Sunday, 27 May 2018

MI5 and Me, A Coronet Among the Spooks by Charlotte Bingham

"I should have liked it if my life could have returned to what nice people would call normal, but now I  was part of the inner circle that surrounded my father, I had a feeling that it was not going to be possible."

Having read the synopsis for this new release, I was totally on board and quickly secured a copy. This memoir is delightfully understated and therein lies much of its charm. Lottie bumbles about with a kind of Hugh Grant-esque britishness that doesn't seem real. Accidentally discovering communist plots after being told by her father about the real circumstances of his employment, In reality he was supposed to be the inspiration for the character of George Smiley - and you know how much I do love those novels.

I'm not sure how much of the book I can discuss without ruining it. It meanders in a delightful manner and I ate it up. Is it the kind of work that I could wax lyrical about for hours - probably not. Having said that, it is just as tasty as the many tea-cakes sprinkled within its pages.

A look back at a time when stakes were high and the world was not what it seemed. Maybe some things never change.

5 out of 5 - Don't order the lobster.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

"A teaching post, a conference, a writing retreat, a travel article, and so on. And, like  those Sicilian nuns who, once a year, appear behind a little curtain, singing, so that their families can gaze upon them, in his study, in his little house, for Arthur Less a curtain lifted upon a singular idea."

If you are asking yourself.."hmm... should I read the latest Pulitzer Prize winner?", might I suggest the answer should be a resounding yes. This is a brilliantly rendered story that reminds me of the Peter Pan aspects of my own life. Those of us who aren't pre-occupied with progeny - the girls who've not yet "met mister right", the boys that like other boys and can't afford, or don't wish for a surrogate. Some might feel our lives are a little dull - newsflash they're not. We still feel the same struggles, we just tend to look a little less wrinkled while doing it. Arthur Less is our spirit animal.

I am madly in love with  Arthur Less - I mean we have so much in common  - failed novelist ( let's face it I'm not even at the point where I've got to the novel - its a pipe dream at this point), romantic basket case looking for a relationship's positives without the long standing negatives. Honestly, if he wasn't a gay man, and was instead a lady of a certain age - well the story would be way too personal. I might even blush.

This novel brings a delightful mix of comedy and pathos that just drew me in wholeheartedly. I felt pain, amusement, disdain - I just felt a hell of a lot and still managed to laugh with mischievous abandon. My biggest complaint in relation to the book, was the fact that it wasn't longer. Lately it seems so many books are overly lengthy like they're trying to make up for some other kind of inadequacy - this is the exact opposite.

Arthur makes the most of his past relationship with a much lauded poet, to discover an out from the wedding of his most recent lover to another party. His ex was the adopted son of his biggest enemy, and inappropriately young, who knew that the relationship ending could have such an impact.It's funny how you can fall into seemingly inappropriate and "free" situations that turn out to be the exact opposite.

Having finished the novel, I just want to fall back into the story again and spend some more quality time with Mr Less. That however, will have to wait as sleep is making far more vociferous demands.

 5 out of 5 holidays are a good way to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

“Miri was not happy when Rusty showed up at the Osners' party. And even less happy to see she was wearing her good black dress, her dress shoes and stockings with seams. Then there was the hair. Rita Hayworth hair. To her shoulders. Heads turned when Rusty came into the living room.” 

I have had this in my ‘to be read’ pile for what seems like an eon. The reason? Well, the usual times I’d pick up a 400 plus page books for some quality reading usually involve plane travel. Generally, I don’t want to be reminded of the prospect of plane crashes when travelling. In fact, it seemed like every time I reached for this copy someone I knew and cared about (if not myself) was sitting on a plane or about to board one. 

My memories of Judy Blume novels from childhood are indelible. To this day I think of every penis I see as secretly being called Ralph and I crave peanut butter and jelly – both of these things I attribute to devouring her works as a young child. They were illicitly thrilling because they spoke to the young mind and reminded us that our thoughts had merit, that the world was scary and confusing, but that we weren’t alone in our experiences. Needless to say, diving into her novel for the adult market, I held ridiculously high expectations, that weren’t immediately met. 

