Thursday, 22 December 2016

Leonard by William Shatner with David Fisher

"It actually took me some time to fully understand Leonard's total commitment Spock, and that led to our first real fight."

Don't tell Dad, but I read this quickly before I wrapped it up for him for Christmas. Star Trek  always makes me think of quality time spent with my Dad as a kid, and the same goes for Star Wars. I think Dad fancied himself as a bit of a James T Kirk and yet I was always transfixed by the strange otherness of the alien, Spock. With Leonard Nimoy's death comes this memoir from his co-star written with assistance.

It makes for an easy read, although doesn't really provide too much insight. As one might imagine from the strange pauses of William Shatner, the ebb and flow is a little off. The first half of the book is very much about Shatner and what aspects of his youth he might have had in common with Nimoy.

That being said, there is some real warmth here and its always nice to look back at Spock with that sense of child like wonder, and discover his alter-ego was a hard worker who had his demons, but overcame them.

3 out of 5 star ships have greater ethnic diversity than the tv shows of today.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

First Test by Tamora Pierce

"The butt of Joren's staff caught the big muscle in her left thigh"

This follows on from the Song of the Lioness  quartet and a new female warrior is coming to the fore. Kel is taking advantage of the hard fought freedom for females to train for knighthood and as such, the tale of Book 1 of the Protector of the Small  quartet begins.
While i wasn't quite as on board with this one as the Alanna series, I'm sure that has more to do with this being part 1 and very much the beginning of a longer story.

4 out of 5 beginnings are just the start.

World Mythology in Bite Sized Chunks by Mark Daniels

"The name Wacah Chan means 'erect serpent', and it  describes the bright,straight line of the Milky Way as it emerged from the horizon at certain times of the year"

I love fairytales and mythology and this little offering, as the title suggests, shines a little light on intriguing myths from around the world. The book is somewhat like crib notes for the world's mythical beasties. Is Global Warming, aptly described by Ragnarok?
Actually, the norse gods are particularly entertaining, take Odin swapping an eye for a drink.
There's even a Wiley Coyote courtesy of the ancient American Indian tribe of the Lakota. If only there was a little more detail provided on some of these engaging tales.

3 out of 5 creation stories feature feuding parents.

Le Voyage de Chichi Volume 1 by Hayao Miyazaki

"N'aie pas peur, je suis avec toi"

I absolutely love the animated movie Spirited Away  and Manga style artwork. When a close friend travelled to Japan he brought me back a few examples which were most appreciated. One was a Manga version of the movie, well the first volume of it in any case. He may have failed to notice that this copy was in French. As luck would have it, I speak French - happy days.

The artwork is glorious, just as you would expect from such a beautifully realised film. This first volume begins with the beginning of the movie and then ends where Chichi gets attacked by some pesky paper planes on her way to the bathhouse.

This is definitely a volume I will revisit and will certainly leave me with a smile on my face. A book is the best kind of souvenir, even if you weren't there for the holiday.

5 out of 5 parents that turn into pigs at a buffet is always embarrassing.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad

"It is the privilege of early youth to live in advance of its days in all the beautiful continuity of hope which knows no pauses and no introspection"

In the past I've read some other Conrad novels and been relatively unmoved. This one, however, really struck a chord. Perhaps it is my love of boats and the sea or the age I am now which grants the perspective of being stuck in a listless ocean where prospects are increasingly diminished. This is a tale about the harshness of maturity and the understanding that the world is not all hope and fairy tales. That tenacity can deliver survival and yet survival can be another form of punishment. With such economy of verbiage it delivers with clinical precision and I would happily re-read this. Something, that is not typical for me.
Turning 40 is a little like being stuck in a becalmed sea with a crew riddled with Malaria. Ahead lie treacherous waters where things will never be the same and one can only look back on the aspirations of youth with nostalgia for times and hopes past.
Every time a little ray of hope dares to raise its head in the novel, something darker lurks and yet certain members of the crew draw everything out of their compatriots in a desperate attempt to reach their destination and survival against the odds.

I could almost taste the salt in the air and the smell of desperation below deck.

5 out of 5 definitely my favourite Joseph Conrad tale.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

"She couldn't look at the baby for weeks, this boy who had killed her daughter"

In a post Downton Abbey  malaise, I was excited to procure a copy of its creator's latest novel and found myself a little wistful in the process. This is somewhat a pale imitation of the rather addictive television series which I may have binge watched at every opportunity.
The grand estates and questionable birth rights combined with troubled matrimonial match ups are all there, yet here it took me a good two hundred pages to even care about the characters. This novel lacked the juxtaposition of the upstairs/downstairs machinations that made the tv show such compulsive viewing.
Belgravia share's some magnificent society and grand surrounds but somewhere it lacks heart and enough exposition to hook the reader. It does so eventually, but only after perseverance.
It is the glimmers of what might have been that still guild the lily and are perhaps reflected in my estimation of it,

4 out of 5 scandals need more scandal, more servants and just a hint of more intrigue.

