspired Hitchcock's classics continues.  The film version with Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery is not my favourite Hitchcock film and I think that helped lend some distance to the novel. While the two leads were particularly attractive, I preferred the original source. I imagine the movie must have been quite challenging for its time, a rape scene acting as a pivotal plot point. Perhaps, that was what troubled me about the movie, Sean Connery would never have to do that! He's James Bond for goodness sakes! But I digress....
Marnie is a woman caught up in a sea of lies. Lies, which are essential to her life of crime. The attractive young woman banks on her elocution lessons and selection of pseudonyms to fleece unwary employers for substantial sums of money. She lies to her mother about her source of income and in many ways she lies to herself.
When the widower Mark Rutland, one of the partners at her latest place of employment falls for her he gets more and less than he bargained for. More trouble, less affection. Marnie may appear desirable but she lusts for money alone and shirks her conjugal responsibilities with an outright disgust for the physical.
Will her secrets be unleashed by therapy with Dr Roman, will Rutland become just another victim, and what is the real story with Marnie's family? Prepare for some plot twists and turns peppered with suspense. 
5 out of 5  ah but this woman has issues.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Sanctuary by William Faulkner


"Her eyes, all pupil now, rested upon them for a blank moment."

Tiresome, bleak and hard to follow are what comes to mind when I think about my experience with this novel. To say I didn't enjoy it would be an understatement. When the horrors of rape by corn cob are a plot overture, you can imagine my dislike for the subject matter. Everyone seems drunk or horrible, the pages of this book were not a place I'd like to remain in.
There is a lot of gin and moonshine partaken of within the pages of this tale, and I couldn't help thinking that the writing had a slightly inebriated quality. Perhaps that was the fault of the reader, who had also imbibed the odd gin or two the night before she read this.

2 out of 5 I need another drink after this

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

"It was quite a new idea for me- outside the pages of Victorian fiction, that is - that women would get married for money, security and position; I had thought it was always for love."

This novel was apparently ( well according to Wikipedia anyway) the first one written by crime writer Ruth Rendell under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. It is an interesting exploration of the memory of youth, juxtaposed with the knowledge of maturity.

When a writer asks Faith Severn for information about her infamous aunt, Vera, it is time for Faith to address the family scandals of the past. Fertility struggles, sibling rivalry  and murder ensue as the pages fly by in a flurry of drama. While the action takes place within a fairly confined area, this does not detract from the impact of the tale.

It certainly is worth a read. If you seek pedigree in your fiction, this novel was the recipient of the Edgar award in 1987 and is included on the Guardian's 1000 novels everyone must read list. This makes 365/1000 on the list for me - and it certainly has been interesting to date.

 5 out of 5 adjusting my vision to the darker side.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

"She announced to her husband (whom she considered a difficult drunk rather than an eccentric) that she was leaving him."

What a delightful respite from the stress of work deadlines. To drift off into a sensual exploration of the sense of self and the other private life underpinned by erotic adventure.
Tomas is not one for fidelity, he loves his wife Tereza like no other and yet this is not reason enough to preclude his continual philandering. Kundera’s exploration of the reasoning behind these interactions is really intriguing.  I particularly enjoyed his discussion of the tension between the private and the public and Tomas’ desire to uncover all that was hidden in every woman he met. The tension between Sabine, Tomas’ mistress and his wife is also interestingly explored.
This is a book full of political upheaval, emotional roller-coasters and the odd bit of navel gazing, all beautifully packaged up with words that transport the reader to another place.  A place that is private and introspective, yet, at the same time, engaging on a number of levels. It seeks to explore the divide between love and lust and the points where they sometimes meet in the middle.
I devoured this book, not unlike a detailed dream that you regret waking from and feel leads you to return to bed.
5 out of 5 anything but light and fluffy.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

"Fortunately, I had kept tight hold of the milk, so when I splashed into the sea I didn't lose it."

The arrival of a new work by Neil Gaiman is always cause for celebration in my view. I was fortunate enough to hear a teaser of this latest gem for children, when Neil toured Australia earlier in the year.
My appetite was whet for more and I could barely contain my enthusiasm when the familiar book depository packaging came bounding through my mailbox.
Enter pirates, dinosaurs, ponies and tonnes of adventure – even the threat of destroying the space time continuum, not to mention a rather doctor who like scarf – Tom Baker would be proud.
The illustrations are the icing on the cake and this is one little book certain to delight both children and the child in us all.
Thank you Mr Gaiman for making the world a more marvellous place, now where’s the milk, oh that’s right I’m lactose intolerant.
5 out of 5 breakfast cereals prefer to be accompanied by milk.