Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Night Sessions by Ken Macleod

"Drew Warsaw was the man, the king of the silent scene. He stood in the pulpit of the Liquid Cosh dance club and looked over a couple of hundred bopping heads."

Sometimes you read a blurb and get rather excited that this book could be the one. By the one, I mean a book that will deliver on its promise of entertainment. Upon reading the synopsis for this book, I was rather intrigued to get my teeth into the novel, so to speak.

It begins promisingly with space elevators and such and somewhere along the line,  I just lost interest. At that point it just became an exercise in getting through the pages so that I could finish and move on to something more entertaining - don't you hate when you read like that? I certainly do. More rational beings would just set the book aside, but I, I like to finish.

Perhaps my issue stems from a surfeit of religious fundamentalists on the daily news, and suggesting that the need for fictional ones is lessened somehow. Certainly, I just had very little interest in the story post the first couple of chapters which posed some interesting questions about Artificial Intelligence taking on a belief system, which is an intriguing conceit.

At least I ticked off another  novel from the Guardian's 1000 novels  you must read list - you know my penchant for lists by now, surely.

3 out of 5 religious zealots can be rather tedious.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

“It was thrilling to chat with people she barely knew, and she began to imagine what some of them might be like — rich, handsome, successful.”

A gorgeous rich tapestry of stories that was a delight. I don't know if its because I recently read all the Crazy Rich Asians  books, or that I just got back from Hong Kong, but I feel like there's something captivating about Asia as a literary setting and I'm actively seeking out novels from that continent at the moment.

I particularly liked this one because it brought people from various countries together in the fast-paced surrounds of Shanghai, all with a view to achieve wealth and success.
The characters are beautifully expressed and I was particularly unhappy when the novel ended as I just wanted to keep on reading about this lives.

A place of reinvention, high highs and low lows. That makes for entertaining drama. The depiction of Phoebe's dating experiences was written so eloquently- hence my selection of the quote affixed above.

It has taken a while for me to become acquainted with this tome, even though it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, and I look forward to reading more by Tash Aw.

5 out of 5, self help books sometimes pan out.

A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

"And the hawk, alert to every movement, returned their stares until they turned away and passed on."

Life is pretty grim for our poor protagonist, Billy Casper in a poor English mining village. His one joy is tending for the kestrel that he has stolen from its nest. School is hell, and home isn’t much better. This is not the kind of read that will cheer you up my friends. Thankfully it is a very quick read, as I am currently not in the mood for suffering of any kind. Right now I love fiction that transports me to other worlds or happier ones at any rate.

His mother is powerless, his father is absent, and his brother is a horror. In fact, reading about his brother just made me super angry. Not crazily so as I was sitting in the GP’s office and apparently my blood pressure is just fine thanks for asking.

I’m waffling, aren’t I? I think this novel brilliantly captures a torturous upbringing and a feeling of being without options. The sense of purpose and joy posed by a pet brings only momentary respite and as you might imagine, and the ending did not inspire further joy. Having done such a brilliant job of writing this novel, I probably owe the writer the full five star rating and yet, it left me so glum that I had to deduct a point.

4 out of 5 birds can sometimes make you soar.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

“Still, when you get to a certain age, and have created your own lifestyle and social standing, and only then start having grave doubts about your value as a human being.” 

My first thoughts upon closing this gorgeous book of seven stories were expressed on the Goodreads website thusly: “His stories speak to the hidden loss, struggles and longings that hide deep behind men’s eyes. A vulnerability that reminds us we’re all just troubled humans deep down.”

A touching selection of short stories that can't help but have an emotional impact. There's something about Murakami's writing that transports you to a more interesting world than the grey, boring, mundane one that we spend our working weeks in.

5 out of 5 - I just want more Murakami please.

Monday, 17 September 2018

The Emerald Sea (The Glittering Court #3) by Richelle Mead

“The Temptation was overwhelming. I wanted to tell her and Mira both, to let out all the pent-up emotion that had tormented me these long months. And I wanted to clear the space between us.”

Finally the third instalment of the Glittering Court trilogy has found its way into my hands, thanks to my favourite book lender, the amazing Nicki. I think I should preface her name with “the amazing” from now on. Anyway, I had been counting down until this fictional fantasy flew my way and I wasn’t disappointed. I stayed up til 1:30am to finish it. It was cold and I was feeling a little lonely and so it seemed perfectly reasonable to lose myself in the world of Tamsin, Mira and Adelaide.

This final novel is from the perspective of, the possibly too good to be true, Tamsin. While she works super diligently she hides a scandalous personal secret that could bring her Glittering Court efforts to naught. Her desire to finish on top also has the potential to alienate.