The pacing and the blunt trauma of the beginning of the novel made it hard to traverse. There were so many characters and so much going on, including different time references. This was a novel that needed some dedicated time to ‘take it all in’ so to speak. Perseverance was definitely worth it, because what the author has delivered here is an amazing picture of the impact of unbelievable childhood trauma mixed in with the usual challenges of coming of age, growing older and becoming the adult, you never expected to be. 

I found myself almost in tears at times and that I’d adopted new families of characters that I really cared about. Rushed marriages, unwanted pregnancies, affairs, hearing voices, anorexia, orphans – there is a lot going on here and that’s not even the highlight reel. Perhaps the moments that shone brightest were the snatches of quick lived joy or the recognition of understanding by others. Such as when Henry says to Miri ““sweetheart—life is hard…but it’s worth the struggle.” 

When three planes fall from the sky in the one town (the story is based upon some real tragedies in the fifties), perhaps the resulting tragedy acts as a parable to go out and live our best lives, because who knows how long they will last. 

5 out of 5: stick with it and take your time

Friday, 18 May 2018

Nevermoor, The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

"Now she was being blamed for something that hadn't even happened yet."

Did you ever feel a little cursed as a child? I did. Mostly because of the neighbour that picked on me, and the kid that kicked me on the bus and the other kids that called me names. Yep, childhood was a bit of a drag. How I would have loved a heroine like Morrigan Crow in those days. She is a delight. This is so much better than Harry Potter - there I said it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a little Potter now and again, but this I just devoured like Messina Gelato. Could not get enough of it. Already desperate to read the next novel and find out what happens.

This is a magical world with palpable problems and the fear of real harm.  It has at its heart an emotional journey from rejection and isolation into friendship, family and acceptance. That in itself is beautiful. Then there's the action and suspense, fabulously delivered in true page turning style. I read this on the train to and from work ( with a sneaky lunch break peek) and was done in no time. The minute I finished, I just wanted to go back and read it again. Am I just an overgrown child you may well ask - quite possibly. I think this will appeal to anyone's inner child - if it is still intact that is - some people are just way too cynical.

Talking giant cats, festivities, challenges and adorable characters, go grab yourself  a copy this instant. Should you feel too embarrassed to buy what is ostensibly a book for children, find a niece or nephew to read it too. Sure its sneaky, but you'll all have fun.

5 out of 5 cursed kids everywhere are just a little bit wonderful.

The Blue Room by Georges Simenon

"She made a point of behaving as provocatively as possible as soon as she entered the room."

A steamy affair can have serious consequences and words thrown away in passion take on additional meaning after the fog of lust has lifted. Such is the central premise of this brilliantly realised novel. The words ooze with musky carnality as a mystery unfolds. 
How to discuss the novel without giving too much away. I have to admit that is a little difficult.

Almost as disturbing is how close to home the character of AndrĂ©e felt at the beginning. Just for the record, I'm not a bunny boiler. I guess I responded to the luxurious idea of the illicit affair as an escape from the everyday monotony of settling for someone that doesn't exactly set your insides alight. While most in that situation would contemplate a neater solution, say divorce for example, in this case things get decidedly murkier.

5 out of 5 - seductive noir in a small village makes for a taut, suspenseful read.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Winter by Ali Smith

"In the middle of the night Art wakes up from a  dream."

This one was a bit of a slow burn that paid dividends at the end. For a while I was fumbling around with the discombobulated head before it all came together in a glorious fashion. I remember enjoying Autumn more, the whole way through and I'd been chomping at the bit to get my teeth into this next instalment. 

When all the disparate threads combine it does become a beautiful tapestry and one that I implore you explore. Ali Smith is a bit of genius with words, but you don't need me to tell you that.

