Saturday, 30 March 2019

Chasing Hilary by Amy Chozick

“I’d spent a week practically alone in the newsroom chasing every wacko lead”.

I was heading up to visit my parents via train, mainly because it beats traffic and certainly so I could set aside some quality reading time. This particular tome has been staring at me from the 'to-be-read' pile for some time now and I decided the time was nigh. Ignoring the screaming baby and her mother who seemed to be screaming even louder two seats back and over, I cracked the spine and didn't come up for air until my destination. Readers, I finished this later that night.

Amy Chozick is a delightful narrator, from my seat on the XPT train, I was transported to an endless stream of travels across the USA as this extremely likeable journalist covered Hilary Clinton's campaign to reach the highest office in their land. First Hilary lost out to Obama and then to that orange fellow that we shan't give anymore airtime to today. This tale begins before those events and is a very personal one, which makes it far more accessible than many dry political narratives.

This is really about the life of a journalist beginning her career and her diligent quest to follow the campaign trail with its frankly insane pace and surreal occurrences. Life gets put on hold while chasing Hilary, a figure that remains a veritable unknown quantity as a human being. In the modern age of the twenty four seven news cycle, is it even possible to let down the facade and act as a human being? Amy seems to struggle to gain a real sense of the woman behind the team of male pundits who act as a kind of human shield and control the narrative wherever possible. Her journey to find the stories behind the spin is one I think we can all relate to today.

As I closed the pages I remained despondent about the current state of politics, but I really hoped that Amy could have the child she had struggled to have, and that one day we could have a natter over a glass of something. Her writing voice has such appeal that you feel, in closing the final pages, you've just had a rather entertaining conversation with a friend.

5 out of 5 'off the record' drinks sessions seem miserable.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

 “Their friends had never seen them together like this, no one had.”

I felt a little triggered by this fantastic novel. It reminded me of being an outsider, picked on at school, then rebelling through university and ultimately undertaking some poor dating choices fuelled by self loathing. I provide this warning for anyone else who might be similarly (a little) traumatised by reading what is a really interesting novel and one which you are unlikely to forget in a hurry.

What is fantastic about Rooney's portrayal of the complex relationship of Connell and Marianne, is the way in which she doesn't just take the expected choices. It is the well to do Marianne, who is the outsider, burdened by a strange family life. It is Connell, who grew up with a loving mother who cleaned Marianne's house to make ends meet, that is the popular kid at school, who is smart and motivated enough to get a scholarship to a prestigious university, while still able to remain one of the cool kids at school. 

The unlikely pair begin a physical relationship in secret while at high school. Their inability to communicate their true feelings, or even really understand them, provides a constant source of conflict throughout the novel and their lives as the tale progresses. I think everyone who reads this novel will have a different takeaway and will see their thoughts, actions and fears made flesh in different characters. That is part of the genius of it. The ability of the novel to delve into people's innermost thoughts, through both the two main characters and those on the periphery, is an exemplar of amazing writing. Poignant, emotive, at times devastating, Normal People, is never boring.

5 out of 5, love is never easy or easily definable.

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“She was a drug addict. The type of addict that thinks that other people don’t know she’s sing, which is maybe the worst type of addict of all.”

This novel has garnered a lot of praise and been fortunate enough to land on Reece Witherspoon's book club. I was drawn in by the sexy cover and all the praise and it was not unfounded. If you are seeking an easy, beach-read that screams sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, then this  ticks all the boxes.

You can't help but be drawn into the world of Daisy Jones & The Six, particularly because of its format. The novel is reminiscent of a documentary, with snippets of interviews providing varying perspectives of the same events. For most of the time, I was there; a fly on the wall, while the drama unfolded.

Daisy might be a drug addict and a musical genius; one thing is for sure, reading about her is addictive. The struggle between recovering addict, Billy and his love/hate relationship with the flighty Daisy makes for an entertaining central tension. There are too many intriguing characters to go into here, so I suggest you plump up your beach towel and get ready to read.

