Monday, 26 February 2018

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

"I was highly delighted with his action, as I would have despised him as a booby had he given in to me, but I did not let my satisfaction appear."

I am well aware that this is a much loved Australian classic that has been around for an age. For some reason it took me an age to finish it. I began reading it in October of last year and got side tracked by numerous other tomes. At first there were some things that really put me off. Perhaps one of the more worrying aspects was that this novel, first published in 1901, included vocabulary that would count as racial slurs these days and has at its heart the central premise that a woman is an outsider if she foregoes the typical marriage trap, is an intellectual and pursues her dream of becoming a writer. Her treatment by her family, apart from her Grandmother, as being an unattractive, weirdo without a husband, sadly reminds me of my own circumstances these days - my mother will never be made happy. Perhaps I'm feeling a little wounded in that regard. Most assuredly, I'm disheartened that those sentiments can still smart today, much as being mistaken for a secretary the other day by some narrow-minded moronic men because surely that must be my role as a female - I digress - rant over.

Eventually, I settled in with the novel and was swayed by its charms,enjoying its vision of another time and feeling happy that I will never be placed as a governess with a horrific family due to my father's gambling debts - thankfully my father doesn't indulge in gambling!
This is less of a love story and more of the kind of sexless banter that occurs when tinder dates go wrong and end up absolutely nowhere. I realise I'm not really selling this.

Jennifer Byrne ( I love her), writes in her introduction to the novel of the "Despair of the Household" and I think one thing this book really does brilliantly capture is the sense of being trapped by domesticity and having one's choices narrowed by inequality, particularly having little dominion over finances. I need someone else to read this and share their thoughts - Nicki I'm sending it south to you.

5 out of 5 - I know I sound like I hated it... I just found it troubling.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Nineteen Eighty by David Peace

"I drive back into the centre of Manchester, the place empty and deserted on a wet and bloody Sunday before Christmas, the lights out."

There are some books that you know, when you crack the first page, will give you nightmares. Having explored Peace's other Red Riding novels, I knew exactly what I was in for. Strangely that did not deter me from embarking on this novel about the Yorkshire Ripper.
What is perhaps the most menacing aspect of the novel is not the idea of a serial killer, rather it is an atmosphere where no-one - least of all the police, can be trusted.

The stream of consciousness style of the prose adds to the atmosphere of menace and the sense of being stuck right in the middle of the action. The air is ripe with distrust, disgust and bad behaviour. Each chapter introduced with a strange, paragraph free vomit of prose that contributes to the atmosphere of deranged and unpredictable behaviour. Peace muddies the idea of black and white, good and bad, by providing  a disjointed hodgepodge of grey that has the potential to discolour all.

The nights I was reading this novel. I had to put it aside and read something less troubling, just so I could actually get some sleep. That is the effect all the Red Riding novels have had on me and yet I continued reading them. There is something both repulsive and compelling about them.

4 out of 5 the kind of reading that is disturbing and yet compelling.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Thongs by Alexander Trocchi

"Who knows? Perhaps only such a brutal tribe of men could have produced a woman with such an infinite longing to be a victim."

I think perhaps my discussion of this rather NSFW tale should begin with my herculean efforts to secure a copy. It is currently out of print as far as I can tell. I am a massive fan of reading all the books on a must read list. As such, I'm working my way through quite a number of The Guardian's Top 10 Series. Finally securing and reading this book means I've read everything on Rowan Somervilles' Top 10 of good sex in fiction
When I finally got a copy, I was mortified to think how often I'd searched for the title on my work computer - it is definitely not suitable reading for the workplace, unless you perhaps work in a dungeon or similar. The bad air-conditioning in my office does not make it a dungeon, just in case you were wondering.

The novel begins with the discovery of a strange book that details the story of one Carmenicita de Las Lunas, who began life as Gertrude Gault, daughter of "the human wolf known to all Glasgow as the Razor King". Daddy is not to be trifled with and his strange behaviour in front of his young daughter is the first indication that things might just get weird. Spoiler he has sex in front of his daughter, then gets her to hold his lover down while he brands her with a knife - the mark of the Razor King.

Gertrude is a virgin obsessed with sex, until she discovers that pain might be her thing and boy does she take that to an extreme. She is inducted into a secret society that operates much in the same way as the Church (with Cardinals and such things) and is built around pain. How to critique the story?? Hmm... way too many descriptions of creepy, old, naked men, a fair wallop of violence and weirdness. I'll say one thing, at least it is well written - no horrific savaging of the English language like that shady book that has had way too much press of late (not mentioning any names).

