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 CafĂ© 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.