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

"The problem wasn't that he smelled of ferrets. Well that was a problem, but compared to the big  problem it wasn't much of one"

As always, the delightful Nicki has lent me another fabulous instalment of the Discworld canon and I couldn't be happier. This particular novel is a direct sequel to the vastly entertaining The Wee Free Men  and just as delightful.
In what can only be described as an annus horribilis (2016) - seriously readers, mind out of the gutter - that saw the passing of the wunderkind that was Mr Terry Pratchett, it is somewhat reassuring to note that there is still ample opportunity to bask in the brilliant worlds he created and escape from the horrors of the 24 hour news cycle to a place where hats are important and witches face all the usual problems of peer pressure.
Tiffany is such an engaging character, an outsider with talent that not everyone can appreciate. Transported from her island home (away from the sheep), she faces her biggest challenges in the form of a scary demon and kids her own age - not quite sure which is the more off-putting.
This is laugh out loud entertainment and if only there was more of that in the world. Thankfully I have many more volumes of Mr Pratchett's work to devour and I will do so with the delight they are due.

5 out of 5 times you should listen to your Granny.

My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl

"Get a cat to lick your finger some time and you will see exactly what I mean"

I was always an avid Roald Dahl fan as a child and thought I'd covered all his works, but this little adult story had not yet crossed my path. It is so delightfully dark and naughty. Mostly naughty, only really slightly risqué, but gorgeously suggestive. What is not to love here?
This is a tale of Spanish flies and sperm as a business proposition. It is tongue in cheek, so to speak, and hilarious. Dahl's descriptions of overly excited royalty and the odd musical or literary genius in full tumescence is ridiculously entertaining. While there are some quaint and somewhat old-fashioned gender roles at play, the general wickedness makes this as appealing as Belgian chocolate.

I particularly love the way literary giants are portrayed as sexually messed up but with hidden talents unleashed by the magic of the Sudanese Blister Beetle. The George Bernard Shaw denigration leaves one with an image that is particularly indelible. Similarly, who could resist a man like Puccini. Yasmin Homecomely is such an intriguing character, as her part in the business venture sets the wheels in motion regarding who is doing the using and who is being used. If you've read Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected,  you will know his ability to twist and turn a story in uncharted directions.
Who knew that a crushed up beetle could cause so much reckless abandon and where do I find some?

 5 out of 5 royal sofas have hidden contraptions.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

One On One 101 True Encounters by Craig Brown

"Marcel Proust, once so social, is nowadays very picky about going out, preferring to stay in his bedroom"

I am a big fan of both Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales and was delighted to listen to their Sydney Writer's Festival chat Our Reading Year. Delighted because it lead me to this intriguing book and also because those two are just so entertaining - I'd love to have them around for an afternoon of discussion and cake ( sadly, gluten free in my case - but pavlova falls in that category so not all is lost).

Back to the book in question. This is a particularly entertaining and intriguing rendered account of some of history's stranger encounters. Consisting of 101 tales of encounters between famous historical figures, each figure then features in the next chapter such as Eli Wallach encountering Frank Sinatra, and then Frank Sinatra meeting Dominic Dunne in the next chapter. Each snippet is detailed in 101 words, with 101 meetings and the entire word count coming in at 1001 words - certainly an impressive feat.

The notion that truth is often stranger than fiction is certainly played out in this collection of stories, all elegantly foot noted with even more intriguing snippets of information. Who wouldn't want to enjoy the interactions of Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean or Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt? This is the kind of fare that can serve as a real lifesaver on the dinner party conversation front, it is expertly executed and entertaining to boot. As Molly Meldrum would say "do yourself a favour" and check it out.

4 out of 5 because not all meetings are winners

Of Love and Evil by Anne Rice

"And I was so aware of the angels watching that I think I blushed"

Full confession, somewhat apt given the subject of seraphim, I bought this novel a heck of a long time ago, along with the first book in the series. I was suitably unimpressed with the first one and, as such, this has lingered in my to be read pile for what seems like eons. My memories of loving Rice's vampire series back in the nineties fuelled an optimism characterised by the purchase of two books at once.

As the year is slipping away at an alarming pace and I still have quite a way to go to meet my 120 books aim for the year, I thought perhaps I'd crack this one open. I know I read it, but retained very little in the way of impressions. Frankly this review is a bit of a bust and probably fairly useless in terms of guiding any reader's book choice.

1 out of 5 with zero interest.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

"So many peculiar symptoms, but they didn't constitute anything Lib recognised as a disease."

Emma Donoghue has this amazing ability to drag you into a story that you would normally run like the plague from.  English nurse, Lib Wright, a protege  of Florence Nightingale, takes on a nursing role in Ireland. The nurse's role is to watch the wonder that is Anna O'Dowell, a young child who appears to be surviving without food.
Is Anna being fed surreptitiously by someone in the house or is her sustenance truly manna from heaven?
The premise of the novel is so far removed from my experience and interests that I think my engagement with the story is indicative of how fantastic this author's work is. She draws you in to another, quite foreign world, and peaks your interest with a deftly rendered dash of suspense. I'm reticent to share too much of the plot, as I feel this is a story best experienced unimpeded by preexisting knowledge. The notion of interpretation of religious texts is an intriguing one , paired with the sponge like qualities of a young mind.