3 out of 5, this one's so grimy I feel like I need a shower.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Rabbit Redux by John Updike

"How sad it was with Harry now, they had become locked rooms to each other, they could hear each other cry but couldn't get in, not just the baby though that was terrible, the most terrible thing ever, but even that had faded, flattened, until it seemed it hadn't been her in that room but an image of her, and she had not been alone, there had been some man in the room with her, he was with her now, not Charlie but containing Charlie, everything you do is done in front of this man and how good to have him made flesh"

Even though there are aspects of the speech used, the technology and the mind set that firmly set this in the past (some of which would be considered quite offensive when viewed through today's eyes), it is the way that Updike so evocatively describes the harsh way ordinary people can hurt each other that makes this a classic. 

Harry is not a likable guy. The first novel proved that. He peaked in high school and then proved a particularly unreliable husband in Rabbit, Run and it is hard to forget the tragic drama of the end of that novel. It permeates here and yet time has passed and Rabbit is now in middle age. His previously downtrodden wife is now getting her own back with Charlie Stavros from the Toyota dealership. Left alone with his young son, Harry seeks escape and meets Jill, a rich, runaway with a tendency to overindulge in drugs. Through Jill he also meets Skeeter an African-American Vietnam Vet on the run from the Law. He takes both in to his house, which (along with his young son, Nelson) makes for an odd foursome. The neighbours are none too happy with the atmosphere of drugs and sex they espy through open windows.

There's a sense that Rabbit has completely lost his way with Janice's betrayal and departure and his new housemates provide a strange form of escapism. The junkie and the would-be cult leader. Things get weird. I don't want to give too much away, needless to say they get very dark, much like the first novel did.

Updike expertly describes the headspace of his characters in relation to sex. He captures the ridiculousness of it, the strange push, and pull, the way it can unite or dehumanise. The marriage breakdowns of Harry and others in the book illustrate the void that occurs when passion dies, that sense of invisibility and the scarred battlefield of bruised egos. The way that an inability to communicate those feelings can fester into pure hatred and destruction. It is that level of insight that propels you through the book, despite the less than appealing characters. The poor behaviour of Nelson's parents is particularly frustrating. That kid goes through a lot - I just wanted to give him a hug.

 5 out of 5 - its the Remix.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

"He'd spent too long searching for new kingdoms. He wanted to make one of his own, a magical place, a place like Fillory."

All good things come to an end. As such, I've now completed the trilogy and have only good things to say about my time spent with The Magicians.  Sure it started out as a slightly sexier version of Hogwarts  hi jinks, crossed with a little Narnia  style adventure. Come to think of it, that makes for a winning combination for this over grown child and constant dreamer. I couldn't wait to finish work today and catch the ferry today so that I could escape to its mystical pages. I only had about ten to go and things were getting particularly hectic. As usual with Quentin's adventures, there's an apocalypse always around the corner.

Did I also mention there's a criminal caper of the Ocean's Eleven  variety - well if that was peopled by persons whose skill set was firmly entrenched in the magical sphere. A talking bird can really lead you astray.

I don't want to give too much away. If you've navigated the first two volumes of this series, then the third one is equally charming. Enjoy fantasy lovers, sadly its back to reality for me.

 5 out of 5 - goodbye mystical realm, it has been fun.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

"But nuclear winter was coming, and magic wasn't keeping her warm."

It is time to head back to Filory with Quentin and the gang. Let's face it, current dramas in my world have made a fantasy land seem particularly appealing. Quentin is loving being a High King, but constantly seeking new challenges. Life in your dream land can get a little tedious and its time for a quest or two.
While Quentin is off questing, the story provides a side story and we get some detailed insights into Julia's troubled back story. As you might expect, her story is a dark and troubled one. It turns out that rejection from Brakebills is not the worst thing that has befallen the young witch on her journey to discovering her powers.
Back to the quest and Quentin finds himself back on Earth, queue a trip to Venice, and a number of other interesting places. Will he make it back to Fillory? Will his cushy time come to an end? Get reading.. you'll find out. Such an entertaining read and a delightful distraction from real world events.

5 out of 5 magic keys open unlikely doors.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

“It’s the fate of most Ping-Pong tables in home basements eventually to serve the ends of other, more desperate games.”

Rare is the novel that can make you laugh out loud one minute and hate yourself the next. This is such a novel and it is just as good as all the critics would have you believe. Every family is a bit of a basket case aren’t they? Recognising aspects of my own in this novel was equal parts mortifying, entertaining and sad. It really is no surprise to me that this novel has been so well regarded ( yay another tick on the 1001 novel list) including winning the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction and 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (thanks Wikipedia).

Albert and Enid Lambert remind me of my parents, particularly in the way Enid espouses judgements on all who will listen and Alfred’s worsening grip on reality. I could see the worst aspects of myself and my brother in the behaviour of their three children, Gary, Denise and Chip. Let's hope my parent's upcoming cruise is not as eventful.