I love the exploration of the real versus the fake and the lies we tell between family members. These themes are fabulously fleshed out within these pages. Crack open a copy you won't be disappointed.

5 out of 5, winter is cold, and yet this novel warms my heart.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

"Faced with a natural landscape, you have a sense that you and your concerns are very small, and the world is very big – and that sensation can shrink the ego down to a manageable size."

This was a fascinating read. I feel like everyone at some stage in their life has done through some troubles and if you're an over thinker like myself you have to wonder whether all the answers lie in tablet form. That's not to say that there is no merit in pharmaceuticals; I'm just always suspicious that the "easy answer" can often just be a tool to get you through a tough spot, without really dealing with the underlying issues. I'm no expert, however I suspect there are a lot of environmental conditions and traumatic experiences that contribute to the increasingly common issues of debilitating depression and anxiety that seems to be prevalent at the moment. Much of my thoughts were confirmed by reading this book and I did find it interesting that the author's approach is from a sociology perspective, however he does cite quite a number of experts. His writing marries the personal with his research and it makes for an engaging combination.

If you're wondering what prompted me to read this. Let's just say there are a surfeit of broken men on dating apps and I just wanted to know why everyone is so miserable and if there's hope for them, for all of us?

So what are the out-takes? Monotonous work which leaves you feeling devoid of choice and unappreciated is a contributing factor to feeling miserable. Hanging out in nature is soothing, we all need to feel part of something and a focus on materialistic success is bound to disappoint. All things which, as I get older I tend to agree with. Now I just need to find a way to pay to be permanently on holidays, at the beach, hiking around waterfalls, preferably accompanied by an equally agile and attractive mate for other smile inducing entertainment. Well the dream itself is sometimes enough to put a smile on my face – albeit briefly.

5 out of 5 people are lucky enough to experience the joy of awesome friends.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

"Now you can light an adjectival fire."

Goodness I flew through this 2001 winner of the Booker Prize. The thing that struck me particularly was the sense of being drawn back into a dark and violent past. Aspects of language and phrasing that today would raise particular offence in their usage, helped to set the scene and distance this reader from the world of today. The world of the Kelly Gang's social graces are quite distinctly different from those of today. Carey mirrors this quite brilliantly with his inability to swear other than in the abstract and vocal use of racial slurs in a contrasting manner. This evokes a time more preoccupied with avoiding to cause offence to the church, rather than the land's original inhabitants. This is always an interesting conundrum to my thoughts, how do you imagine a story based on real characters and circumstances without evoking aspects which are bound to jar with modern sensibilities? 

To return to the book. It is filled with an atmosphere of suffering, dread, poor parenting and imprisonment. The outcomes of Kelly's life seem to be a continually dwindling set of options that hint at a path to nowhere. While aspects of Kelly's life may be inventions of the author, the novel has a cracking pace and a convincing sense of place. The old adage that you can choose your friends, but not your family, is at play here in the beginnings of Kelly's challenging childhood and the boyhood that shapes his future endeavours. I found the characters of his mother  and his lover, Mary, somewhat similar, in that interactions with either woman prompt Ned to actions that are not always in his best interest. His trials and tribulations instill a sense of compassion in the reader for the infamous lawbreaker, the nuanced description of his character cannot help but draw them into his world.

5 out of 5 bushrangers would have been better off with kevlar.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

One Way by S. J. Morden

“He knew he’d swapped one cage for another, and had simply shifted his brown cardboard box between prisons.”

If anyone wonders why the heck I’m so tired today, you can blame the author of this rather riveting read! 330 pages melted away like butter in the sun. It grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. How lucky I am to have received a free pre-release copy through and how disappointed am I that they’re not doing any more of those style giveaways for the moment to Australia!