5 out of 5 times I've wondered where will she take me next?

Friday, 11 November 2016

I love Dick by Chris Krause

"Dear Dick, I wonder what I'd do if I were you."

So my always adorable (and ladies he's single) friend Drew, decided, in his infinite wisdom to recommend this book to me. Let's say, the title was so hilarious I could not resist. I'm kind of questioning his recommendation. This book is way more cray cray than my life, mind you, if I was still married, I expect I'd find myself in similar crazy circumstances. Yikes, what a thought.

Back to the book. A couple have one dinner with an acquaintance and bam their lives are turned upside down. Chris falls  way crazily in love with the Dick of the title, even though their interaction is sleight an uninspired. She tells her husband and they begin a series of strange letter writing to explain their feelings to Dick. Much like over-talking and over-thinking anything goes kind of nowhere and sends you way down the rabbit hole, so the couple get carried away with this imaginary concoction.
The novel, or partial memoir ( it is never clear) strikes me as something truly sad. If you find yourself in a relationship where the only thing you share is a desire to interact with a third party, I'm guessing it is a big sign that things are not going to last.
In case it isn't immediately obvious, this wasn't my cup of tea. Chris appears kind of neurotic and when she gets called Kris in the letter towards the end, well that just cut way too close to home for me.

The title is catchy. The writing is intriguing and yet, I was left just a little cold and saddened by reading it. Perhaps that's just me. I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts on the matter.

4 out of 5 because sometimes loving a dick is hard.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Black Rock White City by A.S. Patrić

"He could imagine how all this mixed in the hungry imagination of Tammie Ashford and worked closer to the bone, tearing open her anaesthetised layers of mind to get to a core of pulsing life, where she could feel something primal and actual."

Wow, this has to be one of the best books I have read this year. No wonder it won the 2016 Miles Franklin award, it is visceral and compelling stuff. Definitely not a relaxing beach read this strange concoction of trauma, death, love and lust wrapped around a kind of mystery tale thanks to the mysterious Dr Graffito, is a novel that should definitely be on your to be read pile (if you haven't already).

Jovan, once a poet in the former Yugoslavia, now works as a janitor in an Australian Hospital, where strange things are happening. Bodies desecrated with words, and meddled with eye charts are just some of the calling cards of Dr Graffito. Both Jovan and his wife's lives are in constant torment at the remembrance of the tragedy that befell their two young children and the  half life they are living is challenged by the immediacy of fresh horrors that come to the fore.

It took me a while to get past the first few pages as I was a little distracted and then BOOM, I could not put this one down.It was intriguingly set in Melbourne and there were a lot of familiar locales, indeed one character lived just off a street I used to live in. That being said, the feelings of despair it invokes could occur anywhere and that makes me feel that it is a novel that is relate-able to readers anywhere. It also feels rather topical in its humanisation of the trauma of displaced refugees attempting to build a life after war torn suffering and discovering that a peaceful place can be anything but.

5 out 5 a novel deserving of accolades.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Thais by Anatole France

“Then, at the idea that she had given herself to others, and not to him; that she had poured forth an ocean of love, and he had not wetted his lips therein, he stood up, savagely wild, and howled with grief.”

A hermetic monk, who resists all the pleasures of the world, hears of the irresistible courtesan, Thais, and sets out to convert her in order to save her from licentiousness. While he is successful in his endeavours - no mean feat in converting the most popular ho in Alexandria, in the end he finds his devotion is more to her beauty than anyone upstairs. In the end he achieves his end but never gets his end in and is therefore confused and frustrated.
Apparently based upon the story of a fourth century saint, the novel, published in 1890 begins very much in the religious mode, which was hard going for me. He goes off into the desert and tries to convert all  and sundry, somewhat unsuccessfully until he finally gets to the ravishing, Thais. Finally, when he questions his own faith, everyone flees from him because he looks like a vampire. Fun times, don't all men want what they can't have - even monks one suspects. On the plus side, another tick on the 1001 novels list - yay!!

3 out of 5 times you should just give into temptation.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

"You won't find Dickens, California, on the map, because about five years after my father died, and a year after I graduated college, it, too, perished"

So I finished this year's Booker Prize winner with considerable speed; to be fair, I was stuck at the hairdressers for a few hours today (I'm not naturally blonde). This is another somewhat problematic read and I'm struggling somewhat to piece my thoughts together about it.
I read someone else's review that it is difficult to digest a novel's worth of satire and I think perhaps that is because it becomes a little intense. However, it you feel there's some significant injustice done to you in your life and you choose to use humour to tackle it, you could understand why it make take quite a few pages to really let fly.
This is also not your typical plot driven novel and to discuss it in those terms would be a little pointless.I certainly had some laugh out loud moments, some awkward in my seat moments, some slightly guilty moments and then a few lost in the wilderness moments. If you take that into consideration, you can clearly see that this is much more than mindless entertainment and that my attempts to come to grips with it are indicative of something special, a book that makes you think. Isn't that the best kind of fiction?