Off she travels, after a bit of a stoush with Mira and Adelaide, on a separate boat to secure a proposal and the weather, it seems, has different ideas. Shipwrecked in foreign lands, Tamsin’s dreams of providing for Merry seem untenable. Despite the worst that one local woman threatens her with, her new formed friendships with the saintly Gideon Stewart and the rough and tumble, Jago Robinson will provide new sources of adventure.

Join Tamsin on her journey out of the wilderness and into….well, now, that would be telling wouldn’t it. Someone just has to buy the film rights to this series. The opportunity for three gorgeous and interesting female leads should be investigated.

5 out of 5 emerald really is the only green I can wear.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

"Taking down the target is easy; it's doing so swiftly, silently and without collateral damage that's difficult."

If you loved the tv series Killing Eve as much as I did, then you are going to love the source material. This rather slim volume contains non-stop action and a welcome return to the intense world of female assassin, Oxana, otherwise known as Villanelle.

Whether she's executing her kills with a hair clip or kitchen equipment, Villanelle is one scary lady and a particularly effective assassin. Who she works for is more of a mystery and one that serves to drive the novel into the territory of potential sequels.

While the story is far more developed in the small screen version, this novel more than holds its own. I wonder if I would feel the same about the book, had I not seen the tv series. I guess I'll never know.

This was the perfect remedy for my post races hangover - it turns out one can really have to much french champagne.. just ask my stomach. 

I see that a sequel is in the works and due for publication next year.

5 out of 5 dangerous women can do anything.

Snap by Belinda Bauer

"Jack didn't want to play. But he also didn't have the words to tell her that their mother was dead."

I'm one of those people who want to read all the potential Booker prize winners before the announcement, just so that I can make my own mind up. With that in mind, I eagerly secured a copy of this novel, due to its inclusion in the longest, and got cracking reading it. I finished it in under a weekend and it makes for a thrilling and easy read. That being said, I have notes.

The writing has great pace, and yet seems like predictable, crime-thriller, beach-read in substance. It is procedural in nature and the cops are the least well rounded characters in the story.

The climate of fear is well established and the character of Jack, the child whose pregnant mother is killed, is perhaps the most intriguing character. In any case, the action maintained my interest as I sped through the pages.

So if you are a fan of crime thrillers you will undoubtedly enjoy this one. Just don't expect prose that will completely rock your world.

4 out of 5 custom made knives should serve as a red flag.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Noir by Christopher Moore

"I watched the Cheese step off the streetcar and look back over he shoulder, eyes hooded, like she was ashamed, and I felt as if I just threw a rock and busted out the streetlight that was the only light in my miserable life."

I am a keen fan of the Noir Genre and the comic talent of Mr Moore, so I was eagerly anticipating the release of this novel. So you can imagine my disappointment when I was just a little underwhelmed. I've given the matter some serious consideration and come to the conclusion that the style just seems to jar with Moore's humour a little. Part of the gumshoe style of the noir genre is its over the top tone and for me that jarred with Moore's style.

I wonder whether this was just a case of high levels of anticipation leading to disappointment. Sure there are some amusing notions, I just wanted something a little different and to be honest I can't put my finger on it. Certainly the snake was engaging and what's not to like about a dodgy visit to Bohemian grove?

Maybe I just wasn't in the frame of mind to be concerned with a skirt called the Cheese? Perhaps it stemmed from the annoying invisibility treatment I had to endure in Hong Kong from wait and hotel staff. Who knows?

I absolutely do love the cover though and I'm still a fan of Moore, I think I prefer his more supernatural efforts and perhaps that's due solely to my personal taste.

3 out of 5 deadly snakes should be safely stowed.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Zoo Time by Howrd Jacobson

"Those were no small transgressions: stealing a book, leaving out a comma, and scheming to misappropriate my wife's mother."

This was probably not the best choice for a holiday read. There were moments where I laughed out loud, and moments when I really hoped no-one was reading over my shoulder. A strange tale of a kind of grubby author who isn't sleeping with his wife (due to her disinterest) and is obsessed with sleeping with her mother. 

Guy Ableman, as a character, really annoyed me. He seemed so self-absorbed, grubby and just really annoying. He feels over-entitled and jealous and small. The few chuckles I garnered as I read, didn't really seem enough for me.

 3 out of 5 dirty old men bore me.

You're on an Airplane by Parker Posey

"I was sceptical about Blade: Trinity  but when I got my fangs, I got more into it."

