Sunday, 25 August 2019

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

“A fickle heart is the only constant in this world”

I absolutely love the Mizayaki film of the same name and was curious to dive into the source book when I heard it existed. It has been sitting in my to be read tower for a while now - I say tower, because dear reader, things are getting out of control. Sophie is the eldest of three sisters left with their father's hat shop. The three are sent off in different directions to seek their fortunes and Sophie finds herself put under a spell and transformed into an old lady.
Seeking out the young, reclusive wizard Howl, Sophie's adventures really begin. Throw in some witches, some scarecrows, a fire demon, a mysterious castle that moves and has an odd teleportational door and you have fantasy gold.

While it may be written for children, I defy anyone of any age not to enjoy this delight. Just like a box of Jaffas where you eat one and then can't stop, I was drawn into with abandon. I can hardly wait to read the sequel, although I'm going to have to demolish a bit more of my to be read pile before that happens sadly.

5 out of 5 beauty personified.

5 out of 5 people aren’t what they seem.

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Caesura

"Men come and go, I always say that. Maybe love is shorter than it should be, but hot diggity damn, Chanel is fuckin' forever."

Gorgeous cover, fabulous title and if you like the TV show Pose or the documentary Paris is Burning, well you are really going to like this book. At times it is hard going given that the actions take place in the ball room scene of New York in the 80s - peak Aids crisis.

I was drawn into the tale of Angel and her family, of Venus, Juanito and Daniel and there were some moments that really had me reaching for the tissue box. There is very little time spent on the dance floor and a real focus on the lives of the protagonists. Dreaming of shopping at Saks, dealing with sleeping rough and doing whatever it takes to make ends meet, the house of Xtravaganza has a layered and diverse storyline.

Cassara has some great one liners which really sing and there are moments that are funny, touching, confronting and sublime.  I did read a review after I'd finished that suggested some of the timeline was a bit wonky, but I don't think that detracts from the story.

4 out of 5 strike a pose... Vogue.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith

"Let me tell you about when I was a girl, our grandfather says."

I really do love Ali Smith's writing and so was interested to explore this particular novella. It was written as part of the Canongate myth series as a re-imagining of the Iphis myth by Ovid. The original tale was of a girl raised as a boy ergo the title.
Twin sisters prove to be very different characters in this tale where they both begin working at the same business.
One is all work and no play, desperately trying to  fit in, the other is ethereal and dreamlike, seemingly at odds with her surrounds. When the rudderless Anthea meets the force behind the mysterious graffiti  artist Iphisol love blooms where it is least expected.

This was interesting but, perhaps because I was rather tired, it didn't quite hit the mark with me.

4 out of 5 bottled waters aren't quite right.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Reticence by Gail Carriger

"Lord Akeldama reminded Arsenic a little of her mother."

All aboard the Spotted Custard for another adventure and yours truly is ecstatic to find herself once again ensconced firmly in that magical world. I could wax lyrical ad infinitum on my love for the contents of the pages that the always fantastic Gail Carriger creates and this dear reader is a premium example.

I was ever so fortunate to receive a copy from the amazing Nicki for a fabulous birthday present. I suspect she will also devour this tale set in a mystical Japan with - my favourite creatures - Kitsune! A cunning, wily fox must be my spirit animal. Nevertheless, my Chinese horoscope is a Dragon... and let's just say that might be relevant also.

Percy takes centre stage in this fast paced adventure and we are introduced to yet another exciting heroine in the form of Dr Arsenic Ruthven. You may remember her mother from other tales by the author. I love a world of parasols and paranormal beings. Romance is blooming in a shared hot tub and other rather interesting locales and I was hooked from go to woe - is that how you spell that expression? Reader, I have no idea.

Drift through the aether and watch the adventures unfurl. I can't write much more other than to say that I finished the last page a few moments ago and have plunged into despair at the thought of having to wait for more. I am so impatient in that regard.

5 out of 5 feisty female doctors are handy to have around.

The Spy and the Traitor

"One does not look twice at an offer of enrolment in an elite force."

I am a long term fan of espionage related fiction and will sometimes dip my toe into a real life tale. I am fairly certain I heard about this particular book on a podcast and yet the circumstances have completely slipped my mind. I've since discovered it was Chat 10 Looks 3 - the delightful podcast from Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales.

As you can tell from my reading habits of late, I'm a little preoccupied with work, life and all that jazz. In any case this sounded like a ripper of a read and I hurried on to Booktopia to secure a copy.

Much as any spy operation would in real life, well I imagine, patience is a virtue. This is a slow burner of a book and requires significant investment up front for an amazing pay off.
One of those rare instances where the blurb on the back is spot on in relation to its hyperbolic statements. What makes this story so tantalising is the human aspects of it and the impact it has on all its protagonists.

 5 out of 5... the truth is way more interesting than fiction.

The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

“There exists in St. Petersburg a powerful foe of all who receive a salary of four hundred rubles a year, or thereabouts. This foe is no other than the Northern cold, although it is said to be very healthy”

I love a great, short story and this definitely fits the bill. I found this vaguely wandering around the net looking for a free story that would float my boat. It was on my lunch break and I needed a quick distraction. It is hard to believe that a tiny tale from so long ago can be so compelling.