I also watched The Dirt on Netflix the other day, which provided an interesting counterpoint. It was so over the top ( as Mötley Crüe were) but lacked a believe-ability (possibly because the actors had heinous wigs and were way too pretty) that I think this novel delivers far more effectively the behind the scenes story of a band imploding. Having just looked up who was responsible for the story the film was based on, I can understand other reasons it was so problematic (it was penned by a notoriously sketchy pick-up artist dude who shall remain nameless).Perhaps truth really is stranger than fiction, or perhaps I just prefer a less misogynistic tale.

5 out of 5, rock stars burn bright.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Red Hunted by Allyson Lindt

"She pouted - that seemed to get her a good reaction."

I couldn't sleep and this was free on Kobo. I'd had a really crazy week and just needed something inane and through... hmm.. erotic fiction... why not? I will say, seeing as I'd been listening to the My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast, I was surprised at how well written and entertaining it was. Likeable characters, believable sex. Perhaps I'd misjudged this genre. Did I mention it was free?

Like a good gateway drug, this one has got me in. Now the real test will be if I pay for the sequel?

4 out of 5 road trips aren't this eventful.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

“I spent much of my childhood listening to the sound of striving.”


I happen to think that Michelle Obama is an amazing woman and I was super eager to read her autobiography. When a colleague from work offered to lend me a copy you could see glee writ large across my face.

That excitement dissipated somewhat when I started reading. For the first 200 or so pages, I was really struggling to connect with the author as a fully realised human being and it made me think. There was something too polished and almost pedestrian about the way she described events. When I thought about that, I figured, if I had been a public figure under constant scrutiny, that would be a manner that, for self-preservation at least, I’d have to affect.

It wasn’t until we got to more contemporary events and particularly when discussing her husband, her kids and the impact of some rather harrowing occasions that I felt we’d grown closer to the woman behind the pages. When that switch occurred, I really started to be drawn into the book and was sad to see it come to an end.
When a beautiful, strong, eloquent woman actually gets airtime in a world of Trumps and Kardashians it is hard not to want to know more about her and hope that she continues to strive.

4 out of 5 life stories should be long.


Sunday, 10 March 2019

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

"We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else."

I was having one of those days when I cracked the spine of this fantastic novel. I'd been reticent to watch the film or read the novel, and then the lovely Chat 10 Looks 3 ladies discussed it on their podcast and I couldn't resist. This is a cracker of a tale, well paced, well written, easy to digest. I finished it in no time. Well, not quite no time, but rather quickly nonetheless.

For me, I think it captures a certain recognition of ageing and the truly unfair status that is forced onto women particularly. We see the main character taking a decisive step at the opening of the novel, and then learn the reasons why, as the tale unfolds. Here is an intelligent woman whose relationship with her husband develops from a transgression in her youth. The mundane nature of an impressionable, young student falling for her married tutor amplifies the sense of disparity between the two. As she helps him to realise his personal and professional ambitions, her life takes a decided backseat, until she is a shadow-person in his reflected brilliance.

The truth behind the façade makes for a great read. Perhaps because I’d read the blurb, seen the advertisements for the movie and heard discussion on the pod cast; the action did not come as a particular shock. This is no one trick pony offering however, and I was happy to just enjoy the ride. I think as I get older, I notice the gender disparity reflected in the text more markedly . Women are prized when they are young, nubile, impressionable and adoring; by the time reality sets in they are prepared to overlook the ageing of their male counterparts in a way that many men seem to find impossible. Faced with the prospect of losing their youthful looks and energy, only to be confronted by the potential that their partner could start again with someone younger, their circumstances are understandably fraught. Add to that the financial disparity of women who have surrendered their careers to be the caretaker of children and you can understand the brewing discontent that Wolitzer fleshes out here. Then *spoiler *the cherry on the top is whose brilliance are we really talking about? Is the much-vaunted author really the sole source of creative genius? Well I have to leave you something to read, so I’ll end this here.


