Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt by Robert I Sutton

“Yes, you should try to get away from assholes, but don’t be an idiot about it.”

Having had a lengthy career in Asshole Survival, I was eager to find some further tips to broaden my arsenal in taking them on. Sadly, I just felt a little vindicated about my usual methodologies and concerned that I may have fallen victim one too many times to denial. The feeling that the person was perhaps suffering a temporary blip and really, deep down they must be inherently nice. That explains the last few years of dating at any rate.

I heard an interview with the author on a podcast on the abc and was eager to learn more.
So as I set out on the train to my place of work, where there are a number of prize examples, I pondered on my efforts to escape and dove deep into the pages. I'm not going to say it made for a happy read.
Would I recommend this book? Not unreservedly, but yes. It has some great tips and is well written. Ultimately its up to the reader to ensure they are not treated like dirt. Blocking assholes on every communication device is a sure fire winner when you can.

4 out of 5 assholes are a pain in the butt.

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

“She loved him, though not at this particular moment.”

How to describe this moody and depressing novella? Well on the plus side, it's inclusion on the 1001 books you must read before you die list makes it a must read for this completer of lists. On the negative, well it is inherently negative.

A couple that have very much morphed into an almost asexual relationship take a vacation. While unnamed you can't help but be convinced they are in Venice. Indeed it reminded me of a particularly unromantic stay there with the former bane of my existence. A chance meeting with a local owner of a bar, Robert, sends the story on a weird tangent.
Is Robert hitting on Colin? He's certainly been hitting his wife.

That is the least disturbing thing that occurs. Things are about to get bat shit crazy before the end of this slim volume. I guarantee  that you will however, keep reading to the end. Enjoyment is unlikely to be found.

3 out of 5 holiday experiences can be harrowing.

The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski

"It was ugly and clumsy and extraordinary, nearly seven feet long and proportionately wide."

Have you ever felt so run down that you literally melted into a couch. We’ve all had those days and to be frank, I’m working through one today. Imagine if you fell asleep only to find yourself trapped in the body of someone else who was on the verge of death? That notion makes for some unpleasant sensations and ones that are frighteningly depicted in The Victorian Chaise Longue, a short little story that packs a punch.
Recovering from Tuberculosis and desperate to return to health to spend quality time with her newborn baby, Melanie moves out of her bedroom and onto a recently purchased, rather garish, chaise longue. Stained and covered in a floral pattern. It is not long before she nods off and awakens to a terrifying nightmare.
I’ve probably given way too much away with that brief description, this is, after all, a very short story. It seemed almost cinematic in scope and would, I thought, make a fantastic screenplay. Further googling online unearthed the fact that the story had already been adapted both in 1957, with Joan Fontaine and Ronald Regan as part of the General Electric Theatre TV series and also as a Studio 4 televised play in 1962
Happily, this is another from the Guardian’s 1000 novels list completed, you know how I love to finish a list. Well, actually I still have a fair whack to go

4 out of 5 op shop finds can be dangerous.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

“And while most people saw nightwalkers as creepy brain-dead denizens of the winter whose hobbies revolved around mumbling and cannibalism, we saw them as someone who had returned from the dark abyss of hibernations with most of everything left behind.”

The release of a new Jasper Fforde novel is always a cause for celebration at my house and at the home of my best bibliophile friend, Nicki. Yes, we worship at the altar of Fforde and for good reason. His books are pure delight. The Thursday Next series is a particular favourite.

This latest novel is quite different and took me a little while to get into. Don't let that dissuade you in any way because it is totally worth sticking with. Imagine that we're living in the world of today and that today is something like Game of Thrones  after winter has taken over. Like cold weather, it takes  a little time to acclimatise to this unusual winter world.

It's late and I'm a little light on words tonight, so I'm just going to urge you to grab a copy and a nice hot drink and settle in for an enjoyable time. Pull up a blanket, pray that your ears don't get bitten off and that you don't have an adverse reaction to your meds because all of these sorts of instances are commonplace within the pages of the novel.

Scandal. secret plots, people who make their own rules in a wintery frontier-like scenario where dreams are an anomaly that could kill. I hope I've peaked your interest.

5 out of 5 dream or nightmare? - you decide.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

“Her dark eyes made little reflected stars. She was looking at him as she was always looking at him when he awakened.”

