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.