Thursday, 27 February 2020

The Dinner by Herman Koch

"No, it was a very subtle something in her eyes, a shift invisible to the uninitiated, something between mockery and sudden earnest."

So this was the first book I read in 2020 and it proved an intriguing start to the year. It is dark and moody and at times perplexing - just the sort of thing that would keep any bookclub chatting.
I certainly wasn't expecting the violence inherent in the book but it makes for a high stakes scenario.
What Koch does capture rather brilliantly is sibling rivalry combined with the danger of a vast difference between rich and poor. 
Unfettered ex-pats can run rough shod over the local populace, but the question really becomes more about who should be afraid of whom?
At times melodramatic, this is nonetheless an interesting read that I would recommend. Just don't look to this for some light escapism, that is a dish this dinner doesn't serve.

4/5 - So glad I don't have kids to worry about.

Meat Cute: The Hedgehog Incident by Gail Carriger

"Alexia had no doubt that there were twice as many peonies on her mother's gown as there were bows on Evylin's or rosettes on Felicity's."

So this wasn't the first thing I read for 2020, but I've finally progressed on to reviewing books from this year and this one was PHENOMENAL. Certainly it is just a tiny sliver of a morsel and so seems tasty and completely fat free. 

I love the work of Ms Carriger and I particularly love any story that involves a certain Alexia Tarabotti. This one has hedgehogs to boot! If you are a fan of the parasol universe then hurry up and get your steampunk loving behind to the couch with a copy!

In a jiffy you will be transported to a world where a manly werewolf is a sight for sore eyes and a soulless lady will have you enthralled.

5 out of 5 because who could resist a hedgehog?

Friday, 21 February 2020

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

"The summer she was fifteen, Melanie discovered she was made of flesh and blood."

Dear Readers, grant me forgiveness for I do not recall the substance of this novel at all. I’m certain I read it at the end of last year and I’ve enjoyed other Angela Carter works, however this one has just flown the chicken coop of my mind.

I fear I shall have to re-read 240 pages so as not to provide a pale imitation of a review. This week  I was lucky enough to attend In Conversation with Margaret Atwood and she did remark that we should all review books, lest we write one and can find no one to return the favour.

So I submit this rather lame attempt and promise better next time. In other news, I can now get busy reviewing the 13 books I've read so far in 2020!! Spoilers... some of them are AMAZING!

4 out of 5 – let’s dive back into the toyshop.

A Keeper by Graham Norton

"Patricia knew she was being silly but over the next couple of days the fantasy of her wonderful boyfriend took shape."

From memory this was a book I gifted to my awesome friend in the not so unselfish hope that she would lend it back. The woman, the legend, Nicki, certainly did. 
Elizabeth Keane is returning from her home of many years of New York to the Ireland of her birth. The death of her mother means dealing with all the accumulated junk of a lifetime and uncovering a few family truths to boot. 
I disagree wholeheartedly with the Irish Times review that pretty much rubbished this beautifully written novel. While there are some crazy characters involved and the book wasn’t exactly what I expected, I really enjoyed the twists and turns it provided. I finished the entire novel in a day such was my preoccupation with digging up Elizabeth’s past.
I felt this was much darker in tone than Norton’s previous novel and I possibly preferred the first one a little more. It seems this is a man with many talents – not only the best talk show host around but also a fantastic weaver of tales on the page.
5 out of 5 - my love for Norton is beyond measure.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden

"It still hadn't occurred to me that there was anything strange about dozens of aircraft flying fast and low at night without lights."

I know most kids of my vintage read this teen classic during their school years but somehow, I had to wait until over 40. Seeing as I'm a kid at heart and will always be so, it wasn't such a problem. 

Not having seen the recent movie adaptation I can't speak to its accuracy or anything and yet I feel this story would make a much better Netflix series, especially since I believe it is the first of a series. I would totally watch it in any case! Five minutes after writing these words I've googled and discovered a series exists and features the always brilliant Deborah Mailman, guess I will have to check that out.

One-minute Ellie is just a typical girl going to high school in the country town of Wirrawee. Away camping with her friends in the bush, Ellie and crew are startled to discover their peaceful Australian town has been invaded by forces unknown and their parents are missing.

This is a coming of age story through war which makes for a pressurised environment. The pacing is fantastic, and the sense of impending doom had me flicking pages at an alarming rate. Rather than pure action, the combination of character development and set pieces of action is deftly handled and is just as appealing to a teen as an adult reader. This is action with heart and that makes for a compelling combination.

5 out of 5 things that go boom + a heart that goes boom badda boom.

Strait is the Gate by André Gide

"I meant to fall on my knees before her; I took a step which she heard."

It is fine to love your cousin - but not to Love your cousin; if you catch my meaning. This is a strange tale translated from the French and it is on just about every must-read list there is.
There are moments of beautiful prose but ultimately I was a little unmoved. Everyone loves someone they shouldn't, life is hard, people suffer and then there's death: now if that synopsis has you gravitating towards this, well... more power to you.

I think sometimes these kinds of stories appeal more to someone younger, particularly when I flash back to my early teens and my fixation with Flowers in the Attic (like just about every other girl I knew at that time). This shares the overblown emotional weight of the teenage years, mixed with escaping the pull of hormones through a combination of religion and guilt.  Sexual awakening is a frightening prospect, this is why boy bands remain so popular.

What this slim novella does show is the propensity for children to rebel against their parents by becoming their opposite. Alissa's religious zealotry begins in reaction to her mother's sinful behaviour and is not the path to a happy, healthy life.

4/5 - Courtly love is a drag.

Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux

"Full of ambition but with no sense of direction, I had the strong sense it was time to start my life, and no idea how to do it."

Ladies and Gentlemen forgive me for I have fallen way, way behind on the reviewing front. There's something about this crazy summer - fires, floods, breakups, work deadlines - that has been holding me back and I've yet to complete discussions of event the books I read in 2019 - seriously!  Indulge me as I try to make amends.

Louis Theroux lives among the rarefied air of famous men (or fictional characters) that I would readily drop everything for and run away with. He's in good company with everyone from Doctor Who (in David Tenant form), Angel from Buffy (before the scandals), Benedict Cumberbatch to Alexander Skarsgård, with a few more thrown in for good measure.

My affection for Theroux stems from the persona he puts forward, the juxtaposition between healthy questioning with one eyebrow cocked and the personable rapport he finds with people who hold some truly out-there beliefs. This approach makes for a compelling watch on television and its really interesting to get the voice behind that image in book form.

He is quintessentially British in his self-deprecating recollections, and his career seems to evolve almost in spite of his efforts. His set backs are ones we can all relate to. The exploration of the Jimmy Saville revelations was particularly interesting, but not half as compelling as his emotional adventures at the time, marrying his wife and dining with Jennifer Aniston (clang)!

Just as delightful as watching Louis on the box, his autobiographical delivery of his career to date in television was hard to put down. Keep on looking quizzical Louis.

5 out of 5  Who could forget his singing or jumping in that swinger's pool??