Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Silk by Alessandro Baricco

"Slowly she turned the cup until her lips were at the precise point where he had drunk"

This thin sliver of a tale is intriguing, delicate and in part erotic. In 104 pages, translated from the original Italian, Baricco employs words and imagery that bring to mind the smoothness of silk. For me it represents the 429th book I've read in the 1001 novels to read before you die and I rather enjoy progress!

A story about buying and selling silkworms is not something that leaps out as "must read", that being said, this one is a must read. The ending is heart breaking and unforgettable.
Brevity with a deft touch, like a soft, lingering kiss.

5 out of 5 silkworms like mulberry leaves.

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Life and Loves of a He Devil by Graham Norton

"I got that sinking Aidan Quinn feeling and I quietly thanked God that I have never been hot"

I just love Graham Norton and this little paperback was a delight. Little tit bits, tales of drinks past, boyfriends past and a little bit of celebrity name dropping - what's not to love? I don't think I'm about to recount all the contents - spoiler alert there be Dolly and Cher within these pages.
This is so easy to read and put a smile on my face, rather like what I imagine it would be like to sit next to Graham at a dinner party. Though he does warn us about meeting our idols.

5 out of 5 never get superglue confused with lubricant.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

"The cycle growls like a beast, tearing me away from Kilorn and the Stilts and my old life."

The benefit of being a bit late to the party, as far as a book series goes, is that you don't have to wait forever for the next instalment. Apparently the movie version of this young adult fiction novel will soon be headed our way also, so enjoy the book while you can.
In this fantasy world, the ruling class are silver and the average joes are reds.
Mare goes from struggling red thief, to royal silver society and finds life is just as difficult.
This is one that I think my friend Nicki will also enjoy.
Right now, I'm hanging out to read the next instalment and according to the author's blog, a third is also in the offing.

5 out of 5 silver? I prefer platinum.

A brief history of seven killings by Marlon James

"I didn't get it. I mean, come on, the shit was spread out in front of me like a fat stripper."

This year's Man Booker prize winner was certain to find itself on my to read shelf- shelf who am i kidding, it is a large 1/4 of one of my bookshelves. At almost 700 pages long, this is a significant undertaking with numerous characters each with their own voice. Some of these voices are rather a challenge for this reader to come to grips with. I think the term "pussyhole" must get used an inordinate number of times within those 700 pages.
I have to admit to reading this in fits and starts over a long period of time, which perhaps distracted from my appreciation of it. I certainly didn't have  the same effusive response as some of the reviews I've read online.
That's not to say that I wasn't intrigued by the novel and I certainly persevered despite its length. It's not bad, just different and probably not something I would choose to re-live.

3 out of 5 accents are hard to read.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

I'll never write my memoirs by Grace Jones

"It seemed very natural  that I would go and fetch Dolph holding a gun."

I had the very good fortune of seeing Grace Jones live last year and she is truly an original.Sure, as she admits in the closing chapters of her autobiography, others may emulate, but she is the real deal. Her book is as delightfully rambling as her onstage banter and what is not to love.

Here is a woman that has really lived, loved and celebrated a life so far that seems so removed from the one anticipated by her upbringing. A maelstrom of creative energy who has partnered with amazing artists to concoct strange and unforgettable flights of fancy, even if the details might be a little hazy these days.

A survivor who has outlived many of her contemporaries in an unapologetically, individual way. This is an eminently quotable book full of larger than life stories often told with a chronology that ebbs and flows like the tide. Partying with Andy Warhol, modelling with Jerry Hall, cocaine connoisseur-dom, acting with Roger Moore, there are plenty of stories to keep you amused and bemused.

I'm a lucky reader to have been able to borrow this delight from the always delightful Matt, thanks again.

5 out of 5 half naked hoola hooping is a talent most of us can only dream of.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

“One night near the end of July, the thick clouds that had long covered the sky finally cleared, revealing two moons”

Murakami is, to me, a weird and wonderful writer who combines escapist fantasy with a strangely grounded realism in a manner which continues to engage. This tome has been sitting on my TBR shelf for what seems like aeons, the sheer volume and weight of it was a little intimidating. Too heavy to pack for a holiday read and too good looking to run around with, risking damage to the gorgeous, yet fragile dust jacket.

