Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

"Having no friends, I must make do with enemies."

So I was super reticent to launch into this one after the torture porn that is the tv adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale. Yet She persisted, dear reader and she was damn glad that she did.
Atwood is at her genius best and the words fairly drip off the page. I devoured them eagerly and can only confirm that it was totally worth it. I loved the different narratives, it made for a really interesting reading experience.

Next stop for me is reading the shared winner of the Booker prize and comparing and contrasting. Nevertheless this is a really interesting addition to the original canonical text. I was worried that it might detract and yet it is its own beast. 

So, grab a copy and get back to me to share your thoughts - I'm eager to compare notes. Right now  I don't wish to pollute your experience.

5 out of 5 borders were made for crossing.

Monday, 18 November 2019

The Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet

“The flavour of that first kiss disappointed me, like fruit you taste for the first time. It's not in new things that we experience the greatest pleasure, but in habit.”

This is a tale of around 200 pages that took me a year to finish. Why? Well may you ask. 
Having studied French at University many years ago, I thought it might be interesting to read this in its native language. My first mistake was trying to do so on my mobile phone. While I began reading in January and had only slightly progressed, it seemed sensible in November to abort my original idea and just read the story in English.

Interesting things that I noticed were the original language seemed so much more dense, funnier and interesting. Somethings got lost in translation. Admittedly my translation skills were somewhat below par so I had quite a few questions that the English version ironed out for me, and yet I really noticed how the colour dissipated somewhat in switching from French to English. Like watching a colour movie on a black and white television.

A teenager falls for this older girl who is engaged to someone else. Her fiancee goes off to war and he moves on in. Their passion is all consuming and while they initially try to keep things hidden, a pregnancy is just one reason to up the stakes. I love this guardian review that describes the narrator as “a very self -aware little shit”, his behaviour was so irritating. He claimed to be all consumed with love for a women he continually puts at risk. The humour can be found in his florid protestations of passion and moral dilemmas which don’t really ring true based upon his actions.

In any case, this had some entertaining moments but I’m not sure that justified almost a year’s worth of angst in trying to read it in the original language.

 4 out of 5 

Friday, 8 November 2019

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

"We should have known my mother was crazy years before we did just because of the maniacal passion she brought to her lox and onions and eggs, but we didn't."

Sometimes a book just seems so personal that it just touches you. Here is a novel that encapsulates the hurt and disbelief that marital infidelity brings and yet, just like real life, it is mixed with humour, food and all the other minutiae of life.
Of course the writer behind hits like Sleepless in Seattle  and When Harry Met Sally is going to deliver. I guess the thing that I found so interesting about this was how timeless it seemed. This was originally published in 1983 and sadly Ephron prematurely departed this world in 2012. Yet her voice seems so young and fresh and relatable.

At the same time it completely transported me back to similar circumstances and reminded me how all consuming the break up of a marriage can be. The true horror of awakening to the fact that your ideal of coupledom is a lie. I really related to the way we're conditioned to portray the ideal of a couple, whether or not we truly feel that's where we are at. When we turn that interior voice of dissent off and give in to expectations, it makes the betrayal seem so gut wrenching and what better way to deal with it than multiple recipes for potatoes.
Despite the subject matter, I absolutely loved this and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys great writing.

 5 out of 5 - roast potatoes are life.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

The Body Artist by Don Delillo

"It was who he was in the dark, cigarettes and mumbled sleep and a hundred other things nameable and not."

For a particularly slim novel there is a denseness in the text that required me to re-read this immediately after I had finished it. There are beautiful sentences, like the one that I've quoted above, which are almost poetic in how much they convey. You get a real sense of intimacy and the void created when a partner is no longer there.

My enjoyment of the novel was hampered a little by the fact that I had to read it twice, it isn't a quick, easy read as you might suspect should you see it on a shelf. Who is the mystery figure that appears - is he a ghost, is he imagined?  or is he a performance piece? I have so many questions.I could read it any of those ways and yet it still works.