I have been a long term fan of the theatrical stylings of Ms Parker Posey. In particular here work in Best in Show, For Your Consideration, A Mightly Wind and Waiting for Huffman. When I heard that she'd written a memoir, I quickly jumped online and grabbed myself a copy.
My friend purchased the audio book and apparently that is even more delightful thanks to the words coming straight from the artist's mouth. I just loved how delightfully scattered this book was and I have to say the photos are a hoot. Everything from aliens to puppies and yoga poses, prepare for a wacky ride.

I mean who doesn't love a woman with the balls to wear a turban!

5 out of 5 great comedic actresses are hard to find.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

"I have only been alive for four hundred and thirty-nine years, which is of course nowhere near long enough to understand the minimal facial expressions of the average teenage boy."

What a delightful and unexpected surprise this little treasure was. I noticed the signed copy at Kinokuniya, it is always dangerous for me to walk in there. Let's face it, I never walk out empty handed. So the premise here seemed irresistible, a man who doesn't really age; well he does, just at a fantastically slow rate. Given the fact that he looks 41 and is actually over four hundred years old, he's had to change names and locations often. It is interesting that he isn't a vampire, this is some kind of rare genetic awesomeness that is so secret it requires a dark organisation to keep it cloaked in the darkness.

Avoiding religious zealots and the prospect of loves that will age and die while you remain looking virtually the same is no mean feat and makes for an entertaining read. Believe the comments of the illustrious Stephen Fry, Graham Norton and Marian Keyes on the cover - this one is a keeper.

5 out of 5 lifetimes can be a wild ride.

Monday, 3 September 2018

House of Versace by Deborah Ball

"The medusa was an apt symbol of the Versace brand's sensibility, at once classical, alluring, theatrical, garish, and dangerous."

Late last night I reached the final pages of this interesting look back at the meteoric rise and untimely demise of Gianni Versace and his fashion label. Ball tells a compelling tale and provides intriguing insides into the business and emotional heart of the eponymous label.

The nineties were supermodels, George Michael's Freedom and Liz Hurley in a daring safety pinned Versace dress.To this day I can recall the footage of the funeral of Versace with Elton and Lady Diana. Ball provides an interesting insider perspective of these iconic moments in recent history. I was inspired to read this by the recent release of the mini -series , The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story , prompting my interest in securing a copy before I got around to watching it. I still haven't managed to watch and yet I'm looking forward to it after this.

In case you're wondering why I didn't give this particular book the full compliment of marks, I guess I just wanted more. I realise that's terribly unspecific and possibly unhelpful. What the book does fantastically is describe the family dramas and machinations, behind the scenes, in growing the Versace brand from its origins in southern Italy to its nineties worldwide peak. What is absent is much detail about the murder. The series is apparently based on Maureen Orth's Vulgar Favors, and now I think I want to read that.

4 out of 5 well draped clothing maketh the woman.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Women and Power: a Manifesto by Mary Beard

"Telemachus' outburst was just the first case in a long line of largely successfully attempts stretching throughout Greek and Roman antiquity, not only to exclude women from public speech, but also to parade that exclusion."

Just the other day I made a suggestion in a meeting, which got no response until a man parroted it in his own voice and claimed it as his own. My blood boiled, as per usual. I'm a firm believer in the equality of the sexes and at its heart is an equal voice.
Mary Beard eloquently underscores this current dilemma and traces it back through time to illustrate that this is not something new and to query why that is the case and how to resolve the issue.

This is a rather slim volume that you can knock over in next to no time. That is not to detract from its power. Size is no determinant there. An important read that so beautifully demonstrates the issues we still unfortunately face today and their genesis back in classical times.

I will be heard and we all deserve to be. A recent illustration was the appalling treatment of Lucy Zelic during the SBS coverage of the World Cup - the beautiful game - the treatment was inhuman and undeserved. The lens that women are viewed through as compared to men is a worry. We need to re frame the discussion to merit and move away from keeping the girls down at heel. Mary is clearly on the ball here.

5 out of 5 women's voices, men's voices, they all deserve a listen.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

"She threw the rest of the paperwork back into one of the shoeboxes and took the piece of the Berlin Wall and the letter back downstairs."

I just loved the cover, let me get the superficial comments out of the way first. After thoroughly enjoying, Big Little Lies, both the novel and the mini-series, I was eager to dig into more Moriarty ( so to speak). 
Apparently, as I was reliably informed by my favourite cafe owner, the author also frequents my favourite cafe - clearly she has great taste.
Now to this novel, let's start with the positives. It is a quick, easy read. The characters are intriguing, the secret ( which I picked way too early on) isn't quite as compelling as it could be and yet you will still be turning the pages at a cracking pace.
What this novel suffers from, if anything in particular, is the comparison with the author's more famous work. In this case, its not that this isn't eminently entertaining, its just not quite as compelling as the other.

