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.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Spring by Ali Smith

"She's the kind of thin that looks like her arm might break if it lifts a mug of tea."

Let me set the scene here. I absolutely loved the other books in this series, unreservedly and yet this one just seemed to be so loud and "shouty". Now, I'm prone to hayfever and generally not a fan of spring, so that seems completely appropriate somehow.

Did I devour it nonetheless? Does it have moments of the sublime? Am I somewhat questioning my choices? Yes, to all of the above. While the tale is compelling, much like life these days, it is a stormy, loud tempest, often best appreciated in reverse.

That sounds somewhat deeper than perhaps I anticipated.Such is the genius of Ali Smith for bringing out the conundrums in the everyday. The seasons turn and yet I'm lost in their thrall once again. I really must read some Katherine Mansfield - I feel that would add to my appreciation. Did I mention how this novel epitomises the time we live in? I can't wait to hear Nicki's take on this.

 4 out of 5... bloody hayfever!!

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

The genie's hollow voice came from inside it.

The minute that I finished Howl's Moving Castle,  I was desperate to read the sequel and my always reliable Booktopia delivered. So I dove in head first and was ....perplexed. This  wasn't "the droids I was looking for".. or so it seemed. If you area expecting a direct sequel well you, gentle reader, are barking up the wrong tree. Persistence, however, pays off, the novel's denouement will answer your questions. I fear I have given too much away at this point.

We begin with a story that is very familiar to anyone who has watched the Disney movie, Aladdin,  and I'm talking about the original, minus the "Whole New World"  number.
A boy dreams he comes from royalty, he gets hold of a flying carpet and falls for a princess. Sound familiar? Well, its ... wait for it... a "tale as old as time"..sorry.

Expect adventure, intrigue, comedy and transformation. Oh, you ain't never had a friend like Abdullah.

 5 out of 5.. oh tell me we build.."castles in the sky?"

Sunday, 8 September 2019

On Film-Making An Introduction to the Craft of the Director by Alexander Mackendrick

"There are many exercises that the student of dramatic construction can undertake, but I have found that some of the most effective are born of very simple ideas."

When you are a film obsessed nerd dating the same, the conversation often turns, unsurprisingly, to movie making. So when "the Chief" suggested I borrow his reading material, I was intrigued and dived in. Just in time for a four hour flight, I began my journey into the true machinations of movie making.

Mackendrick deftly describes the technical concerns of a script and how they are a very different beast to the shot versions that I've read which have been published. The sparsity of words make them more like poetry and open for interpretation both by the Director, the Editor and all the other major contributors - which is an interesting concept. I particularly related to the layout sections when the author described the impact of his early experience in publishing. It was something I could relate to wholeheartedly having learnt the hard way about what works and what doesn't on a page during my time creating tender submissions - I love my indesign. I feel I've gone off on a tangent... back to the book.

I especially love the worked examples throughout the book including examinations of many films that I absolutely love such as The Third Man  and North By Northwest. The author was a director known for such films as The Man in the White Suit (which he also wrote)  and one of my absolute favourites Whiskey Galore! (see video link) and The Ladykillers.

So it was a relatively un-bumpy flight and in between watching a couple of movies - the secret to a short flight is to fast forward all the advertisements - I also managed to make a big dent in my reading. I finished this the other day and had a new found understanding and respect for the mechanics behind movie magic and for that I'm grateful.

5 out of 5  - and Scorsese is also a fan!

Saturday, 7 September 2019

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers

“We cannot blame ourselves for the wars our parents start. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is walk away.” 

What's that you say? A science fiction novel with an amazing female protagonist is what you seek? Well look no further, my friend, this one is supremely good. As soon as I finished the last page I got online and ordered the sequels..squealing with joy that there were indeed sequels to be had.

When your dad is a universally hated war criminal, where else would you go but outer space and of course, carrying false credentials. Rosemary is unprepared for the crew of the Wayfarer and uncertain as to whether she will fit in and as the reader you will savour each moment of her journey.

Not to mention cross species nookie with a rather leathery creature. What's not to love.

Alas, I've given away far too much, now gentle reader, get thee to a bookshop and pick yourself up a copy pronto!

5 out of 5 intergalactic planetary.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

"The sea was as smooth as oil, and so pale you could hardly tell it was blue."