It reminded me of my younger days when I would almost religiously save up for something that I desired. Foregoing entertainment and delight for a delayed delight and living like a hermit in anticipation. Before the days of credit cards and instant gratification. Unfortunately, like the protagonist, I sometimes found the desired item wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Sometimes the unexpected consequences of visible trappings can be disastrous - especially if the object is misplaced or stolen. Those for whom things of value come easily are unlikely to respect your plight. 

5 out of 5, leave my coat alone.

Monday, 5 August 2019

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

"Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness".

I love a Wes Anderson film. They seem to personify that sense of otherness that was the running narrative of my childhood. In all their pastel magnificence and minute detail they shine a light on rejection and despair in a way that's both palatable and entertaining. That is a rare skill. Visually they are so recognisable and that is another aspect that really impresses me. When you see a Wes Anderson film it is instantly recognisable - no mean feat!

When this beautiful creation of a coffee table book was released a few years ago I put it on my wish list as a much desired indulgence. When my occasionally awesome ( well I can't be too effusive or he'll wonder who wrote this) man bought it for my birthday I felt unrestrained joy. Then I read it and was shocked to find that my enjoyment increased.

Pass me a pink cocktail, let's put on some dark kohl eyes and ponder the universe together  while a snappy soundtrack plays in the distance. Somewhere an omniscient viewer is peering into tiny little rooms and seeing life in gorgeous detail.

 5 out of 5 - art is love.

Killing Eve Vol 2: No Tomorrow by Luke Jennings


"Who is the unnamed woman who has carved such a bloody trail through the shadowlands of the intelligence world?"

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that a sequel faces an uphill battle. The minute I finished watching the original Killing Eve tv series, I immediately purchased the first book. That only encouraged my desire to experience more of the world so interestingly created by Luke Jennings. 
When a new tv series was released, before the book unfortunately, I again raced to see it and was left a little underwhelmed. Sometimes an engaging tale needs to be left alone. A speedy sequel can have a detrimental effect. Similarly when the next novel was advertised, I hastily put my order in.
I haven't much to say here. I was a little underwhelmed. That might have been due to lack of sleep and work stress, if I'm being generous. I just felt that Villanelle had gone a little soft or something. The magic had dispersed.

2 out of 5 - interesting but not as good as the first time.

The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean

"We lost all three girls that summer. Let the slip away like the words of some half-remembered song, and when one came back, she wasn't the one we were trying to recall to begin with".

This had a moody and tragic feel that made me christen it the "Australian Virgin Suicides". It transported me back to the innocent days of youth, where our perceptions are somewhat foggy, preoccupied by fitting in and surviving. That's not to say this isn't an enjoyable read. Despite the grim subject, its levity is supremely engaging. In that regard it reminds me of the movie Stand by Me whose source was the prolific Stephen King.

Here is a story that almost reflects therapy. Someone looking back at their life trying to make sense of the traumas that shaped them. I find that fascinating and ate this up with a spoon - well clearly not literally.

The delightfully reliable bookseller that posts straight to my parcel locker ( god I sound so lame),  was the happy bearer of this delivery and, dear reader, it was even signed by the author. That was just the icing on the cake. Did I mention that they give you Qantas points for every purchase... well they do!

Sure this novel isn't going to leave you in fits of giggles- its about the mystery of girls who have disappeared after all - and yet it is so well written I was definitively on board for the ride.I could imagine this as a fantastic tv mini series because the characters are appealing and the mystery is compelling. That format would really work for this story, giving adequate time to all the related stories. There is a visceral sense of place and actions that the author beautifully evokes, and that is a rare and impressive skill. I know I've been rather effusive in my praise, I guess my one qualifier would be to say that there was just something more that I wanted and I really cannot put my finger on it. I'd love to hear your reviews to see if we concur. I'd be just as interested to see where we disagree. Opinions are always interesting.

4 out of 5 trips back in time can be traumatic.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Blue Movie by Terry Southern

"Thus, to Angela Sterling, at this critical point in her life and career, the prospect of working with the King. B. Boris was salvation itself".

Perhaps this would have been more shocking in terms of exposing the seedy side of Hollywood before it became constant media fodder. Sleazy creeps abound as a bored director sets out to make a very particular kind of movie.
A combination of erotic tale tropes combines in an effort to shock, throw in a few choice words and some incest and you'll probably get the gist.

Still there are quite a few laughs in between emissions.

3 out of 5 dirty pictures could use a wipe.

Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester

"It's a good business rule for Asia. When in doubt, get a bigger gorilla"

I found it particularly annoying that the blurb on the back cover of this novel referred only to the story of a man, and yet the book contains two tales. The first narrator is female, the second male. Admittedly the book is heavily slanted on the male's story, as it takes up most of the book.

I had the bizarre sense that I'd seen the story as a movie before. I'm not sure if it has been adapted before, yet the story of Sister Maria and Tom Steward just seemed so familiar. My reason for initially buying this book last year - and its taken me a year to get to it - was the idea of a pre-read before my 3rd trip to Hong Kong. I'd found this list online  and was determined to source this one. It sat on my to be read pile for a veritable eon and yet, when I finally got to it, I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately I've been so busy that I couldn't post a detailed review sooner.

Just like the city full of history and excitement, and currently the subject of some rather scary times, the book draws you in to its fragrant harbour through the tales of rather disparate people brought together by a thriving harbour town.

5 out of 5 junk rides are fun.