Monday, 25 May 2015

Only in New York by Lily Brett

“In New York you will also always be thanked for something. You will in fact be thanked for everything.”

I will always be grateful for amazing friends that lend me books. Thank you Kate for this one, clearly you know me too well. Lily writes in an engaging and flighty style reminiscent of the monologue in my head. Oooh look at this, and have you ever noticed that?
While many of her stories relate to being of Jewish descent and living in New York ( the title was a bit of a give away), I think there's something universal about her voice that will draw you in regardless of your origins or persuasions.

So, if you have a weird relationship with your manicurist, if you like churches as quiet places to hide in rather than house of worship and if you have a tendency to just marvel at the crazy world around you, then you too will enjoy sitting back with a cuppa and getting lost with Lily.
Oh and the chapter about being a guest rather than a customer - yes it weirds me out too Lily, don't you worry about that. The chapter about her mother's sunglasses made me just a wee bit teary and recalled something my mum said the other day about the fact that it doesn't matter how old you get, you always miss your mum.

On a chirpier note, check out the sunshine in the picture above - winter sun is the one aspect of that cold time of year I can't complain about.

4 out of 5 Vignettes have nothing to do with vino.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“It seems a lifetime ago that I spoke freely at all”

Kent conjures up a cold, claustrophobic, state where death lurks and the reader is slowly drawn into a mysterious story of love, lust, violence and punishment. Quaint village life ruled by religious stricture draws a curtain over human passions and the truth.

Locally this tale has taken out a number of prizes and was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014. I have the lovely Nicki to thank for lending me a copy. Thanks again Nicki, I'm sure there will be another care package of books back to you soon.

While I admire aspects of the story, something just grated with me. Perhaps a longing for warmer climbs or more positive circumstances in a world full of constant woe ( well on the television at any rate). Still, it certainly is worth a read and  made for a perfect companion on a train trip.

4 out of 5 remote villages are deadly places… midsommer anyone?

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

"He was just a fat old impotent man mocked and taunted between the sheets"

As the quote above suggests, and indeed, is common in all Greene's works, the man was an amazing writer, but this for me, is probably my least favourite encounter with him. Perhaps because it deals with the contradictions  between the sacred and the profane inherent in the faithful, which for a non -believer like myself are largely not problematic.
Perhaps also because, my interactions with the runaway Whiskey Priest  on the run from the law were for the most part consumed in quick nips, just like the odd tipple, before bedtime after some crazy 12+ hour days at work and battling the dreaded head cold that went something like sniffle, pain, sniffle, pain, ah the sweet relief of cold and flu medication.

Now that I'm feeling refreshed, perhaps it is time to re-read and see what brought about this novel's prominent position on so many must read lists. At worst, it means I can tick off another entry on the 1001 list - this year I am making  headway!

4 out of 5 for some great shots, but not my favourite long drink.

Why Kings Confess: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery by C.S. Harris

"Sebastian had long ago come to the conclusion that there were two types of madmen in this world"

There is nothing like another instalment of this delectable historical detective fiction to put a smile on this reader's face. Well, maybe a couple of other things also- thanks BB. Once again, I am most grateful to the lovely Nicki for lending me her copy and letting me dash quickly back in time to Post French Revolution era London, where spies and mystery about and Hero is about to birth St Cyr junior.

There will be stabbings and murders and shadowy figures on the cobblestone streets and all the fast paced drama you could wish for.

Oooh can't wait for the next one. Also St Cyr looks suspiciously like Colin Firth on the cover, have a think about that inspired casting if they ever make this into a book. Or perhaps a younger version of Colin Firth..mmmmm...anyway...

5 out of 5 handsome Devlins

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

“Anna could never really  love a Steve, a Bob, a Mike.”

Anna Benz is unhappy with her ‘perfect’ life in Switzerland with her Swiss husband and little children and  is seeking the answers from her analyst, and the odd ‘oops I did it again’ affair. She is not a happy camper, except for those fleeting encounters that put her at a remove from the monotony. How can someone whose love of constant innovation, excitement and new experiences deal with the quotidienne drama of married life? Obviously with difficulty.

Cheating is all well and good, but woe betide the woman who gets caught. Semi spoiler - The ramifications here are torturous and go beyond shame at being found out. Essbaum beautifully captures the escape of mad sexual abandon, combined with the over self analysis and guilt that haunts the transgressor.
Just when the book seems to be heading in a certain direction, the reader, like the protagonist is shocked into reality and then lulled into a typically understated but memorable conclusion with echoes of a certain famous Russian tome.

There is an immediacy in the writing that has strong resonance and I couldn’t put this one down in a hurry. I was reading this during a ridiculously stressful time at work, with a horrid cold and perhaps I could relate too closely with the feeling of life spinning out of control – but then my cold went away and  I laid off the Codrals. What woman hasn’t  had a moment of thinking “ I’m nothing but a series of poor choices executed poorly”?

5 out of 5 people can’t have their cake and eat it too.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard

"All afternoon they moved northwards across the plains of the Whangpoo River, through the maze of creeks and canals that separated the paddy fields."

As a fan of Ballard's work, I'd resisted this particular novel for quite some time, due mainly to the subject matter. Somehow graphic violence seemed more palatable at a remove, like car crashes, crazy apartment buildings and other worlds. War novels tend to be my last choice for reading material, that's just me, I find the idea that the world never learns from any of them one that is difficult to swallow.

Having got that out of the way, I have to say reading this novel inspired by Ballard's childhood traumas, certainly gives additional meaning to the bleak, lack of hope that peppers his other works. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize this is a fast paced read that also ticks off another 1001 novels entry for my list obsessive tendencies.

A young, aircraft obsessed boy growing up in the privileged ex-pat surrounds of  Shanghai has his world turned upside down by Japanese occupation. The author captures the confusion, the starvation, the horror and the loss of innocence inherent in such traumatic circumstances with such vivid attention that I almost flew through the pages.

Definitely worth a read.

5 out of 5, at times cocktail olives can be your friend.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

         "Temptation not only for him, but for me"

The fourth instalment of the Outlander series turns its focus squarely on the daughter of Claire and Jamie; Brianna and her beau - Roger MacKenzie. Life in the American frontier brings no further safety for our intrepid time travelling ex nurse and her gorgeous kilt wearing husband and her absence is keenly felt by her daughter in the future.
Now, it is time for Brianna to take her own journey through time to re-unite with her mother and finally meet her biological father.

I flew through this absolute doorstop of a book, like a true Outlander fan. That being said, I want more of my favourite Jamie and his native Scotland, and less of Brianna and Roger.

4 out of 5 drums spell trouble.