When Kino's baby son is bitten by a scorpion he lacks the money to pay for a doctor. While treating the wound by the sea, Kino uncovers a massive oyster which holds an exceptionally large pearl within.
Riffing on the idea that money is the root of all evil, this short story is a compelling tale of greed and the grief it brings. It does not have a happy ending.

I'm not sure I can fill you on more details without ruining the whole story. I suggest you invest your time in reading what amounts to a very quick read and one that is descriptive and beautifully and gut wrenchingly delivered.

5 out of 5 times money can't buy you happiness.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

"'They sat in the last row, so as not to be conspicuous, also so that he could get up and stretch his back if he needed to, but he didn't."

You know when you read an advertisement or a review that is so glowing that you immediately go and buy a copy of a book, this was that set of circumstances personified.

I really wanted to like it more. The initial two characters of Alice and Ezra are so infuriating. The famous author because he is such a horrid old man cliche with a younger woman. The character of Alice, because she seems so unlikely as to be one dimensional. I questioned how could a woman create such an unlikely female character. I get the whole dating an older, more successful man as a young woman, but Alice still lacked credibility for me. It all seemed pretty banal and frustrating.

Next we skip to the more interesting tale of an American-Iraqi man attempting to gain access to the UK on the way to visit his brother. This one felt decidedly more visceral in terms of the treatment by security and yet it also seemed a little tokenistic.

Finally we return to Ezra expounding on Desert Island Discs and appearing bombastic and a womaniser and completely gross. I can see how it was an attempt to tie the stories in together and yet I just wasn't buying the execution.

Ultimately this one was disappointing for me - a little askew? Perhaps that's what the title refers to.

3 out of 5 moments of interest... moments.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro

"At last I got to tell him what had happened."

I read this last week before bed one night. It is a slim volume of a short story, that was apparently previously published in Ishiguro's Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. It resonated with me because I often find myself as the third wheel with couple friends and particularly when they're going through a rough patch. Nothing like a sad, sack single friend to act as a break in the arguing I guess.

Ray has been friends with Charlie and Emily since university. Emily was the girl that everyone would have chased after had she not settled with Charlie. He has his own dramas going on but tonight, he's tasked with keeping his mate's wife content until his return. A calming influence on a choppy domestic scenario.

This is a charmingly honest vignette that gorgeously hints at the poor behaviour we are all guilty of. It is in fact a delight and one savoured very quickly.

5 out of 5 people could never not read a discovered diary.

The Au Pair by Emma Rous

“I wonder about Laura —where she lives, what she’s doing right now.”

Are you in the mood for a compelling thriller? Well I might have found the perfect summer read. I really enjoyed this, it had a particularly cinematic feel and would make a great movie.

Seraphine and her twin, Danny, are about to discover their family life is not as simple as it seems. The tragedies of their mother's suicide, in their youth and their recent bereavement, due to their father's passing bring to light a mystery that will have you turning pages at a cracking speed.
It has been a while since I've been so engrossed in a tale of buried family secrets and I'm reticent to give too much away here for fear of spoiling the story for you.

The writing was fantastically paced and I really bought into the main characters. MIx in an air of the supernatural, folktales about stolen babies, some particularly odd characters and you have an intriguing read.

I've noticed that the reviews online for this one vary from rave to hatred and I'm definitely on the rave side. I think that was supported by how quickly I read it. Perhaps if it was read in a piecemeal, slow fashion it wouldn't hold the same appeal. No complaints from this speed reader though.

5 out of 5 twins aren't always on the same page.

H is for Hawke by Helen Macdonald

"I was twelve years old when I first saw a trained goshawk."

Here is a book that won a raft of awards and was one of those ubiquitous titles in every bookstore upon its release. I'd put off actually reading it for a few years on the basis that I didn't think training a hawk would be all that interesting. I was wrong.
I wasn't expecting a mix of misery, literature and hunting that actually works as a novel. Unexpectedly this is a bit of a gem and reflects all the glowing reviews. Is it perfect? I don't think so, there were moments where the pace lagged and my interest started to wane. Yet eventually, I was drawn back in and that says a lot about its delivery.

Upon closing the last page, I wondered where I could get myself a copy of T H White's The Goshawk.  It made me reflect on the nature of pets and how they become an avatar of their owner ( or vice versa). The protagonist becomes hawk-like in her obsessions, much like you see owners who resemble their dogs. It is a fascinating conceit.