4 out of 5 misery loves mysterious company.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, Jeremy Leggatt (Translator)

“I would like to be a part of all this hilarity, but as soon as I direct my one eye towards them, the young man, the grandmother and the homeless man turn away, feeling the sudden need to study the ceiling smoke-detector”

Quite possibly the best novel to read when feeling sorry for yourself. I guarantee after reading it you will feel better about your circumstances and possibly have nightmares about being shut-in. The lengths that this man went to in order to write this are nothing short of miraculous and yet it is the beautiful, evocative prose that really resonates.

This is one of those rare occasions where I had watched the movie adaption previously and I think that possibly impaired my appreciation of the source novel. Not really sure how to say much more on this one to be honest.
5 out of 5

Why Kill the Innocent (Sebastian St. Cyr #13) by C.S. Harris

“Now in his fifties, he was monstrously overweight, endlessly self-indulgent, notoriously dishonest, and reviled by the same populace that had loved him so long ago.”

This should have been a home run. I was unable to bear weight and had nothing to do but read. Heaven I hear you say. Doubly so because I had the latest Sebastien St, Cyr novel to hand. Alas my foggy brain would have none of it! In what I can only describe as a wickedly cruel fog, my brain resisted the urge to read.

Then, one fine day, the fog lifted and I was able to launch back into the mystery of the murdered piano teacher. Royalist plot? Dodgy husband? What is behind the murder of Jane Ambrose?

Naturally there will be drama with Sebastien's inlaws and who knows who else. Death, drama, intrigue all lay ahead. Did I mention there's a frost fair - perfect for those Doctor Who fans who know what really lies under the ice.

 5 out of 5 - like Britney says ... gimme more.

5 out of 5 piano teachers should not tinkle away prematurely.

The Devil's Candy by Julia Salamon

"Perhaps there would never be a perfect Maria — outside the realm of Tom Wolfe's imagination."

There is nothing more interesting in a non-fiction story than the contributing factors of a colossal disaster. Sometimes all the drama culminates in critical success a la Apocalypse Now, and then there's Bonfire of the Vanities.

Translating a massively successful, enormous novel to the big screen makes for an entertaining read. The laboured casting sessions, the quest for the perfect vision of the Concorde and drawing in the very people the original novel satirised. This is fun because as the reader, we are removed from the pressure cooker.

For anyone who has ever had to deliver something impressive to time and budgetary constraints, you will appreciate the struggle of De Palma and co.

I read this on the recommendation of the fabulous chat10looks3 podcast and as always those ladies know how to pick em!

If you are a cinephile with a penchant for schadenfreude then grab yourself a copy and settle back.

 5 out of 5 , get my good side.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

“Self-consciousness is the destroyer of erotic joy.”

This is not my favourite McEwan work and I think that’s because I’m just not in the mood for torture at the moment. A couple are swept into a horrendous occurrence and the fallout is strange to say the least. Tragedy, obsession, this slim volume has all of that in spades, and perhaps that was what I found so difficult to deal with.
Running to help save a young boy from a ballooning accident, the protagonist locks eyes with another man and further drama ensues as the second man becomes obsessed with him. I’d had a hard week and this ‘debbie downer’ of a novel really wasn’t the antidote. I’m sure I’ll re-read it some other time and review it more favourably. It contains some really stunning writing that I just wasn’t in the mood for. For now, I think I need something more upbeat.

4 out of 5 what comes up must deflate.

The Blood of an Englishman (Agatha Raisin 25) by M.C.Beaton

"Charles noticed that Agatha insisted on repairing her make-up before approaching Gareth Craven’s house.
His fears that Agatha might be in the grip of one of her unfortunate obsessions died when he met Gareth. The man was handsome, but in rather a weak way."

Breaking my ankle has really put a spanner in the works of my novel reviewing. I finished number 25 of the Agatha Raisin series back when I had two functioning legs and my brain was addled by lack of sleep and work stress. One's priorities shift when one's abilities are impaired.