Apparently this was originally published in 3 volumes, which would have driven me to distraction and I'm thankful all were combined in this English translation. I was swept through the two tales of Aomame - the assassin who cleverly wreaks vengeance on sexual transgressors with her trusty tool ( that sounds a little phallic) and the boy who held her hand for one brief unforgettable moment in school, Tengo - the ghostwriter working with a young, dyslexic would-be author with ties to a strange cult. Two moons appear as evidence of the alternate world that Aomame and Tengo have found themselves in, the one that Aomame calls 1Q84.

To discuss the plot though is probably a waste of time. Certainly it is convoluted, but then so is any vivid dream and reading this is like being immersed in a dreamlike state. Will Aomame and Tengo find each other and a way out of the world of cats? I'm not about to tell you that when you can enjoy the journey of some 925 pages for yourself. 

 5 out of 5  readers should know I am not a cat person.

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard

“What is the morality of the practice of encouraging housewives to be non-rational and impulsive in buying the family food?”

Originally published in 1957, and my particular copy (thanks to a 2nd hand bookstore) with a sparkling new introduction for the 1980s, Packard's "classic study of the American advertising machine" is surprisingly still relevant today. This is an intriguing look at the way consumer psychology is manipulated to fuel our shopping and political choices.

As scary as the  content might have appeared back in the day, when taken into consideration in the digital age with data capture of every transaction and every interaction possible, the bombardment and exploitation of consumers' internal machinations becomes a far more frightening notion. Just this morning, for example, my... oh for the sake of a more appropriate word, "current squeeze" received a text message from Amazon (I think it was Amazon) recommending items for him on the basis he was "looking for love". Boy did that profiling miss the mark, particularly on someone who is "not looking for love right now"; having said that, it shows just how insidious marketing, which trawls through our apps, our social media profiles and all the other bits and bobs we put out there, becomes.

So on this Valentine's Day, my generally most hated day of the year because of its complete manipulation of people's emotions to try and buy others' affections, it seems right to be reviewing this book. It is also quite timely, with David Bowie's recent passing, that my path of discovery to this particular work was through his list of the top 100 books.

If you consider how advanced the advertising industry was in the 50s in terms of consumer manipulation, it is truly terrifying to think of what advances have been made since. The books is jam packed with interesting (at times frightening) examples of the strange and wacky way we respond to various stimuli; from barren, lonely looking cards for spinsters to buy, the re-branding of Marlboro to appeal to the ideal of masculinity, to the "mistress v wife" approach to car sales and the grooming of children as future, loyal customers.

5 out of 5 some books are always persuasive.

Contact by Carl Sagan

"There were those who considered listening to the signal an abomination and who urged the observatories to stop; there were those who considered it a Token of Advent and urged the construction of still larger radio telescopes, some of them in space."

You may have seen the movie, but don't let that cheat you out of experiencing the book. Published in 1985, it is quite sad that the trials and tribulations of working against the glass ceiling that Ellie encounters are still alive and well today. As a girl who has always looked up to the stars and wondered what might be out there, it is a novel that resonates.
This is also about the eternal conflict that exists between daughters and their fathers. Unassailable supermen as we view them in infancy and something decidedly more human as we uncover in our maturity. 

As a child, Ellie grows up as some kind of science wunderkind and is traumatised by the early death of her father and the impact of his rather underwhelming replacement Step father. Buoyed by her love of maths and science she uncovers a message from outer space that could both unite or divide the world she lives in.

The message contains the blue print for a machine which is will bring about a new kind of cold war competition between the Americans and Soviets to capitalise on the potential of new technology. As you might expect from the announcement that life exists beyond our realm and is making contact, religious extremists cause havoc and the central drama centres on whether anything will ever come of the message.

Love, loss and discovery of both the scientific and personal variety pepper the ensuing pages and bring a delightful humanity to the cerebral. This is a book as much about feelings and what it means to be human, as it is about our potential place in the galaxy.

5 out of 5 times they say it is a wise child that knows its own father.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox

"Still, he would expect no less from a man who had successfully run a criminal empire for over two decades, and a humanitarian one for the past few years."

Another trip back into the world of midget master criminal, Artemis Fowl. This time his mother's life is in danger and it will take some specialist help from Holly and co, not to mention a certain demon, to turn this one around.
As anyone who loves time travel tales will know, returning along your own time line is fraught with danger and for Artemis, this adventure proves no exception.
While the tale draws you in and keeps you entertained, this feels a little less exciting than its predecessors and as such I've marked it down a little.
The time travel storyline was a little convoluted and it is difficult to be engaged about the health of Artemis' mother, when she is such a peripheral character.

That being said, I'm sure to dive into the next volume of the series with relish.

4 out of 5 trained guard dogs may bite.