If you're feeling down and like wallowing in literature and birds of prey, then this is definitely your cup of tea. For many I suspect reading this will be an usual and memorable experience, even if I wasn't one hundred percent on board throughout. I guarantee if you read this you will find yourself googling Goshawks on more than one occasion.

4 out of 5 birds of prey are flying high.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The 007 diaries filming Live and Let Die by Roger Moore

“Fame at last! Me to be the bunny for liberated ladies! Needless to say, I was not about to pose in the altogether!”

Words can’t possibly describe how much I enjoyed this delightful little tome, but I will give it a shot! The Late, great, Roger Moore is a skilled raconteur and his depiction of life on a film set is far from glamourous (most of the time) with the odd bit of name-dropping glitz.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Live and Let Die— at a guess, I’d say umpteen times. A massive James Bond fan, despite his hideous treatment of women (I don’t know I can’t understand it – I think I want to be him rather than bed him), Roger Moore remains one of my favourite Bonds. His amazing ability to deliver with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk carries forth within his writing also. Here we have a daily rundown of all the things that occurred on set – from breaking teeth to crocodile infested waters, it’s rather fun and one can only imagine the high cost of insurance such adventures might warrant.

There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the book about it being written in another time where social norms differed. That kind of adds to its charm in that it is so retro. Boobs, babes, cigars and the odd bit of offensive language aside, this one was a delight.

5 out of 5 villains own a shark pool.

The Long Take by Robin Robertson

“I mean the fact that this is a country where there aren’t enough homes,

 enough jobs, where one in six Angelenos are ex-servicemen

 and they’re lying out on Skid Row –

but all anyone ever talks about is watching for Russians,

 HUAC locking up half of Hollywood,

 the government building more bombs.

 We won the war, but we’re living like we lost it.”

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018 and winner of the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize, The Long Take is not your average novel. It is, something rather beautiful, a tale told in poetry rather than typical prose. The economy of words has a really masculine, noir feel that helps set the scene of the returned soldier dealing with PTSD and drifting from one dreamscape to another across post WW2 America.

There’s a rhythm to the words that mirrors the restless wanderings of the protagonist and his descriptions feel so immediate and draw in all the senses. As a reader, I was transported to the dirty backstreets, to the seedy bars and to the newsroom. I was haunted by a man who was in turn haunted by the trials of war and I can understand why this received such critical acclaim.
Almost cinematic in style, this tale may not appeal to all, but I’d recommend taking a wander among its backstreets. Robertson’s editors must love the kind of genius that can  take out awards in the categories of both novel and poetry and deservedly so.
5 out of 5, but no, it doesn’t rhyme.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Kissing Christmas Goodbye (Agatha Raisin #18) by M.C. Beaton

“It seemed as if all the dimmest girls in Mircester fancied themselves as detectives. Some had come dressed in black leather and stiletto-heeled boots, thinking that a Charlie's Angels image would be appropriate.”

While this was perhaps not one of my favourite outings with Agatha, it was nevertheless enjoyable. Agatha receives a letter summoning her to the manor house of a Mrs Tamworthy who suspects she is about to be murdered by one of her relatives. When Mrs Tamworthy is killed by Hemlock, Agatha has yet another murder to solve. This is just as well because she is, as per usual, obsessed by thoughts of winning back James Lacey with a spectacular Christmas celebration.

Our useless cook of Carsely has invited the entire village and the last time she tried to cook a Christmas turkey the fire brigade got involved. Agatha's new recruit, Toni, a teenager with a nightmare of a family back story, proves to be a more than able detective. It is perhaps Agatha's jealousy which pervades the story that put me off a little on this particular jaunt.

That being said, you know how much I do enjoy her intrigues and I will certainly be back for more. Just as sure as Mrs Bloxby will always open the door to Agatha, regardless of her husband's instructions. I can't reveal, because of spoilers, but Bill Wong's luck might just be changing! Have I said too much?

5 out of 5, Christmas with Agatha is always a riot.

Love, Lies and Liquor (Agatha Raisin #17) by M.C. Beaton

“Charles Fraith was not feeling guilty at having abandoned Agatha. But he was bored.”


Crumbs, James Lacey is back and this time he means business, offering Agatha a chance to get away somewhere mysterious. As per usual, Aggie’s imagination could never come up with the complete disaster that his less than romantic overtures will play out. James’ memory of delightful childhood seaside vacations in Snoth-on-Sea, are a far cry from the decrepit surrounds of the Palace Hotel. The food is worse than Agatha’s microwaveable meals and the other guests are a fright. Naturally murder and mayhem can’t be too far away; and it looks like Agatha is the prime suspect.