4 out of 5 what the Dickens?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger

"Eventually, they were both mere puddles of joy"

There just aren't enough puddles of joy these days. This reader was super happy to get that lovely email from the tunes that starts with "i" to say her pre-order was ready for devouring. I am a massive fan of Ms Carriger's steampunk world and am extra delighted at these little morsels that have appeared of late.

It is great to see minor character, Genevieve Le Foux, getting her own little love story and with a dash of Alexia Maccon for good measure (just for those fans like myself). This is heavy on the heaving bosoms kind of romance and it makes for a nice little getaway from reality.

The impossibly beautiful pauper, Imogene Hale escapes her provincial surrounds where all the boys (boys yuck as far as Imogene is concerned) want to marry her. Taking a serving role at the home of a vampire seems the perfect escape with potential for all sorts of non male related wanton-ness for the innocent maid. Who knew love was on the menu?

Mathematics and blood letting might seem strange bed-fellows and yet anything can happen at this hive. Can't wait to see what Gail Carriger delivers next.

5 out of 5 maid's uniforms always get a response.

Submission by Michel Houellebecq

"For men, love is nothing more than gratitude for the gift of pleasure, and no one had ever given me more pleasure than Myriam".

I swore to myself I'd never read another Houellebecq. My resolve was tested by all the heat this new novel has attracted. Certainly he can write, he always conjures up some hideous male characters that are quite palpable. One gathers he's probably a little back door obsessed, like his protagonist and a number of basically insecure men who need to assert themselves by constantly testing the barriers to make themselves feel more potent. In any case, I always feel a little grossed out by the detached and loveless couplings within his novels that I've read to date. His character thinks he's in love only when the object is removed, I digress however.

Much of the hype/scandal around this particular novel goes to the topical subject matter. In an atmosphere of fear around the rise of Islam, Houellebecq takes us to a potential near future in France, where Muhammed Ben Abbes of the Muslim Fraternity does to power and the separation of church and state, a hallmark of the French way of life is destroyed. It feels very much like a personal response from a literary elite, questioning how his life would change within these new circumstances, personalised through the eyes of the narrator. So is he being merely darkly humorous when his final take away from this erosion of free will, from exile from his Jewish girlfriend ( supposedly a love interest and yet quickly written off with distance), is that he might have to accept conversion and no longer enjoy the sight of women in shorts, but hey it comes with teenage wives, so it can't be all that bad? Or is that just the final joke?

Clearly I did not enjoy this work and yet I cannot deny its brilliance. It feels like lifting the lid on the middle-aged male, literary snob for whom women are valued only in youth and numbers. Sex is reduced to hum drum sport that seems devoid of anything meaningful, he's depressed, lost and sad. Just as our "hero" can't perform with the first prostitute he encounters, when there's more than one its fine, and he seems to take great pains in telling the reader about the size of his tip (the money, I mean, out of the gutter people). The protagonist's ability to merge with his surroundings is similarly ineffectual to begin with and he runs off to the country-side without enough petrol, before heading back to reality and eventually finding his rhythm there. The fact that I recall all these details (unusual for me) is due to a mix of disdain at the subject and wonder at its execution. The evocation particularly of a messed up political situation, violence ,confusion and then a strange shift into a new status-quo is particularly well done.

For someone like me, that craves equality for all, I feel Houellebecq's characters tend to personify the kind of creeps that constantly seek to keep women down because they feel threatened by them. Reducing women to footnotes, replaceable after a certain age when their minds have matured to fully comprehend their powers. This is my personal interpretation and I'm still optimistic that not all men are of that ilk.

4 out of 5 uncomfortable reads are a challenge of their own and help us better understand the world.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Flambards by K.M. Peyton

"Christina wondered why, when she was an heiress, she had to be so utterly penniless for all the years before twenty-one".

It appeals to my juvenile sense of humour that Christina really likes Dick. I shall stop behaving like a naughty school boy and return to the subject at hand. Christina is an orphan who is due to come into a considerable inheritance upon her maturity, however, her childhood sees her passed from relative to relative. The novel begins with the latest move to her Uncle's estate, where if you're not into riding and hunting, well you're basically nothing. Christina has to learn to ride and to pick sides amongst her relatives. Uncle Russell is a frustrated hunter, unable to ride anymore after an accident. His two sons Mark and Will are polar opposites and then there's the delightful Dick, who helpfully teaches Christina how to ride.

This novel was on 2 of my to read lists - the 1001 children books to read before you die (its always before you die- let's hope that is a long way off, if only to get through all the lists) and also Julia Golding's top 10 characters from children's historical fiction  - what can I say, I love ticking off a list.
Being a children's book, I was somewhat surprised by some of the subject matters covered and yet they were covered in a sensitive way and with the perspective of a child, who is shocked to find out some home truths.What is so disturbing, to me at least, is how timeless Christina's struggle to live her own life and take control of her circumstances in her male dominated world rings true today. The book is set in 1908 and in many ways could be occurring today. When Christina is forced to cook and clean because there are no servants available it reminded me of my workplace's kitchen area- alas that is another pet peeve.