You may sense my reluctance to get into the actual plot, because that seems like something experienced by the reader. So my recommendation would be to check this out. Perhaps before you read the more well rounded Big Little Lies.

 4 out of 5  secrets never stay buried.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Ma'am Darling : 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

"As she grew older , Princess Margaret  turned pickiness into an art form, snubbing  hosts who offered her items of food and drink that were not exactly what she wanted."

My favourite Aunt shares a name with Princess Margaret and let's face it, after The Crown,  I was intrigued to learn more about the black sheep of the family. One black sheep of a family to another, so to speak.

Given that this "biography", and the inverted commas are intentional, was awarded the James Tait Biography award, you might expect more of a typical biographical setup and yet, this is something else. Having said that, it is delightfully entertaining and certainly easy to swallow.

Ultimately what we have here is a brief sojourn into a weird and wacky, other world, removed from the hoi polloi, but unsure of where it stands. Unusually, as a period of history, the life of Margaret corresponds with that strange time where the media became omnipotent and the untouchable nature of royalty was called into question. It is a notion writ large in Brown's book and to great comic effect.

I can't really describe what exactly was lacking here; I just wanted something more.

4 out of 5 royals detest bad hats.

Friday, 24 August 2018

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

"But how exactly did you practice sex? It wasn't like men we're throwing themselves at her like women apparently did to Philip."

I absolutely devoured this gorgeous little romance novel. I'm almost embarrassed to admit it. Who would have thought that a novel about a girl with Asperger's who hires a male escort to overcome what she sees as her sexual failings. What happens is surprisingly engaging and delightful. I feel kind of guilty for liking a Pretty Woman  style story with a gender twist.

Stella has an endearing innocence by virtue of her inability to understand people's motivations and emotions. It puts an interesting spin on what had the potential to otherwise be a small, sordid story. Here, this unsuspecting love story transforms into something utterly delightful. 

I don't know that I can say too much more about this tasty morsel. Check it out for yourself.

5 out of 5, this one went down so well.

The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss

“I thought at first it might be some undigested fancy from the Café Gambrinus but I finally recognised it as an almost alien emotion. Fondness.”

Mark Gatiss is one of those character actors you would undoubtedly recognise by sight, even if you perhaps aren’t overly familiar with his name. He’s been a star and writer for Doctor Who (oh you know I’m a massive fan) and he plays Sherlock’s brother opposite Benedict Cumberbatch (ah… heaven), not to mention his work on Game of Thrones and The League of Gentlemen. You might get my drift that I think he’s rather fab, so I was exceedingly interested to see his efforts in novel form.

If I thought I would miss the world of parasols and hats that I’d just left in finishing Competence, I was lucky to have discovered this delightful spy / detective / bisexual Edwardian romp which was just the ticket. I realise that is a lot of genres in one; although, come to think of it, I’ve always been a “the more genres the merrier” kind of girl.

How to describe our hero. He’s irresistible, flirtatious and more than a little bit dangerous. He’s just as popular with the boys as the girls and a rather natty dresser, when he’s not minus a valet. One thing Lucifer Box (seriously – what a name!) excels at is getting into trouble – as the name might suggest. When he sets off to discover the reasons behind the disappearance of some eminent scientists, it seems not only his life will be in danger. Equal parts James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and just a dash of Eddie Izzard. Seriously, what’s not to love?

Throw in some weird underground establishments (namely the club of the title - think devious sexploits hidden behind password protected doors); a volcano and... “Bob’s your uncle”, you are in for one rollicking adventure. Although, one would think Lucifer far too posh to rollick as it were. I shall practice a little restraint with the superlatives, other than to say I entirely enjoyed this little jaunt. So much so, it would seem, that I immediately got online and bought the next two offerings upon closing the final page. Oh impulse control!!! Are you a myth?

5 out of 5 clubs with strict entry protocols mask something beneath.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Competence by Gail Carriger

“Primrose suspected that she was the only one to notice that there appeared to be an enthusiastically moving bulge in the back section of the fishtail.”