For once it is Agatha’s accessories that are a crime. James is off at the first opportunity and thankfully Charles is back to keep things interesting. He is also in the bad books. So many men, so little action for dear Mrs Raisin.

Will our intrepid heroine ever make it out of the accursed Palace Hotel? Will she finally be done with James once and for all? If, like me, you are an Agatha Raisin tragic, you’ll enjoy getting your feet wet by the sea over this little mystery.

5 out of 5 English seaside resorts aren’t what they used to be.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

‘If Strike had not arrived today, she might never have known that he wanted her back, and that she might be spared the shame, the anger, the humiliation, the hurt with which she had been racked since that awful night when he had sacked her.”

Another adventure with the sexy Cormoran Strike and his delightful associate, Robin. At the end of the last novel, we had just got over the disappointment of her actually going through with the wedding to Matthew, but things could be worse. When we re-join the story, Robin’s marriage isn’t going great — no surprises there. Thankfully, she is back at work and things are getting rather busy at Strike’s agency.
Billy Knight, a man with a history of mental illness is seeking out the (now rather famous) detectives to prove he did witness the strangulation of a baby and he wasn’t just seeing things. Next minute, the appealing detective duo are drawn into some rather fascinating political intrigues. Wealth, power and corruption abound, and Robin goes undercover at the Houses of Parliament.
As per usual Galbraith (oh we all know it is J.K, Rowling) has a way with creating characters that draw you in and make hundreds of pages fly by in a frenzied flurry. The sexual tension between these two colleagues is driving me a bit balmy at his point. I know if I was Robin, that would have been sorted long ago, dodgy leg and all!
I just love that Robin is such a good driver, it makes me want to take an advanced driving course! Does this 4th instalment live up to the hype, in my humble opinion, it totally does.
5 out of 5 white horses abound.

Atlantic Black by A.S. Patrić

“The champagne falls to the deck; half-full, it pours out onto the wood with a hiss of foam. The bottle rolls along the deck, hits the railing with a hard tink of glass on metal, and rolls back to the bench—champagne bubbling out in a sparkling puddle.”

My lovely friend and fellow bibliophile, Nicki, bought me this for Christmas last year (upon my request) and I’ve only just got to reading it— My ‘to be read’ pile is enormous. Having really enjoyed the author’s award-winning novel, Black Rock White City I was exceedingly keen to sink my teeth into this one.
The action is set on the RMS Aquitania which provides a fantastic setting . How amazing it would have been to watch it being built. I digress however. This is a moving tale that sent me down to a dark, cold, place. It is deftly written and swallowed me up like the cold, unforgiving, full of mystery, intrigue and misery.
If you feel like a haunting tale and one that would certainly inspire some heated book club conversations – this one is probably right up your alley. The publishers have a fantastic reading guide available on their site to assist.
I realise I haven’t really told you too much about the protagonist, Katerina Klova, or the action or the way you can feel your shoes sliding along the wet deck and horror at the skin covered bible. No, you will just have to start reading it yourself and we can share some therapy together once you have finished
5 out of 5 devastatingly bleak books are not the answer to the post-Christmas blues.

The Perfect Paragon (Agatha Raisin #16) by M.C. Beaton

“They turned out to be passionate love letters from Burt. It was evident he hoped to marry her as soon as she had finished school.”

Is Mabel Smedley as perfect as she seems? Agatha’s detective agency has been hired by Mr Smedley to prove Mabel is having an affair and it’s starting to seem like hard work. When her husband is murdered the team springs to action and the usual hijinks ensue. Combine that murder with the murder of a young girl and the body count is really starting to escalate in the otherwise sleepy village. Death by weed killer, a porn producer – who knew that Carsley and its surrounds could be such a den of iniquity?

The 16th instalment of Agatha’s adventures shows no signs of slowing down and Agatha has a couple of new hires in tow in the form of the intriguing, young, Harry Beam and of course all the familiar friends make an appearance. Naturally I read this at a cracking pace on my mobile phone again. At one point even while stuck on a normally 6 minute train trip that took an hour - thanks to Agatha I didn't lose my marbles and at least 2 murders got solved.


5 out of 5, but nobody is perfect.

Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation by Amanda Laird

“Body literacy is an act of resistance, and self-care is too – not in the manicures and bubble-bath kind of way, but in the asserting personal boundaries way.”