5 out of 5 alpha males rarely achieve greatness on their own.





Monday, 4 March 2019

Calypso by David Sedaris

"Since getting my Fitbit I’ve seen all kinds of things I wouldn’t normally have come across."


My gorgeous and amazing friend Kate was lovely enough to lend me a copy of the most recent of Mr Sedaris’ musings. The experience for me was particularly bitter sweet because my appreciation of the author is firmly entrenched in my memories of another friendship that has recently soured. I am grateful for that friendship for introducing me to the delights of the adorable David Sedaris, the joys of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the addictiveness of the Fitbit and the efficiencies of Phillips Airfloss for interdental cleaning.  I am sad that the friendship is over, but sometimes you just have to move on. That did, however, make reading this difficult. I was constantly reminded of the last book tour of David Sedaris which was in fact promoting this particular work.
As always, Sedaris is open and engaging and a delightful raconteur. While a lot slimmer than some of his recent outings, it remains just as entertaining. I can hear it read in his voice as I scan the pages and envisage his strange penchant for male culottes. A number of the stories seemed so familiar and I realised this was because I’d heard them read aloud. That just made me love this more.

You will devour this so quickly because, like anything tasty, it is all too easy to consume. Anyone else who shares my Fitbit mania and love of reading can't help but love this too.
5 out of 5, literary relationships are forever.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

The First Casualty: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Global War on Journalism by Peter Greste

"As I thought more deeply, I realised that our experience was  also part of a third, more obscure conflict between journalism and belligerents on both sides of what has become known euphemistically as the 'War on Terror'. "

This week has been a veritable slog in terms of waking hours with looming deadlines. I’ve had this particular tome for what seems like ages. I’d been fortunate enough to catch Peter Greste at last year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival and eagerly purchased a copy after his engaging talk.
It took me quite some time to get through the reading process. At first, I put it off because I feared the subject matter might be a bit hard to deal with and I had vivid recollections of how emotive Greste's presentation at the Writers' Festival had been.
When I did finally get some time to finish reading, I was, yet again, entranced by the subject matter. Greste has a writing style that really draws you in and he raises some really interesting questions about the state of the world today and the complicated circumstances that journalists seeking to provide an objective view are faced with. When politicians and terrorists and everyone in between seek to frame issues with a black and white perspective of "with us" or "against us", reporting on the shades of grey becomes fraught with danger for the personal liberty and safety of those reporting.

I realise my description above is laboured; and that's why I'd suggest you skip straight to the source and read the book.

5 out of 5, it is a troubled world out there.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

"She was determined that this vacation, this holiday, unlike any of her relationships, would have a very good ending."

Embarrassingly I have watched the movie adaptation of this countless times. Only recently did I discover that the movie story was an adaptation. Naturally I ran out and bought the book. The novel doesn't play for laughs quite as distinctly as the movie. I suspect that lies in the genius of Jennifer Coolidge and Bret McKenzie ( I am a huge fan of Flight of the Conchords).

So I guess I've established the fact that both works are rather different. Nevertheless, they are both equally delightful. I love them both. New York graphic designer, Jane, inherits a rather unexpected vacation in an immersive setting that transports the participants back to the age of Jane Austen.

Dressed in costume and with a stack of rules of behaviour to adhere to, Jane is initially a little perplexed by her stay. A personable gardener appears to add a touch of potential romance, unlike the seemingly staid, Mr Nobley, whose entire demeanour seems rather irksome. Rather like Mr Darcy first appeared to Elizabeth Bennett.

I fear I've given away too much at this point. So, rather than re-tell the entire story, I'd say, grab yourself a copy and a nice warm cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy some confectionery goodness.

5 out of 5 holidays with a dash of romance make life worthwhile.