Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

"So Joshua found himself sitting with Sister Agnes reincarnate, in a shabby coffee shop in Madison West 5."

It has been a long time between drinks, but I was compelled to move this sequel to the top of my “to read” pile due to the imminent arrival of the next edition of the saga. I had forgotten how entertaining the premise of multiple world stepping could be. It’s a brilliant mix with the satire and sci-fi and did I mention there are trolls – not the kind on the internet either!

Another reason to expedite my return to the land of the Long Earth for a bit of Long War, was the fact that my friend Nicki had just completed reading the first instalment and her enthusiasm was infectious.

My friend, Wikipedia, tells me that this is the 2nd in a series of 5 novels, the third of which was only just published and is probably somewhere en-route through the mail network, winding its way to my post box from book depository. I imagine there is some robotic evil overlord working for them that is compelling me to spend all my cash on new books ( stop it you!).

Now, back to the book. Well, I confess my memories of the first instalment, while positive, remain a little foggy by distance and so I’ve had to acclimatise with the characters once again. That done, it seems the destructive path of man is such that stepping all over the universe is done with a heavy boot and some damaging consequences. This is particularly highlighted when the Chinese research team is creating planets with genetically modified produce and strange anomalies like the Butterfly Planet – the reference to chaos theory suggesting that catastrophic events cannot be far away.

Ultimately, this just left me clamouring for a little more, lucky the sequel isn't too far away.

let me see you 1,2, step... 4 out of 5.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

As Luck Would have It by Derek Jacobi

"It was all a ghastly mistake."

I remember becoming a fan of Derek Jacobi in year 12, when we watched snippets of I, Claudius as part of our studies. I ran off to hire the entire series (probably in video at the time). That seems like, well it actually was, a long time ago, but my admiration for his acting has only increased. I am a massive fan of Vicious  which i find an acerbic delight.

Here, in his memoir, Jacobi begins with his early life, his entree into acting and some tasty little morsels from his life on the stage and screen. His manner is engaging, it is somewhat akin to sitting down to tea with an intriguing speaker who has lived and eventful life but remains somewhat self deprecatory.

Jacobi has worked with some absolute luminaries of the acting profession including Maggie Smith, Sir  Laurence Olivier, Peter O'Toole, and Ian McKellen to name just a few. This along with working around the world, acquiring knighthoods from his native England and from Denmark, makes for a deep well of interesting stories from which this book is drawn.

5 out of 5, I'd love to hang out with Derek and hear the stories that couldn't be printed.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Widow Clicquot The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar J Mazzeo

"For more than 130 years, no woman would lead the champagne house that Barbe-Nicole had built from its origins as a family business to one of the world's great commercial legends."

How remiss of me, I forgot to tell you about this book I finished a few days ago. I'd been intrigued by the cover last year and had actually bought a copy for a friend for their birthday. It took time for me to pop the cork and see what unravelled, and it was an exploration I'm glad I took.

Certainly, this is not the most sexy, exciting or engaging non fiction book I have ever read, yet it delves into a compelling story - the woman behind the brand, the widow Clicquot whose handwriting graces the bottles that so many of us, myself included, have sampled.

French champagne is one of the delights in life and this book gets into the nitty gritty of the products commercial origins amid a sea of upheaval and the bloody French revolution and Napoleonic wars.
It is undoubtedly a tale well told, however, i felt the lack of closer personal insight, due in most part to the inaccessibility of first hand accounts of the time, particularly those of a woman, and what a woman she was.

Achieving unheard of success in a tumultuous industry such as that of the vigneron is one thing, but to do so as a woman at a time when their prospects relied solely on marriage is simply astounding. In that way, Barbe-Nicole inspires fervent admiration, however the manner in which she retreated to the more accepted social norms of the time, marrying her daughter off and passing on the reigns to the males of the family, left me a little sad.

4 out of 5 bubbles, the french stuff, the only ones I drink.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

"Onward to find my giant and my monkey!"