My initial impression was one of trepidation when I opened the box and uncovered the book’s cover. It reminded me considerably of that recent bestseller and Matt Damon vehicle, The Martian.  I loved both the book and the film and was worried that this might be too close for comfort. While it shares the quest for survival inherent in establishing a human colony on Mars, it strays into rather different thriller territory with a real whodunnit flavour.

I love a book that combines multiple genres. They always seem more compelling to me, the reader. Here we have a prison lifer given the ultimate opportunity to get out. Frank Kittridge is expendable. He and a group of other convicted criminals will become the initial construction team to set up a human base on Mars. It won’t be easy and yet it seems like a welcome respite from the confines of a maximum-security prison for life. Little does Frank know that his life might be in danger from more than just the brutal conditions of a foreign planet.

The atmosphere between the pages is charged with the sense of imprisonment and fear that the prospect of dying on an unfamiliar planet conjures up. I really enjoyed this one, despite the somewhat chauvinistic undertones inherent in the female characters’ fates.

5 out of 5, in space no one can watch you die.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

"Mummy always said that brandy is good for shocks and I'd brought some, several years ago, just in case."

I started reading this book this morning on my way to work and finished it on the way home. It is eminently readable. The characters are well drawn, the plot really draws you in and its a story that will stay with you well after you close the last page.

Eleanor leads a strange existence, tormented by weekly calls with her mother. When she takes a shine to a rock musician, she begins to undertake some real changes. The visit to the waxing salon made me giggle out loud - the other commuters did look at me a little funny - I felt somewhat like the protagonist in that situation.

New friends, a cat and some startling revelations make for an engrossing read. Those pages flew buy at an alarmingly fast rate and I admit to missing Ms Eleanor Oliphant since the final page. It has been quite a time since someone has so personified the transformative powers of a good haircut and a smokey eye.

5 out of 5, no wonder Reese Witherspoon optioned this one!

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunder

"In order to occupy the greatest percentage of the gentleman's volume, I lowered myself into his lap and sat cross-legged, just as he was sitting."

Do you ever find yourself reading hyperbolic quotations on the cover of a book you've just read and think to yourself, did we read the same book? That certainly was the case last night when I finally completed the confounding winner of last year's Man Booker Prize... A dear friend of mine had warned me this was hard going, he'd given up mid way. So, as you might imagine, my appreciation of this much praised work was a little contradictory to the norm.

The form drove me batty! I found it distracting and annoying and reminiscent of bad poetry. Clearly it struck a chord with others, just not me.

In between the swollen members - seriously what was going on in parts - and sick boxes, I just felt a vague sense of disconnected dislike. The book had absolutely no emotional impact on me, other than the sense that I was ripped off by spending money on it.

I am one of those people that once they start a book, has to finish it. This was one instance where that was particularly torturous. There were a few good lines in among the weird quotations.

2 out of 5, because it had some decent lines.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Where the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris

"He felt himself rendered unclean simply by standing in a place once occupied by such a monster, by touching objects the killer had touched before him."

I have this one reservation about the Sebastian St Cyr novels; they are just way too readable. No longer have I cracked the cover with glee and then... goodbye sleep. My head will not be hitting the pillow until I've enjoyed every last page. Then goodbye Sebastian, until the next fantastic offering, which comes around way too slowly.

This particular mystery is filled with some rather nasty goings on. The body of a battered and sodomised boy leads Sebastian to seek out a rogue's gallery of hideous creatures with a penchant for young children and the Marquis de Sade. Always a force for good, Sebastian is hell bent on tracking down the nefarious culprit, even though as he searches for clues, he finds there is even greater evil afoot.

Even as I write this review my eyes are growing tired. That is the unfortunate result of having stayed awake way too late to find out the key to this mystery. As I perused the final notes, I did so with the usual dismay that it will be awhile before I inhabit the world of Hero and Sebastian again. Thankfully the lovely Nicki will no doubt buy the next instalment when it becomes available.

5 out of 5 time travels backwards to a different age that retains its charm.