Dearest reader, I have been counting down the days with reckless abandon until my freshly minted copy of Ms Carriger’s latest tome graced my mailbox. “Hurrah” I shouted with glee at the sight of the familiar trimmings of a Book Depository delivery (they don’t pay me to advertise, I’m just an avid fan, particularly in my most stressed hours).
In any case, it wasn’t long before I was completely ensconced in the adventures of Prim, Rue and co and the frisson begins immediately. It had been such a time since I enjoyed the company of the crew of the Spotted Custard, that I had quite forgotten where they had landed last. Never mind, it took minutes to be back in the world of dastardly parasols, proper hats and cups of tea.
The action in Singapore is a delight – particularly if you’ve been there before. The central theme of the novel seems to be mistaken appearances, beginning with Tasherit, the werelioness, being mistaken for a Merlion, the official mascot of Singapore.
When not being mistaken for other mystical creatures ***Spoilers ahead ***, Tasherit’s longing for Prim, is anything but Prim and may lead to some unexpected outcomes, all of them tinged with delight.
Our fearless crew also veer way off into uncharted territories in South America to find a lost tribe of Vampires and save them. Their tastes differ vastly from the hives at home. Lard anyone?
Will our fearless adventurers survive the lengthy journey? Will there be intrigue and romance? Will there be battles? Will your reviewer cry (come on you know I will)? I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say an emphatic Yes, Yes and Yes. Oooh I just can’t wait for the next one and now…. The waiting game begins until the next delicious instalment. 

5 out of 5 pale vampires make the best dieticians.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

"This almost anonymous person, balanced awkwardly, holding on to her own safety. Already incognito".

I am one of those people, and I feel like I'm in the minority, who didn't really enjoy The English Patient,  and yet I loved this. Here is a novel which is awash thematically with numerous threads. The idea of identity, of family, a spy novel, a coming of age story, the strange relationship between parents and their children; there is a lot going on here, That is not to disparage the mix of conceits in any way. Rather, its thematic richness adds to the appreciation of the text,or at least, it did for me.

There is perhaps a sense of remove from the characters, which is perhaps a necessity due to the enigmatic nature of portions of their lives. Is the narrator a believable one? What is really happening? Where are the missing parents of Nathaniel and Rachel and who are their "guardians"? Here lies the mystery framework that really draws you in. IN fact the whole novel was reminiscent of a 1940s Hitchcock film, well in my mind anyway.

I think this one would make a great bookclub book, because I have a sense that it would elicit a very different response from different readers and that always makes for interesting conversations. Also, if you are one of those people who likes to read the Booker prize would be contenders, well get on board - this one has made the long list.

Have you noticed the crazy world we live in today has really nefarious overtones that mirror the thirties and forties? I think that's why fiction set in those times resonates, unfortunately, so well today. Let's hope we learn from history - not that anyone ever learns from history - my dating life is a testament to that. If people read more instead
of indulging in hateful speeches in parliament, and/or the internet, perhaps we wouldn't be feeling this way. Just saying - rant over.

5 out of 5 is espionage genetic?

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

"His sense of self was so fragile and contingent; it might dissolve like a watercolour in the rain."

Having been a big fan of St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose series, when I saw there was a new release from him I put it on the top of my to buy list and it speedily married. A chapter in and I'd realised it was an homage to King Lear and yet it took on a fresh and enjoyable voice. The novel is part of a series of re-imaginings of Shakespeare's stories by famous novelists and this is my favourite to date.

All the characters just bounce off the page in a kind of warts and all style that is irresistible. A billionaire media mogul finds himself at the mercy of his power hungry daughters, drugged and placed in an institution while they attempt a coop over his business. 

Thankfully, his youngest daughter has other plans and therein lies the drama. This book was my happy escape from a work week of seven days and countless hours that pushed my abilities to concentrate to their extremes. My only quibble was that it finished way too soon and now I have no more St Aubyn to lose myself in. If you're reading this sir, please continue with your writing as you have a captive audience here.

5 out of 5 family squabbles can be intense.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

No Bed For Bacon by Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon

"In future, he decided, he must try to find time to read his plays before buying them."

What's a lady to do when she admires a playwright and longs to tread the boards? Why pretend to be a man of course. While the plot may seem decidedly like the movie Shakespeare in Love,  then you would be absolutely correct, and yet this one came first.
While at times a little melodramatic and not nearly as funny as I would have liked, this still has its moments. If you know me, you know how I love me some Shakespeare and I'll take it anyway I can.
My introduction to the novel was its inclusion in the Guardian's 1000 novels everyone must read list in the Comedy section. Having said that, if you seek tonnes of laughter this probably isn't the place. Not to say this isn't entertaining. Of course it is.

 4 out of 5 times there's nothing to shake a spear at.

King Suckerman by George P Pelecanos

"Clay put on his shades; Karras put on his."

I've had some stressful work dealings of late, so I look forward to an escape through literature. This books just did not do it for me. It is all over the place stylistically and I hated the senseless violence and the objectification of women. They just seemed to be there purely as a source of nudity and mainly nipples. This guy is definitely a boob man.

I only read this novel due to its inclusion on a list of the 25 most stylish men in literature and to be honest I am a little perplexed as to how they got there with this one. The writing is sub-par and ultimately i just lacked any interest in the outcome of the action.

One of those moments when I thought to myself, hmm... I just need to finish the pages.