I'm glad I read this when I did. I think I'm the right age. Old enough to have lived and made some interesting mistakes, and young enough to be confused by the notion of ageing and the way it creeps up on you. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a fraud like Denise, trying to be the perfect daughter. Its probably something a lot of people can relate to. Substitute the ping pong table with a pool table and you have my parent's house summed up.

 5 out of 5 -  all families are weird, all relationships are strange.

Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce

The seven-foot-tall devices stood motionless in a half-circle as the light uncovered what lay at their feet, a pile of freshly dead children.”

Kel has made it; finally she is a Lady Knight – as the title suggests. Her first assignment isn’t quite the battle she’d been looking for. Her exceptional organisational skills are put to the test as she’s given command of a massive refugee camp. Don’t let that fool you; don’t think that she has been put out to pasture. Oh No, Kel has plenty of adventure afoot.

There will be deadly killing machine attacks, a mysterious mage who seems impossible to track, not to mention his seven foot tall henchman. Children will be slaughtered, a young orphan boy will be rescued and prove to be an excellent servant, the Scanran War will wage, Animals will take on human traits and Kel will fulfil her destiny as a true Lady Knight. 

Prepare for an adventure behind enemy lines and for most of your unanswered questions to be resolved. You’ll enjoy the drama, the adventure, the camaraderie, the strange creatures and the benefits of griffin feathers. The only drawback here is that this is the last in the series. I will miss you Kelandry, let’s hope your romantic prospects improve.

5 out of 5 - sometimes its hard to be a woman

Squire by Tamora Pierce

"No one, not even Flynn, questioned her ability to fight anymore."

Kelandry has grown tall and strong, much like your reviewer here, and that just makes me love her more. She’s finally been chosen as a Squire to Lord Raoul, just when it seemed she might never see action. Book Three in The Protector of the Small series sees change, challenges and the odd heart flutter. All of which made for a speedy and enjoyable read. In fact, I rushed through this faster than Jump comes to Kel’s rescue. That is to say, rather speedily.

Our trainee knight has to face more than just angry bandits. An ornery baby griffin, the challenges of jousting, court politics and kidnapping round out just a little of the drama and it will have you spellbound. Will Kel survive the horrors of the Ordeal of Knighthood to progress her career? Will she discover the identity of her mysterious benefactor (spoilers – not in this volume)? Will you keep reading until the wee hours? If you’re like me, then you definitely will. Thankfully I had the next novel on stand-by, so no waiting around to see what happens next.

5 out of 5 – baby griffins are hard work.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

"I could not shake the feeling that there was a doom on the house, and that some within were fated to die."

Hello fair reader, may I interest you in some more of the fine work of Ms Atwood? I had to push this up in the to be read pile so that I could finish it before watching the latest Netflix mini-series adaptation. Otherwise it is entirely likely I would have put this off to savour it at my leisure.  

Not that it makes for a particularly joyous read, given the subject matter, and yet the writing is exquisitely rendered and that elicits its own form of joy within. The way the story unfolds is  particularly interesting, as it shifts from first to third person, offering very different perspectives.

Convicted murderer Grace Marks is a historical figure that takes the lead in this tale. While imprisoned, Grace is allowed to work in the home of the prisoner's governor as a servant. It is here where she is questioned by psychiatrist, Dr. Jordan who attempts to ascertain her guilt or innocence. He gets more than he bargains for, becoming somewhat taken with the subject matter. Who could blame him, Grace is such an intriguing creature. Is she a somnambulist or a vicious killer? The story never really lets on and therein lies some of its appeal. Still there's always a willing landlady to take your frustrations out on.

Well I shouldn't give too much away about the story. Far more interesting for you to discover yourself. Go on, grab yourself a copy, you won't be disappointed.

 5 out of 5 history always makes for an interesting tale.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Page by Tamora Pierce

"She had trouble nodding off that night. She couldn't get rid of her anger with Vinson and with a world in which servants  didn't matter. It wasn't right."

In a week when dealing with clients who can't entertain the fact that a woman could hold any other office than event organiser or secretary (not that there's anything wrong with those roles), it seemed the perfect time to get stuck into some Tamora Pierce. Book 2 of the Protector of the Small Quartet, sees Keladry of Mindelan beings her training as a Page as an integral path to becoming a knight. 
She'll fight misogyny,  her fear of heights and the ban on owning pets to find her own path to success.
Whether talking to sparrows, fighting bandits or rescuing servants, Kel's adventures make for an entertaining read. I have to confess to finishing this and immediately starting on the next one. Stay tuned, so far it is brilliant also.
No-one writes a strong, resilient heroine in a fabulous fantasy realm like Pierce does. Thank goodness my friend, Nicki is such a great source of books to borrow and also great at providing new and exciting series to get hooked on.

5 out of 5 - I feel the same about heights as Kel.