In general, I am not a fan of sequels, I say in general for in truth I am able to be swayed.
I happened to love Fool and was keen to revisit the foul tongued little fellow in this new incarnation set in Shakespeare’s Venice with a little Othello and Merchant thrown into the mix, along with a rather scary water beast which is particularly reminiscent of Moore’s other beastie – The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. This serpent-like water creature is equal parts lusty and gory depending on how the mood hits her.

Enough of ye old beastie, and back to our anti-hero, Pocket – a man of many names who in this adventure escapes being chained up and encased in a wall, pretends to be jewish and works with Shylock to plot his revenge against some rather nasty Venetians including Iago, helped by his association with naval hero, Othello. By now you are certainly getting the jist of how much of Shakespeare’s world is blended up into the mix, and the novel also references Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Cask of Amontillado – which I had not read and which a Wikipedia search ( oh yes, I know, so very studious –not) finally explains why Pocket is continually called Fortunato ( I just thought he was lucky).

How can I not like a novel that cites the more bawdy Shakespearean quotes, ‘beast with two backs’ – anyone? Yet, this lacks, for me, the laugh out loud humour that I found in some of Moore’s other works such as Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. That being said, it is always a pleasure to escape into Moore’s crazy creations and who could resist the childlike.

Finally, I apologise for the holiday snap of my book - but it was worth the bragging rights!

4 out of 5 saucy serpents prefer fools.

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

"Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce"

After finishing this novel I wanted a stiff drink and a lie down. To say Sarah and Emily's life is unhappy is an understatement of King Kong sized proportions. Identifying with the protagonist made this an even more difficult read. Nevertheless, as I sit here thinking about the tale which I devoured in about an hour on a flight to Adelaide, I'm mindful of just how expertly crafted it is. Yates is the master of real life Disaster. The small mundane everyday disappointments that fill a life are engrAined in his pages. Here is an author who tugs mercilessly at your emotions with the skill of a master manipulator and storyteller. The follies of youth, the harsh realities of middle age and death and abandonment Are all richly explored within.  If you can stomach feeling despondent for an hour or two, this is an amazing Novel. 4 out of 5 Perfect marriages are a lie.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Lost for Words by Edward St Aubyn

"It was ironic, in Penny's opinion, that her slavish devotion to the cause of literature was preventing her from writing any more of her own novel."

A new book from Edward St Aubyn that just happened to have won the Wodehouse award, could i resist adding it to my book depository shopping cart? Of course not! So, I have to say this pretty much jumped the queue of my to read list and headed straight to the top. A long weekend with time to read created the perfect storm and voila its finished and herein lies my review.

There were moments that had me laughing out loud, blame my cynicism and incredulity about some shortlisted novels for major  literary prizes these days - that doesn't stop me from buying and reading them - as my credit card statement will no doubt attest to.
The in fighting of the selection committee for the Elysium award are a complicated bunch of combatants pushing their own agendas and dealing with their own personal issues. Practical jokes, love affairs, writer's block and visiting the sewers of Paris, they are a complicated bunch.

There is so much here that is firmly tongue in cheek and its a delight, I was quite disappointed that it ended so quickly. Black humour is certainly the hallmark of St Aubyn's  Patrick Melrose novels, however this new offering seems far less sordid and more jovial.

5 out of 5 lusty literary types love an intrigue.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

"A blonde with black eyes - that's not a combination you get very often. I tried not to look at her legs. Obviously the god of Tuesday afternoons had decided I deserved a lift"

John Banville, writing under a pseudonym gives us Raymond Chandler redux with this entertaining and new addition to the noir canon. Philip Marlowe has been re heated and is ready to take on the world - or the dodgy parts of the world that his stunning new client is mixed up in, at any rate.

This is just the sort of thing that is a guilty pleasure and Banville's writing is evocative and engaging. In a world where cops are bent, dames are deceptive and private clubs couch illegal drug lords, its hard to know what will happen next.

Marlowe is dry, damaged and just keeps you firmly engaged with the, at times, and possibly necessarily, convoluted plot.

Who is Nico Petersen and why is Claire Cavendish seeking him out? It might take a few pages, but dive in, you'll find out pretty quickly that this is a book crying out for a big scale movies adaptation.
5 out of 5 play it again Sam