2 out of 5 times driving around the block with hoods ain't all it is cracked up to be.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Romancing The Werewolf by Gail Carriger

"Those rare moments, among all the rest of his time as a drone, had also been the very best."

I welcome any excursion into the supernatural world of Ms Carriger, be it novel length or in this case a tasty novella. This is the second in the Supernatural Society Novella stories which showcase characters from the Parasol Protectorate series in "LBGTQ stand-alone romance novellas".
All those sexy vampires and werewolves in one place, sign me up!
That being said, this is very much romantic in content, there's a lot of longing and waiting and fabric choices. The trials of a bunch of beefy werewolves dealing with abandoned babies does make for some hilarious pages that I just ate up.
Yes, I certainly devoured this little tale on my way home from work and it certainly put a smile back on my dial.
Now I'm just counting down until the next one.

5 out of 5 longing looks eventually hit their mark.

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham by M.C. Beaton

"But his invitation gave her a warm little glow, and he was a wizard at fashioning her hair into that elegant style."

I needed another dash of Agatha Raisin in my train commuting life and after the excitement of her Cyprus based adventures, Agatha is back to village life. The weather is stifling, James has disappeared and a new hairdresser is about to do more than transform Agatha's do.

Is the wizard with the scissors a blackmailing gigolo, or just a star with a brush? Will Agatha fall for his movie star charms or will her dating life be interrupted once more with a murder? Prepare for the return of Charles for a little distraction as well.

Well this certainly made the morning commute fly by and I finished this adventure in a rather short amount of time.It is all too tempting to buy the next one on iBooks and continue on to see what's next for the crime solving Mrs Raisin.

5 out of5 , a good hairdresser is to be cherished.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M.C. Beaton

"Agatha blinked at him. She wished she had never gone to bed with him again."

Agatha is back from holidays and still on the outer with James. While her heart pines away a new murder mystery is sure to distract. Likewise a new gig in PR with the water company at the heart of the murder mystery and the upside benefits of a hunky new boss make for some rather interesting distractions.

Yes, I quickly finished the next instalment on the train to work and back. Such is the speed with which I devour Agatha's adventures. Except for the cats, I can kind of relate to her poor choices in male company and her easily bruised ego. Indeed I find her little world a welcome respite from the real one. Quite disturbing to think that village  murder mysteries are less problematic than the every day challenges of work. What is that about?

Will a fancy village fete draw out the answers Agatha seeks? Will James and Agatha once again join forces to fight crime. Seriously, will Bill ever wake up to how problematic his parents are in relation to his dating life?

Oh come on, do yourself a favour and crack open the covers. You won't regret it!

5 out to 5 bottles of water with a skull and cross bones are asking for trouble.

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton

"On her better days, Agatha Raisin was quite presentable, having shiny brown hair cut in a smooth bob, small bearlike eyes , a generous mouth, and a trim, if stocky figure ending in good legs."

Well I finished the last Agatha Raisin and immediately felt compelled to download the next one. Damn you iBooks for pandering to my need for instant gratification. You can hardly blame me though, I mean, the way the last one ended ***spoilers*** no-one leaves Aggy at the altar - Am I right?

Embarrassingly, because we all have our Mrs Raisin moments, Agatha heads to the scene of her would-have been honeymoon to chase after Mr James Lacey. I always read him as a Mr Darcy type - I've probably already told you this before. In any case, he keeps his feelings on the stoic side, and that always leads to Agatha delivering some epic payback with some younger, hotter guy much to his distaste.

It takes quite some time for Aggy to find James and in the interim... surprise, surprise, there's a murder. Not to mention an unlikely group of tourists which aren't particularly appealing. Unhelpful local police and some strange goings on are just the start of the fun. Oooh and Sir Charles makes an eventful re-appearance - you may remember him from back in the days when those ramblers lost their lives. Yes, life with Agatha is certainly never dull and her dance card looks particularly full these days.

Will the murderer be uncovered? Will Agatha win James back? Will Bill Wong ever find a girlfriend who lasts passed a dinner with his folks? Some of these questions will be answered. Grab yourself a copy ( or fire up the iBooks like I did) and prepare for the fun.

5 out of 5 holidays can be bloody dangerous.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Amok by Stefan Zweig

"Once more he gave me a derisive, indeed challenging look, but I felt that it was really only in shame, endless shame."

So, last night, before I started reading this, I was watching Samantha Bee lament the possibility of Roe Vs Wade bring overturned. Now, I don't live in the U.S.A, but the erosion of a female's ability to control her life is something of the utmost concern to me as a woman. Admittedly, I'm reaching the part of my life where control over reproduction isn't so much a personal issue, yet it is a shared concern for an equal society for all.
Clearly I digress in relation to this short tale, and yet it does frame my response to it.
Here we have a Doctor riddled with guilt recounting his tale to a man on a cruise ship in the dark of night, when all good inner turmoil is best dealt with, and over a stiff drink - naturally.