While the cover suggests this is some kind of Black Beauty style horsey novel, this is really a beautiful story about a strong female character that dances to the beat of her own drum, admittedly with the benefit of a big inheritance coming her way. There's tension, there's drama and for those disinclined there is also fox hunting ( although its gruesome reality is hinted at) and basically it makes for a great read, which was possibly the most surprising thing for me.

5 out of 5 - I now want to read the other titles in the series - drat!.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

after the quake by Haruki Murakami

"I don't like refrigerators"

What a rubbish day today was, as frustrating and strange as a Murakami story - although to be honest I much preferred the novel. After the Quake  is a strange mass of thematically linked short stories that mix reality with the surreal. A little like dating an over grown Peter Pan who vacillates between attentive and dismissive, the collection will draw you in and, like so much of his work, leave you in a small puddle of confusion. That's not to say that this isn't great. I'm a huge fan of his work, possibly because I'm slightly masochistic ( see commentary about dating Peter Pan) but also because his stories are so very different and dream (and sometimes nightmare) like. He seems to mix the hyper real with its opposite and this is no exception. While the Guardian's reviewer saw the stories as reasons for optimism , my interpretation was perhaps a little darker.

There is a continual trope of emptiness, personified in the wife's farewell note in UFO in Kushiro, "living with you is like living with a chunk of air". Reminiscent of someone who continually draws you in then casts you aside because they are devoid of any sense of inner purpose, a ghost that merely performs the function of being there.
Bears and Frogs accompany the earthquake motif and the characters share a sense of distance and remove, even when they are in close proximity. 
Only Murakami could do so much in just 132 pages and it certainly bears re-reading.

5 out of 5 times the earth doesn't always shake.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life by John le Carré

"How much our poor beleaguered spies must be wishing that Edward Snowden had done the novel instead."

I have been a fan of espionage charged fiction since I was in primary school. I moved swiftly from James Bond to Jason Bourne with a few other detours in between and yet as I got older I moved into the slightly darker territory of John le Carré. The nom de plume sounding ever so important and rather more intriguing that his real name of  David Cornwall.

 When I saw that he was publishing a memoir, I immediately got on to Book Depository and ordered myself a copy, being naturally interested to see where fiction and reality intersected.
On the one hand the book brings a unique perspective to some historical events and characters, on the other the author still stands firmly behind the classified nature of some of his life and continually reminds the reader of his obligations to retain secrecy. What we get here are snippets and fortunately those snippets or anecdotes are sure to get your attention, with varying levels of success. The personal certainly brings greater resonance, for instance when the author describes real people and instances that have inspired tragic characters within his novels.

There's a sense of cathartic therapy in the author's depiction of his rather dodgy father. Throw in a lunch with Rupert Murdoch, and a number of encounters with a rogues's gallery of literary fans and you might get some sense of what you might be in for here.

4 out of 5 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Breast by Philip Roth

" I actually had  turned into a breast"

The jury that rests in my mind is somewhat out on this one. It is in part very reminiscent, and alludes specifically to both Kafka and Gogol. This tale of a man who turns into a disembodied breast. He rather enjoys the ministrations of  his nurse while  devoutly wishing for some penetrative interface with his lover, Claire. Whether he happens to be  a strange free floating breast or a man, Claire never seems quite capable of meeting his desires and he seems equally incapable of communicating them with her - sounds like a rock solid coupling that one.

While I feel only a man, and definitely a breast man, could have penned this short novella, it is nonetheless intriguing and quite telling that David Keppesh's first impulse is to redefine his masculinity in a slightly phallic fashion. Much of the story is about his thwarted attempts to reach completion by any means necessary - like so many phantom tinder males. That doesn't make the story less enthralling, the sense of futility is one of its high notes. A rather quick read, this was an entertaining and speedy way to check another book off the 1001 list.

4 out of 5 - don't stop now nurse.

Speaking Out: A 21st-Century Handbook for Women and Girls by Tara Moss

"Whatever helps you through the day, know that you deserve to take those minutes for yourself"

It would be so easy to be insanely jealous of the amazingly talented, Tara Moss and to be so, would do a huge disservice to this amazing woman. I would urge every woman to read this book which has so many aspects that many of us can relate to. Making up 50% of the planet, we really deserve the chance to be heard and have our many points of view considered. It might help if men read it too, just to get an idea of the state of play.

Moss merges practical advice with some depressing data to demonstrate many of the issues we face everyday and which often cause us to think "is this just my experience?". As someone who was raised to expect equality, while often being treated differently by my father particularly, (aren't we all a mass of contradictions, no surprise our parents are) speaking out and being taken seriously has been a bit of a crusade my whole life. I've constantly sought out roles in typically 'male' areas to prove that gender has no part in one's ability to deliver. This has not been a constantly positive experience and in fact I've experienced many of the quite scary ways that a voice can be challenged. Sadly, the entire chapter on Diversionary Tactics was eerily familiar and I find that abhorrent.