The Showrunner by Kim Moritsugu

"Stacey checked the wall clock and tried to estimate how long Ann would stay quiet while Bonnie and Todd trashed her opportunity to live vicariously through Julie, who in the tradition of avatars, was taller, thinner, better-looking, and sexier than Ann had ever been, Ann being more of a Hilary Clinton type, bodywise."

When I read the synopsis of this novel, I knew it was something I'd be keen on. Two of my favourite television shows of late being Episodes  and UnReal, and the idea of more behind the scenes television production drama was a compelling reason to request this from Netgalley. Thankfully, I was rewarded with a pre-release version and got to indulge my love for backstage drama. It's sold as a kind of TV All about Eve, and I believe that might do this a bit of a disservice. It's something rather different entirely and yet, still lots of fun.

Stacey makes an entertaining protagonist. She has worked hard to get where she is; trapped by a royal bitch of a boss and now competition seems to be brewing with the introduction of actress turned would be production assistant, Jenna to the team. It could all become rather lethal, so buckle in for the ride and enjoy the show.

The pacing was a little off at times and I sometimes got confused between Stacey and Jenna - their stories are rather intermingled. That being said, it was an enjoyable glimpse behind the facade and I predict this one will get picked up by the network.

4 out of 5 episodes are rather entertaining.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan

“On seeing me, each tried to fish, to wheedle information by drawing me out, usually by offering contestable propositions thinly disguised as questions.”

Another quick read from the 1001 novels list, which is always a welcome occurrence. The aspect that impressed me the most was the unreliable narrative of a relationship told through the depictions of the same events by June and Bernard. The idea that you could be so wedded to someone so opposite, whose view of the world is so incomprehensible to you, is an intriguing one.

The black dogs of the title are the key protagonists of a violent occurrence which solidifies June's view of the world, moving her away from her Communist aligned husband and directing her to a more religious viewpoint.

The narrator is the couple's son in law, who has an unusual relationship with both June and Bernard. His attempts at biography acting as a strange conduit between the estranged couple even after June' s demise. It is an interesting tale with moments of brilliant observation and yet there was something just a little unwieldy in its execution. 

4 out of 5 - somebody call the RSPCA.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Artemis by Andy Weir

"We both stripped down to our underwear. (What? I'm supposed to be demure around the gay guy?). Then we put on our coolant garments."

I know it is only February, however, I think I might already have read my favourite book of the year.I do love a good science fiction novel and the moon as a location has been under-utilised of late. When I saw that the author of the marvellous,The Martian, had a new novel out, it was in my book depository basket faster than you could say "Is that a need or a want?".

Jazz is a delightful anti-heroine. A smart, sassy moon dweller with daddy issues, ex-boyfriend issues, a drinking problem and a somewhat dubious occupation as a smuggler. It is a means to an end (the criminal behaviour that is); as she aims to become a well paid EVA Master- and the training, the equipment and the test cost money. Jazz is almost everything I could want from a female lead. Intelligent, nuanced,and just plain kick ass. The other characters are just as rich and interestingly developed. I loved Svobo and his re-usable condom invention particularly.

The moon is just another microcosm of everything on Earth and Weir delightfully explores the human side of colonisation. He also throws in a bucket load of science (lots of things that go boom, lots of things that could kill you), the mechanics of economics, and some fast-paced action. If you've ever queried the power of a trade qualification, this book might just have you considering learning how to weld.

I hope this novel garners lots of positive attention and that someone re-creates the bar in it, so that I can go visit and sample a few concoctions. What's not to love about the idea of a currency called slugs. I'm just a massive fan of the whole book and writing this review only makes me want to re-read it.

5 out of 5 - fly me to the moon.

Cote D'Estoril by Dejan Tiago-Stanković

" 'I think it must be much easier to be a king than to be a doorman' the boy declared"

Once again netgalley has fortunately delivered a rather lovely new book to read. It delivers an intriguing locale and some particularly entertaining characters. During the second world war a luxury hotel on the Portuguese riviera is a hot bed of intrigue. When a young, Jewish boy, Gaby, is separated from his parents on the run from the Nazis, he arrives with the means to stay within the palatial surrounds of the Hotel Palácio Estoril  and await his parents' arrival. He acts as a catalyst for introductions to many of the colourful guests, one of my favourites being the dashing womaniser, Duško, and of course a cast of more famous characters such as Ian Fleming, the former King of Romania, and chess master Alexander Alekhine  to name but a few.

This is a fascinating imaging of a real place and real guests of the hotel during that time.
My only reservation was the pace and , this may be due to the fact that I had a pre-release copy, I felt it needed a bit more of an edit. There were sections that seemed a little disjointed. That being said, it is still an engaging read and one I'd recommend. Rather like a fantastic date that ends in just a kiss that promises something more toe curling.Spend some time in the past in this luxury hotel where anything could happen and everyone has a double life.

4 out of 5 unlikely pals abound.