The depth of guilt and concern that rocks the man, as he recounts his initial rejection of assistance to a woman seeking an abortion, and its unpleasant aftermath is interesting. Interesting particularly because a tale published in 1922 ( yes, that's right, the twenties) can still resonate today. This is a tale of shame and maintaining personal reputation over the value of life itself. A lack of choice that women were faced with for centuries and risk facing again.

Personally, I feel those "pro-life" stalwarts should question their connection with a life unrealised versus a potential loss of life for someone already living. For that is the real and horrid choice that women have faced for eons  - a definite lack of control.

The title reflects the state of mind that impacts the Doctor, somewhat out of the blue. However to "run amok" could equally apply to some of the current craziness we see in modern politics, unduly influenced by religious fervour. Zweig poses a moral quandary where compliance with the accepted "pro-life," religiously based, moral choice leads to an outcome which is the opposite of being 'for life' and clearly is against. It is an interesting illustration of the central tension.

What an amazing writer to illicit such an emotional response with such sturdy prose, decades after it was written. He displays an economy of words that transcend the circumstances of the day and retain a timeless quality that is to be applauded.

5 out of 5, strange tales are told on deck. 

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton

"To Agatha's high irritation, the blonde beauty who led the aerobics class came out to say goodbye to James."

I really do love an escape into the world of Agatha Raisin. Certainly, in the tradition of Miss Marple, she lives in a small village with a disproportionate number of murders, and yet her adventures are inherently compelling. Who could resist the appeal of her handsome neighbour, James, for example.

This instalment sees Agatha all set to marry the particularly dishy James, when her past very clearly catches up with her. It appears her late husband is only "late" to the church. As such, her relationship with James is in tatters.
Things might seem hopeless, and yet the murder of Agatha's husband really sets the cat amongst the pigeons.

Weirdly, because I'm always all about reading the book first, I'd watched the tv adaptation prior to threading this and so had more than an inkling of what was to follow.Notwithstanding, the prior knowledge did not significantly detract from my enjoyment of the denouement.

I just love Agatha, her village, her friends, her enemies and her adventures.Therefore, I have nothing bad to say here.

5 out of 5  - easy reads can be highly entertaining.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

“Anyway, that's what life is, just one learning experience after another, and when you're through with all the learning experiences you graduate and what you get for a diploma is, you die.”

In case the 5 out of 5 rating didn't tip you off, I really enjoyed this. It shouldn't work with he interruptions of advertisements, counselling sessions and the like, but it does. I was fully transfixed and transported to Gateway and the strange technology of the Heechee.

One of my favourite types of fiction is the genre-bending variety. This is classic sci-fi and recalls the tropes of the Western, bringing a sense of settling a new frontier on the back of pre-existing culture that is poorly understood.

The human race uses a spaceport full of ships left behind by an alien race to seek out more opportunities among the stars. Their understanding of how these ships work is rudimentary at best and a job seeking to plunder the universe's plenty can be lucrative but deadly.

I just loved that the protagonist is complex emotionally and the non-linear story telling style contributed to the sense of suspense. Sex is space, complicated relationships? This one has you covered. There is a lot going on here: shame, suspense, oh heck it has a treasure trove of emotional chaos perfectly suited to today's turbulent times. It seems that a one way ticket to space won't sort out all your problems, even when it includes full medical coverage.

I've told you too much dear reader. I say crack open the spine yourself and see why this novel still seems fresh some forty years after it was written. Why it won so many awards and why I really liked it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

5 out of 5 black holes can really prolong the drama.

5 out of 5, 

Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh

“He was used, in his own life, to a system of push, appeasement, agitation and blackmail, which, except that it had no more distinct aim than his own immediate amusement, ran parallel to Nazi diplomacy.”

Apologies darling, perhaps if life hadn’t been such a whirlpool of events and emotions of late, I would have given this novel the compliment of a five-star review.
Certainly, this is written with the vim and vigour of Waugh's other works and yet I just couldn't get on board.

I've since read a few reviews claiming this to be one of Waugh's forgotten masterpieces and it gave me pause. Perhaps I need to re-read, preferably on a warm beach when my view of the world is far more buoyant than wintery, overworked wench mode that I'm currently ensconced in.

4 out of 5 - moments that I really enjoyed, but not enough to distract me from life.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

How to be Champion by Sarah Millican

"The people you love can come in many forms. Men, women or dogs."