Thank you to Tara Moss for clearly identifying what is going on here and supporting others to find their voice, a truely admirable thing. I remember reading Tara Moss' first novel Fetish, many years ago and being shocked by its violence which seemed completely at odds with the image of a fresh faced model and yet that is such a superficial notion. Aren't we all more than our appearances and can't they often be completely deceiving or at least hint at only one part of a rounded personality? That is a lesson we all (myself included) need to learn in a world controlled by media sound bytes.

I remember the day when my sense of hope died somewhat; when I realised I wasn't invincible and that a man could physically overpower me and leave me psychologically and possibly physically scared. If I were to ever have children, it would be my fervent desire that they never had to experience that kind of rude awakening. I wish that they could make mistakes without the disapproving eyes of trolls (the worst kind of hypocrites), that they could be the best version of themselves - a fully realised intelligent human, accepting of themselves and others and always brave enough to challenge the status quo through investigation, discussion and action.

It is perhaps a mark of a really great work that the reader is left to think and relate the content to their personal experience. As you can see, Speaking Out struck a chord with me and I'd certainly recommend it to my friends and anyone who might trip over and discover my little blog.

5 out of 5 reassuring words to keep fighting on.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M.C. Beaton

"She felt quite stiff and sore after her ramble but was convinced that her skirt was a tiny bit looser around the waist."

Agatha Raisin will find any excuse to hang out with her dishy neighbour and going undercover to discover the truth behind the death of one of a group of vocal ramblers might be just the ticket. 
The body count seems to rise whenever our favourite ex PR maven pokes her nose into things and this adventure is no exception. So what can I tell you that won't ruin this one for you? Well I had it sort of ruined by the tv show, this wasn't such a bad thing given there were  enough differences to retain my interest.
Also, in amongst the murder, romance might just be blooming.  Don't listen to me, check it out for yourself.

5 out of 5 - drop your knitting and get rambling.

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

"He is profoundly ambivalent, as his prayers show, for when he prays to be reconciled with Yvonne he also prays to be alone, and when he wants to rise he asks that he may sink still lower."

What to say about a novel that took me so long to read ( seriously, 66 days). It felt like forever in any case. The cause of my dilemma, the thick prose- so many words crammed into a page, the drama of work and life and everything in between. It probably was not the best time to embark on a novel about a tortured relationship and the way in which alcohol can take over your life. There were times this month, when I though the action of the book had somehow spilled into reality, but I mopped that up - or at least I think I did.

At first, I wanted to hate this novel. Finishing it was torturous for me. I just needed some light hearted escapism in my life ( hence why I've finished so many Agatha Raisin books in the interim) and yet I persevered. Upon reflection, while it is not an easy book to read, it is expertly realised and I'm still thinking about it days after I'd put it down. I would say that is the reason for its critical acclaim. That and the sense of achievement you get from finishing it & despair at the ending.

It is amazing that the action takes place over such a short period when so much internal and actual drama occurs and that on reflection, is some of its brilliance. "But who could agree with someone who was so certain you were going to be sober the day after to-morrow?". There is no hope for the Consul, his estranged wife can never contemplate the internal struggles, the bargaining that goes on inside his addicted brain and he is doomed. She is such a tragic figure, living and dying on the fumes of what might have been.

If we look around the crazy world of the novel, is it not the crazy world of today? Is the alcoholic, in some ways, a realist, recognising the torment the world is in and reaching for escape  in a bottle? 
I'm not sure; that being said, if this novel didn't lead me to drink, it certainly upped my quotient. Death and destruction under the gaze of the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, and throw in a whole heap of Mescal for good measure.

4 out of 5 drinks could be your last and the dog's too.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M.C. Beaton

"No murders while you've been away."

There's a new arrival in the village and this one is very attractive, single and unfortunately for Aggie, female. Mary Fortune may just be the most intimidating woman in Aggie's life, particularly since she seems to have caught the eye of Mr Lacey, the village's resident hunk. 
Mary has also joined the gardening club and Agatha is forced into her usual hi jinks to compete. When Mary is discovered planted and very definitely dead, its time for our amateur sleuth to get cracking and solve the case.
The villages are softening up to our Agatha and the lure of a job back in London adds additional drama to her cosy cottage life.

As always, an easy read that I managed to devour on the flight from Brisbane to Sydney over a red wine ( the joys of flying Qantas). What's a few bumps when you can spend time with James Lacey, and it feels like he might be warming to Agatha also. I know I'll be returning to the quaint village soon - heck, I'm already reading the next instalment.

5 out of 5 flower shows have never been so florid.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M.C. Beaton

"As they ate, Sir Charles wondered how he was going to get around to proposing that they go upstairs to bed".

Ticked off another Agatha Raisin mystery. A dishy new vet has arrived in town to distract Agatha from the neighbourhood hunk, James Lacey and all the local ladies heads have been turned. A fatal injection of horse medicine puts paid to all their romantic plans, as vet, Paul Bladen is now deceased.
That is not the end of the body count and the best news is that investigating murders means more time legitimately spent with James Lacey- even if he resists any romantic overtures with continued vigour.

Things get really hairy when Agatha's cat  gets kidnapped. There is never a dull moment in the village and it is a happy place to hang out in. I know I can't wait to hang out there again.