Anyway, I'm trying desperately to recall what happened in number 25 but I remember that I enjoyed it immensely and was super eager to explore the next edition. The details are slowly coming back to me. There is a rather horrific death at a pantomime that sets the scene for gory drama. Not enough Bill Wong for my liking - let's face it he has now become my favourite due to James Lacey's ambivalence and Sir Charles's unreliability. Okay I still like Charles I just don't want Agatha to wind up with him.

 5 out of 5 enjoyable antics.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Being Black ‘n Chicken and Chips by Matt Okine

“I had a pokey little pigeon chest with scrawny arms like chicken wings, and legs that resembled two bendy, brown chopsticks.”

There was a glorious time in my life when I used to wake up, jump in the car and listen to the adorable voices of Matt and Alex. I loved those guys so much and only really began to feel old when they surrendered their DJ duties on triple J. I’ve since followed both of them on social media and think back fondly of their daily entertainment. When I saw that Matt had written a book, I jumped straight on to  the Booktopia website and ordered up a signed copy.
Just as I loved to hear Matt talk about catching crabs with his Dad ( and of course when his hilarious father would ring in), I was equally enchanted by his literary stylings. The similarities between the author and his protagonist made this an interesting read for me. I imagined Mike as Matt from the way he used to speak on the radio and indeed the book is based upon his stand up show of the same name.
Usually I shy away from novels about parents suffering from Cancer, I always find that a little torturous. Okine, however, delivers such a beautifully nuanced piece of work that, much like life, peaks and troughs so as not to overburden the reader. Humour is all pervasive and perhaps the most effective parts of the tale are the cringe worthy coming of age parts of the story like school boy crushes and various accidents. There are so many themes that will resonate with the child in all of us, the feeling of needing to belong, of being different, of just having to survive childhood, along with those gem like hours where life, friends and love make everything special.

I would thoroughly recommend you get yourself a copy and dive on into the sometimes murky waters of a young boy growing up in the nineties.

5 out of 5, avoid the swamp.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Something Borrowed, Someone Dead (Agatha Raisin 24) by M.C.Beaton

"He had told her it was to be a special lunch and yet she had not put on any make-up and was wearing a droopy grey cardigan over a faded green blouse and a wool skirt that dipped at the hem."

James Lacey has yet another new love interest and this time she's dowdy. That's enough to set Agatha off in a spin, and yet when he goes on holiday with Toni - things get really crazy. Her detecting adventures will draw focus as a poisoning in the village of Piddlesbury requires Agatha's keen skills. Poisoning by elderberry wine ensures the suspect is hard to track down. Naturally Agatha is momentarily distracted by the entrance of yet another good looking man with secrets.
So many stories going on within this one - it is rather complex and yet entertaining nonetheless.

5 out of 5 - don't drink the elderberry wine.

Hiss and Hers (Agatha Raisin 23) by M.C.Beaton

"Simon awoke on Saturday morning with a feeling of anticipation. Jessica would be in Carsely and he must think up a way of approaching her."

Yet another adventure with the always entertaining, Agatha Raisin and this time it includes snakes. I rather hate snakes, with good reason it would seem - especially when they're deadly.

With James and Charles out of contention there is a huge void in Agatha's romantic pursuits. Enter the rather delectable, George Marston - who I imagine is a cross between Alexander Skarsgard and Max Brown ( King Robert in The Royals and also recently in Downton Abbey - the movie), that is to say rather dishy.

All the local ladies are finding any excuse to get their gardens tended to and, as usual, Agatha is in love. When his snake bitten body is discovered secrets and adventures will be unearthed. Toni and Simon will have to go undercover under rather dangerous circumstances and this time, Simon might fall under the spell of a femme fatale.
He also might play hard and fast with the law, employing some slightly illegal tactics.

Agatha's bed might finally get some warm company - but will it last? Will she survive this adventure? Read it and find out.

5 out of 5 hissing snakes scare the pants off me.

As the Pig Turns ( Agatha Raisin 22) by M.C.Beaton

"Many of Simon’s regimental friends were in the church, reminding guilty Agatha that it was surely her fault that he had gone to Afghanistan."