Whenever I've seen Sarah on television, I've just had to sit by the screen and watch the entire spot. She is always a delight. When I heard she had a book released, I was desperate to get my claws on a copy and I was not disappointed.
Her personality which shines through on the stage, translates with equal appeal to the page.

I love the style of combining biography with a self-help book narrative. It is both self-deprecatory and affirming at the same time. That sounds contradictory and yet it just works and will leave you smiling. What's not to love about that?

When I really enjoy a particular comedian's work, I always find it a strange thing. It feels like you know this person who has aired all their dirty laundry for your amusement. It is a rather intimate interaction. This book only serves to amplify that sense of familiarity and further solidifies my appreciation for this fantastic, be-spectacled comedienne.

One day, i'd love to sit down with a nice cup of tea ( because she doesn't drink booze as you'll discover if you crack the pages) and have a real chat with Sarah. In the interim, I'm pretty satisfied with reading her book. 

5 out of 5 hearty belly laughs make the world go round.

Never Greener by Ruth Jones

'If he could have replayed his life like a VHS tape, he'd have made it freeze-frame, put it on pause, and asked to pick up again from there. From that life-changing moment when he watched his beloved Belinda walk away and the whirlwind that was Kate Andrews came hurtling into his safe little world'

I loved Ruth Jones in Gavin and Stacey and Little Britain, so when I saw she had penned a novel, I immediately pre-ordered it. Had I waited for a bit more information on the plot, I’m not quite sure I would have been as super keen. Not to say that this novel isn't well written and entertaining, it certainly delivers on both fronts. Rather, it just lacks the level of humour that I had presupposed it would contain.

So before I dissuade you from reading a copy, let me guide you through the positives. The characters are well rounded individuals, full of flaws and somewhat morally ambiguous. That is to say, they come across as real, human, individuals and that is to be applauded. There are aspects here which sit uncomfortably, especially the infidelity aspects, and particularly with the added complications of children and unplanned pregnancies. Yet life is full of unpleasantness and the novel does provide an interesting format to challenge  presumptions about such circumstances.
Despite, or perhaps because of their flaws, I found I could relate to aspects of all of the characters. It was almost impossible to not experience some form of empathetic response to the messed up circumstances they all undergo. Life is not black and white and Jones delivers an intriguing palette of greys.

Did I also mention I finished this in a day, it is one heck of a quick, easy read and that is also a sign of a talented writer.

4 out of 5 - turns out being a successful, beautiful actress isn't necessarily all its cracked up to be.

4 out of 5

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

"And night. And us, sleeping nose to nose warm. Waking each other up for more."

Getting into the swing of reading this novel can take a little while. It is a slow burn. Its almost poetic style is at its most evocative when the action is its most intimate. When Irish drama student, Eily, moves to London she begins her journey into adulthood and if you had read McBride's other novel, you might guess that things can get rather dark.

This winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize is at its best when Eily and Stephen, her much older and troubled love interest, are in the bedroom. The sex scenes have an almost internal monologue, stream of consciousness  perspective that is powerful. So often you read sex scenes which just seem patently ridiculous or overly clinical, McBride manages to avoid both these problems and deliver something resembling the ethereal confusion of lust.

Similarly, there are some absolutely gut wrenching moments when Stephen relates his tales of abuse and the story behind why he is an absentee father. 

What you have here are moments of gold painted on the page, interspersed with a little narrative confusion which can often detract from the reading experience. This is not a happy read, it is possibly one that may require a stiff drink after because it is rather intense. I'm really intrigued to read others' impressions who have read this.

4 out of 5 noisy landladies are a good idea to move away from.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The Riviera Set by Mary S. Lovell

"All went well until the matador slew the bull and presented Rita with the bloody ear."

On a recent trip to Canberra, I was lucky enough to enjoy a visit to the Cartier exhibition. I was struck by the jewels of one Daisy Fellowes and eager to find out more about the tantalising life of the Singer Sewing Machine Heiress. That led me to this book where she is name checked. Unfortunately she is only a minor character in the proceedings. The book focuses on Maxine Elliot and her palatial digs on the French Riviera.
Her initial rise to fame and riches is intriguing and once established the focus changes to her development of the Château de l'Horizon and then the history of its hey day from the thirties until the demise of its next owner, Prince Ali Khan.

This is an easy read with some interesting tid-bits - particularly for those interested in the social life of Winston Churchill or my favourite pin up, Rita Hayworth. There are a gaggle of well known names here and some interesting bon-mots which could have perhaps provided even further salacious details to keep the reader on board. Not that the book isn't fantastic, I just wanted a smudge more.

4 out of 5, right now I'm dreaming of expensive vacations on the Riviera while dealing with a rubbish winter.