5 out of 5 even though I'm not a cat-person.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

"There was another tone that was off-key"

Let me start off this review by stating that I was a little distracted while reading this Norwegian tale. I've had enough of miserable times and to be honest the idea of a gruff, ageing police officer, grim murders and nazis just wasn't quite the upbeat change of pace I was seeking.

The story drifts back and forth in time like a yo yo between the year 2000 and world war two and my scatterbrained mind was having trouble keeping apace. My delightful friend who so kindly loaned me her copy had a far more positive response to the novel and I trust her judgement. For me, the pacing was irritating in the extreme. Whenever I would settle in and get a handle on what was going on, the timeline would break with a jump forward or backward in time and I'd be lost again. This, for me, really interrupted the suspense and thriller status and left me disapointed. That being said, it was readable and there were moments that struck me as intriguing.

 3 out of 5 nazis, assassination attempts and multiple personalities.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

"My brain had conjured them up at the very moment I was looking at their pictures."

Those familiar with my reading habits, and lets face it, most people reading my blog probably know me and are quite familiar, will know that reading the book before seeing the movie is my modus operandi. For those who have stumbled into this corner of the web by accident, now you know too. 
In any case, I'd decided to take a peek at this best selling children's book before the release of the Tim Burton film and was impressed.

This is not written in a childlike or restrained fashion. It is eerie, dark and wonderful - a rare treat. As creepy as the strange photographic images that pepper its pages, Jacob Portman's adventures blend fantasy with the pain of reality in a way that really hooks the reader in. This first book is all about scene setting and whetting your appetite for future novels. In fact, no sooner had I finished it, I'd already ordered the next two, something I would not have anticipated from the title.

You will notice that I haven't given too much away here and I'd encourage you to seek out this story unencumbered by detailed reviews and my laboured exposition. As Molly Meldrum used to say "do yourself a favour".

5 out of 5 creepy kids can be intriguing.

The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

"I'm tired of bicycling and exercise routines. I feel like giving up and becoming really fat."

I had to explore the source material after having relished the recent tv incarnation starring the always amazing Ashley Jensen and a fabulous, Vivienne Westwood looking, wardrobe of wow.Click on the video, oh, but no, should I read the story first? Truth be told they are both delightful and I have a sneaking suspicion you will like them both on their own merits.

Fish out of water, ex publicity guru, Agatha Raisin has retired to the country to escape the rat race of London. Her fond memories from childhood holidays have informed her choice of the Cotswolds. Agatha arrives with perfectly coiffed hair, professionally decorated cottage and genuine ability to get everyone offside except for the friendly policeman, Bill Wong.

Trying to fit in, Agatha enters the local quiche making competition ( with store bought quiche) and her efforts are rewarded by a body count. Who knew what a hotbed of sexual intrigue the town of Carsley could be? Will Agatha discover - who done it? Will she ever be forgiven for stealing away her neighbour's cleaner? 

You will find this story as tasty as fancy quiche and far easier to digest. Fortunately there are plenty of adventures of Mrs Raisin out there to read and I look forward to discovering them. They are even easy to read on my phone which tells me this is particularly easily digestible fare.

5 out of 5 slices of tasty delights.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger

"Enjoying the float, fighting an inclination for the wrong man, and having a genuine affection for both."

Sometimes life throws you lemons or dramas that make you less that enthused about notions romantic in the real world. Thankfully the antidote is at hand. Climb aboard the dirigibles of Gail Carriger's new Delightfully Deadly series of novellas. I can't wait for the next one. The first is such a treat.

Lady Preshea Villentia is one hell of a heroine, she's gutsy, unconventional, beautiful and deadly. Four dead husbands and the nickname the Mourning Star might just be a bit of a burden, yet this lady takes it all in her stride.

The very dishy Captain Ruthven could really distract her from her current mission in such a good way. If only I could find a Gavin of my own, dodgy nightwear and need for midnight sandwiches seem like such minor traits to overlook, especially in a man who's so superbly built and who can dance.

Like so many good things, this ended way too soon. Bring on the next instalment.

5 out of 5 charming Scottish Literary romantic interests are delightful.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

So this July I had the pleasure of visiting Corfu in Greece and before my travels I did a bit of background research. As a consequence I discovered the ITV series The Durrells which is absolutely divine and inspired by the Corfu Trilogy written by Gerald Durrell. My Family and Other Animals is the first of the series and I couldn't wait to dive in to its sunny pages.  

The Corfu of today is a little different from that of the book, however it is still possible to see some of the natural delights that Gerry notes in his novel. 
Corfu 2016

Gerald Durrell statue  

Corfu Town 2016

While paddling around on an isolated bay reached by boat, I could almost imagine the author splashing about as a child reflecting on the fish whizzing past his toes and wondering what his intriguing family was up to. So you would imagine I would tear through this book, however, reading it on my iPhone has somewhat delayed its completion.

The novel is every bit as gorgeous and amusing as a trip to the very photogenic island and certainly worth exploring. Gerry is an adorable nature loving child, who takes great joy in exploring all the wild life of the island, including the shenanigans of his amusing family.