Sitting on a sofa looking out at the ocean from a blissful island in Fiji, accompanied by this beautiful little book, I encountered a few moments of perfect happiness. The slim volume belies perfection.

A young girl's mother has died and she goes to stay with her grandmother on an island in Finland in summer. Her grandmother is a character that is a delight and reminded me of how much I miss and loved my Nonna. 

How to describe this book? Yes, its from the creator of the Moomintrolls which I loved as a kid and yet, this is a book created for adults. Nevertheless, it perfectly captures the inquisitiveness of youth and the beauty of summer.

Reading it is like diving under a wave at the beach or feeling the last rays of warmth tease your skin on a balmy afternoon. Clearly it was the perfect beach read and I'm glad I packed it. If I had children, this is what I would read to them, so they too would feel the implied hug that it gives.

 5 out of 5 grannies rock.

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

"At the bottom of the list, giving in to despair, I write: front loader. To shift what is in this house."

I was in two minds about starting this book. Having parents that are starting to show the signs of wear and tear that come with the approach of the seventies/eighties and after a recent very trying illness of one of them; the subject matter was almost going to put me off. However, when the book took out the Stella prize, I was moved off the fence and dived in. I'm so glad I did.

The author so brilliantly captures the dark humour that these circumstances elicit. Here we have some pretty extreme circumstances and yet they are brilliantly realised in a way that is so relatable. The writing is fantastic. It cleverly evokes that sense of shame and despair and uncertainty about who is losing their mind - the carer or the patient. It shines a light on that really difficult stage of coming to terms with the people who raised you now requiring looking after. Perhaps that is a true coming of age story. When responsibilities completely shift axis. It is also more confronting as it is a true marker of our own mortality and the fear that we too will be rendered incapable in the future.

The way Laveau-Harvie depicts the relationship with the sister searingly depicts the further complications of grown up sibling interactions, particularly when both parties hold different views about the status of their parents and what actions should be taken.

The pages just seemed to vanish as I read this one at an alarmingly fast pace.  It was a well deserved winner and I'm very jealous that I couldn't turn my recent experiences into such a compelling book.

Like Douglas Coupland said "All families are psychotic. Everybody has basically the same family - it's just reconfigured slightly different from one to the next.” I think that's why this novel strikes such a chord.

5 out of 5 - I've warned my folks they're retiring to an endless world cruise one day.

Just a Girl by Jane Caro

"Any flicker of pity of Thomas Seymour was enough to condemn us all."

I was fairly unfamiliar with Jane Caro's works of fiction, although a big fan of her work on the Gruen Transfer - c'mon you all know of my undying love for Wil Anderson which has seen me be an absolute stalker of a Melbourne Comedy Festival Fan when I lived south of the border. These days I just listen to his podcast, but boy I should have been paying more attention to the absolute feminist icon which is Jane Caro! She is amazing. Her young adult fiction is so easy to digest its rather like creme brûlée - you know the dessert you can never say no to.

The always fabulous Nicki drew my attention to this series and was nice enough to lend the books to me to read. Caro presents a rather visceral feel of living the life of the first Queen Elizabeth
before she becomes Queen. Who doesn't love a historical drama? Particularly one with such a powerful female lead.

Can't wait to dip into the sequel. Expect another review soon!

5 out of 5 royal intrigues are always bloody interesting.

Blowing the Bloody Doors Off by Michael Caine

"In movie acting, as in life, the real value is not in how you say the lines but in how you listen and react truthfully in the moment to what other people are saying to you."

I bloody love Michael Caine. Whether its his early sex god days in Get Carter or his delightful grandad like ways in the bat cave he has endured and is always iconic on screen. The cover photo here is definitely channelling the sex god days but I digress.

I remember being desperate to secure a copy of this after his interview with Leigh Sales which you can watch here. Two icons together - wouldn't you just love to be in that room, or is it just me? Anyway, I finally got around to reading this the night before my holiday and I literally devoured it like a prisoner's last meal on death row.

The book's premise is verging on self help, with Caine illustrating life lessons he has learnt via examples from his life. If you didn't love him before, his engaging and delightful book is certainly going to win you over. The epilogue detailing his epic rise from butler to... err butler rounds out the pages beautifully and leaves a sweet aftertaste.

5 out of 5 better than the Rob Brydon impression.