Agatha's interfering ways have seen Simon join the Army and fight in Afghanistan, leaving a miserable Toni pining away. He returns with a fiancee and the entire detective agency is invited to the wedding. As if that isn't dramatic enough - there's another murder and this one is particularly grim. A particularly annoying cop has a habit of handing out fines at an alarming rate prompting Agatha to curse "May he roast slowly over a spit in hell". When Aggie and friends attend a Pig Roast at Winter Parva and the pig seems to have a tattoo, its time for the detective to get detecting.
Toni has her own adventure including another failed romance with a dangerous man and a trip to Las Vegas that is also fraught. The body count is more than 1 in this story and the suspense and romantic intrigues will have the pages flying by.

5 out of 5 : I smell bacon.

Busy Body ( Agatha Raisin 21) by M.C.Beaton

"As she drove down the road leading to Carsely, towards her cottage, she thought, I can ignore Christmas here just as well as I could in Corsica."

Agatha's plans to escape Christmas with a sojourn in Corsica are typically disastrous, so it is back to Carsely for some Christmas thrills. John Sunday, the local health and safety officer is putting a damper on Christmas celebrations, but not for long. His bloodied corpse will make an appearance at the Ladies' Society in Odley Cruesis (seriously what a name) and Agatha will be back on the case.

The village, which is close by to Agatha's, is peopled by the usual range of oddballs and seemingly guilty persons.Throw in some scary siblings and the odd overseas sleuthing trip, and Agatha (and the reader) are kept busy. Agatha meddles in Toni's love life with what will prove to have disastrous effects in future novels and is Agatha getting engaged to  Sir Charles??? Stay tuned!

5 out of 5 times it pays to snoop.

There Goes the Bride (Agatha Raisin 20) by M.C.Beaton

"Downstairs, she poured herself a stiff drink and lit a cigarette. Felicity’s murder, she reflected, would be the first case she had ever given up on."

I've been feeling a little run down of late and I have to say that I've discovered the perfect cure for feeling poorly. A few moments with Agatha Raisin might not cure your ills but it will pep you up just that little bit. Clearly I have been on a Raisin binge of late. So I shall try not to get all the plots confused.

I do love the threads that continue throughout the books and I really love how easy they are to read on my phone ( sacrilege I know).

James Lacey is - shock horror - engaged to be married to a young, rich and very beautiful woman with a rather posh name - Felicity Bross-Tilkington. A woman who isn't Agatha! Agatha puts her face on and tries to appear positive, fortunately there is a rather suave Frenchman to flirt with.
The wedding does not go off without a hitch, rather it ends in murder. That is to say James is still single because his would be wife has been bumped off.

Will Agatha solve the murder? What is the story with Felicity's creepy family? Will you have fun? Definitely! Will you guess the outcome - possibly not.

5 out of 5 bouquets can do double duty.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

A Spoonful of Poison ( Agatha Raisin #19) by M.C. Beaton

“Agatha cast one longing look after George’s retreating well-tailored back as he headed for his car.”

Death by LSD, these country murders are getting more and more unexpected!
Agatha Raisin is back, full face of makeup, uncomfortable shoes and for at least a few pages no keen romantic interest. The dishy looking George Selby might be just the ticket, unless he happens to be a murderer?

Who the heck has tampered with the jam? Will Agatha's ego survive the attention that her protege is receiving? So many questions. The only real solution is to dive deep into the book for yourself and sleuth out the answers.

5 out of 5 carry on Agatha.. you are the jam.

The Enchanter by Vladimir Nabokov

   He knew that her friend (whose husband had not come at all) was also out doing errands —  and the foretaste of finding the girl alone melted like cocaine in his loins."

This pre-cursor to Lolita is at times both more disturbing and more compelling. At its core is a horrific premise of a man who marries a vulnerable, sickly woman in order to access her young daughter. That is the stuff of nightmares. So, why is this novella so compelling? Perhaps because his own horror with his actions is so viscerally realised. You feel his self disgust at his scheming and actions. That you can experience any kind of sympathy with the protagonist is a reflection of how brilliantly this is written.

I'm glad I don't have kids because my fear would always be single and to be in the situation of the mother in this story. 

4 out of 5  pervy step dads are dangerous.