5 out of 5 roaming animals everywhere are entertaining.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Significant Others by Armistead Maupin

"You're not really a Bohemian until you've peed on a tree next to somebody"

Love, lust, gender roles, AIDS and camping, this is a tale that covers quite a lot of ground.
That mightn't sound like fertile ground for laughs and yet there here we discover some entertaining fare. The machinations of the all-women lesbian love-in music and arts festival Wimminwood, are particularly hilarious. When DeeDee and D'orothea visit with their fraternal twin children, they are shocked that their ten year old boy has to be removed to the boys area, Brother Sun. That will prove the be the first of many shocks, courtesy of dalliances with a famous poet, a kidnapping and much more.

Likewise, we get a hint of the secretive Bohemian Grove and its all-male exclusive camp traditions complete with stage shows and burning effigies of care. I'd never heard of the place until a friend mentioned it (thanks Ben), a strange place where 1%-ers get loose and occult in the forest, all under the watchful eyes of a big owl (yeah sounds like a hoot).

Brian is married to a tv talk show host who he has cheated on with a woman he's since found out is HIV positive. While he awaits the results of his own test he heads off on a bit of a road trip with his best friend, Michael, who happens to be gay and an understanding travel companion in this time of uncertainty, having already endured a positive result. Michael brings along, Thack, who he meets cute on a tour of Alcatraz prisons. There are more characters and side stories and the pages just fly by.

So converging stories of being comedically trapped in a prison for two minutes and finding a love interest, being trapped in a marriage with secrets, being trapped in a camp of militant lesbians or world beating, powerful old men. All tales are dealt with deftly and with a strong dose of humour. I rather enjoyed Significant Others,  perhaps you will too. Now, I look forward to uncovering the other Tales of the City stories.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera

"It is a novel about laughter, and forgetting, about forgetting and about Prague, about Prague and about the angels."

Sometimes prose dances on the page with a kind of delicious magnificence, reminiscent of the  sense of wonder you get when you look at a work of art. This collection of stories ebbs and flows with a lyrical quality that draws you in and certainly got me thinking a lot about forgetting and the strange intricacies of everyday life.

Only the other day, a friend and I were ruminating on the strange way we forget trying times and then, when we least expect it, we remember that unpleasant events in the past really happened.The first tale is reminiscent of this, with Mirek recalling his love affair with the ugly, Zdena. His blurred recollections recalling the strange vagaries of memory.

Mama is a tale of a menage a trois relationship that is slowly revealed to the reader in the context of trying to hide it from Karel's visiting mother. There's a sense that Karel, his wife and his mistress are all compromising to the point that there lives are not really what they would like them to be. In the end Karel longs to be alone.

The seven parts of the novel had varying degrees of success for me and I enjoyed the interspersing of Czech history and place with the personal dramas. I found the children raping Tamina in part six disturbing, however my appreciation for the novel was rekindled by the final tale. 

Part seven sees nakedness abound, the final line "The man spoke, all the others listened with interest, and their bare genitals stared stupidly and sadly at the yellow sand". There is something sublime and ridiculous in that imagery.

5 out of 5 forgotten moments have a way of returning.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Imprudence, The Custard Protocol Book Two by Gail Carriger

"Paw, I wasn't in danger,  Mr Lefoux and I have an understanding"

It must be awfully difficult to grow up in the shadow of such larger than life parents as Lord and Lady Maccon. When your father is a werewolf alpha and might be losing the plot, as alphas are want to do, things get even more complicated. 

All this family drama can really get in the way of a girl's romantic education, even with the ever so accomodating Quesnel Lefoux, an excellent physical specimen that could really grow on a girl, around.

As usual I devoured this delight like someone sneaking custard tart on a strict diet. There is something about Ms Carriger's steampunk universe which is so compelling and each new edition to the parasol, custard, finishing school canon has me rushing off to buy the latest tome. Patience, they say, is a virtue and as I was overseas when the second custard protocol novel was released, I had to wait a little to enjoy this one.

Prudence is, as ever, a delight. A glorious combination of Alexia, Conall and a dash of Lord Akeldama's fabulousness, she has a take no prisoners attitude, always finished with a wink. She takes me back to the divine craziness of youth and that is destined to appeal to anyone young at heart.

5 out of 5 balloon rides with were animals are never dull.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

To Be Read at Dusk by Charles Dickens

“He looked like the figure - necessarily so, because he looked earnestly at his brother when he saw him come into the room."

Interesting to be transported away in just 58 pages. This collection of three short stories seemed to whisper at me through the chill of evening. I could just imagine a theatrical performance  by Mr Dickens conveying his eerie tales. In my imagination his voice sounded somewhat like Simon Callow and I put that down to his book on the subject ( and having heard him speak on the subject of Charles Dickens).

'The Signalman', 'The Trial for Murder' and title story, 'To Be Read at Dusk'  are Halloween camp fire ready for your entertainment. Not particularly blood curdling, more likely to induce a bit of a creepy chill. I particularly liked the first story.

5 out of 5 dark tales by lamplight.