I was having a particularly horrid, crampy day when I saw this new offering on #netgalley (#heavyflow) and was rewarded with a free review copy for comment. Nearing the back end of the trauma that turns at least one week of my life into a nightmare and facing the prospect of getting older and having new and other unpleasant issues to deal with, it occurs to me how little, until recently, I really understood about the whole process.
While I might not be onboard with all of the potential items mentioned in the book ( sorry I just can’t with the steaming bit- too goop-y for this one), in the most part, Laird delivers some really valuable and informative content in an easy to read manner without preaching and with a delightfully open approach. This is the kind of education we as women should be providing to young women out there.  Which bits are really which, what does what and what to expect are fundamentals that seem to be lacking in our education as a rule. Men need a better understanding too, because their education by porn these days is really letting them down.
Casting aside shame, taboos and biased information is valuable, I mean who out there bleeds blue ink unless they live in a sanitary product commercial? For more information about the book and its author check out: . This is one hex we need to break.
5 out of 5 real facts are far more powerful.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

“He was offering a private demonstration of his etchings.”

This collection of short stories is intriguingly narrated by the author, introducing each story and providing a kind of meta story within a story. My reason for reading this particular book was that I could then tick off all six of the six most disturbing written works, a list I got from somewhere on the net and now cannot find to attribute to its source. Nevertheless, this is the first time in about a year that I've finished one of my lists on Goodreads so I am happy as the proverbial.

Back to the stories. They are great. Dark, disturbed and even more disturbing with the intros. Think a literary Black Mirror  but written in the fifties and sixties. This adds a further level of interest. Look they are short stories so I'm not about to delve to deep. My theory with short stories is that they should be read; rather than reviewed.

The title story won a Hugo Award - newsflash there's a supercomputer and I took so long to read these in fits and starts that my contribution here is minimal. Take my advice, start reading. Some of these are fantastic.

5 out of 5 short stories can have a lengthy impact.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

“The food at Pleasant’s was almost as good as the coffee. Indeed, when he considered the two together, Poirot found it hard to believe what he knew to be the case: that everybody who worked in the kitchen here was English. Incroyable.”   

If I'm completely honest here, this has been in my to be read pile for eons. Published in 2015, it is entirely likely that it has sat the bottom of the pile until I shuffled it around a little the other day. I'm always intrigued by the idea of modern authors re-visiting an existing franchise from long ago. It can be a diabolical mess or a delightful reminiscence. Sometimes however, it can land in the enjoyable but unforgettable territory and I feel that's the land where this novel subsists.

I admit I finished this one just after Christmas (the 27th to be precise) and I'm only getting around to writing this review. I'm one of those people who admires anyone brave enough to write a novel and so I tend to score on the high side. This was good but not great and certainly not of the calibre of Agatha Christie. Nevertheless trying to imitate another celebrated author is no mean feat and Hannah gives it a red hot go.

Certainly it is a delight to spend more time with the Belgian Detective. I used to pore over Christie books as a child - the fact that I was obsessed with Agatha Christie and the films of Alfred Hitchcock is a bit strange - probably a retaliation in thought due to extreme bullying at school - who knows?

In any case, this is an interesting experiment and a mildly entertaining one.

3 out of 5, who did it when there's no butler?

Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

"Agatha was addicted to falling in love."

I'm on holidays at the moment and keen to catch up on my backlog of reading and reviewing. Naturally I've found myself, at times, stuck waiting for this and that, resorting to reading on my mobile phone. Thankfully, I could fully immerse myself in the world of Agatha Raisin once again and not suffer any sort of impatience.

Finally, Agatha is focused on opening her own detective agency - about time, I mean this is book 15! In any case, running a successful detective agency isn't quite what she expects and she is going to need help. Thankfully, her friend, Mrs Bloxby suggests she talk to her new neighbour to act as a new secretary and gets way more than she bargains for.

James Lacey is well out of the picture with Mrs Emma Comfrey, widow and retired, civil servant having overtaken his house as the new owner. Her skills as a  secretary and then sleuth are initially an asset to the fledgling agency, especially when death threats against an acquaintance of the charming Sir Charles Fraith bring new business.

The action is frenetic and at times distracting from my interest in the relationships between the characters. Nevertheless, this is a charming tale and I'm eager to dive into the next one. Mind you, Aggie needs a new love interest... stat.

5 out of 5 weddings go off with a bang.