Monday, 31 August 2015

The Ingredients of Love by Nicolas Barreau

"I cried all the way home"

So this was the book that my aunt left behind at our holiday digs and I picked up. I finished it on the ferry back to San Giovanni, yes, I know, life is tough. How to describe this so called "#1 international bestseller"?
If you like dessert wine and extra helpings of saccharine, this one is probably right up your alley. 
For dear old cynical me, it just felt a little bit..blah.

2 out of 5 liars don't change their spots.

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

"But unless your fortune was generations old, too, it - you - would never count in the same way"

Trying to keep up with the uber rich Joneses is the central tenet of this novel and how perfectly appropriate to have finally finished in among the glitterati of Lake Como. Bellagio is a beautiful town but blink and you've paid ten euros. Anyway, back to the book...
I was fortunate enough to receive an advance epub from netgalley for review - gotta love that site!

Evelyn has all the benefits of an expensive education, without the trust fund to back it up - hmm I can relate. Her attempts to set up "one of us" a facebook for the well to do are fraught with drama. Will she wake up to the superficiality that she has been carried away with? Will she find romance? Will she ever pay off her credit card?

4 out of 5 designer lives come with a designer price tag.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

“I looked at the punters, the drinkers – my species sharers – and wished them all dead”

I feel ever so slightly fan-girlish for admitting that reading that this books was  a favourite of Tom Hiddleton‘s certainly pushed it in my direction. This is a lengthy and expansive journal style novel that traverses countless historical events and figures – Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming and others make intriguing cameos – along with the continents of Europe, America and Africa.

 Logan Mountstuart lives a life full of  love, lust, adventure and misadventure all with a somewhat Hugh Grant-esque persona. There is a sense that he is somewhat out of control and life is what happens when he isn’t even making any plans. Here is a man controlled by whim, who floats through life seemingly without a care and yet experiences intense pain and hurting many as he meanders through life. Most of the hurt he deals out is a result of his lack of fidelity, and when he finally finds the perfect mate, tragedy ensues.

Beginning with his school days, then progressing to University at Oxford, Mountstuart’s life is never dull, and never particularly financially secure. As he ages, a trace remains of the younger man, even when the body might not be quite able to keep pace.

5 out of 5 lives are full of the unexpected.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

"Around them the house stead­ied and lo­cated them, above them the hills slept watch­fully, small ed­dies of air and sound and move­ment stirred and waited and whis­pered, and the cen­ter of con­scious­ness was some­how the small space where they stood, four sep­a­rated peo­ple, and looked trust­ingly at one an­other."

Prepare yourself for a creepy read. This is the kind of book designed  for October 31st, or to be read around a campfire. There is a constant state of fear, suspense and impending doom.
Dr Montague is seeking scientific evidence of a haunting and is joined by Theodora, Eleanor  and Luke. Will they survive living in the spooky expanse? Queue banging doors, changing temperatures, and unusual experiences all around.

Clearly I'm not the only one who liked this supernatural tome. It appears in the Guardian 1000 novels you must read list, along with a number of other recommendations I've noticed online. Published in 1959, it was also a finalist in the National Book Awards for 1960 and, according to wikipedia, formed the inspiration for two feature films and a play.

I had to leave the book alone in the bedroom and head out for some company before starting on this review.

5 out of 5 creaking doors and temperature changes

National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (1960)

The Witch Of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

“Women have been deceiving men since the Garden of Eden. They’ve had centuries of practice.” 

I was lucky enough to receive a review epub of this book through, the only draw back being I had to read it on my iphone. This took me quite awhile to complete. Fittingly, I finished the book in Italy, sitting on the front porch, fruilano wine in hand.
It is an enchanting tale of a young man and his interactions with an infamous psychic, who just may be the real thing.

Could the enticing Alessandra Poverelli, the titular witch of Napoli, be one of the few mediums to actually commune with the afterlife? A posse of scientists are out to discredit her. Some will believe, some will fall for her and one will be an insidious nemesis. For young would be journalist and narrator Tommaso, a european escapade with the mysterious medium offers new opportunities for adventure and self promotion.

One thing is for sure, you are going to, at best, vehemently dislike the character of Huxley.

4 out of 5 levitating tables are a bit wobbly

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

"What was it to love some­one, what was love ex­actly, and why did it end or not end?"

I wanted to read this before seeing the Cate Blanchett helmed adaptation that is soon to hit the screens. As with the Ripley stories, Highsmith's writing is a delight as she explores this love story that cannot be.
Is Therese merely in the grip of a school girl crush on the sophisticated Carol, as her boyfriend would have her believe, or do they really have something? Life will conspire to ensure that this unlikely pairing will have drastic ramifications. Terry is so frustrating in her youthful insistence on disregarding anything but her intense feelings, particularly when Carol is initially so distant and appears to treat Terry as merely the latest novelty. Carol's friend, Abby, cuts a sad figure throughout.

Ultimately this is an intriguing tight novel which is certainly worth a read and I'm interested to see how the adaptation works out. I imagine they will amp up the sexual relationship which is muted and hinted at more than anything in the novel.

 4 out of 5 doomed love affairs are everywhere.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

'A gated com­mu­nity of a his­tor­i­cal sort, a fortress of bar­ris­ters and judges who were also mu­si­cians, wine fanciers, would-be writ­ers, fly fish­er­men and racon­teurs."

There is a clear reason why Ian McEwan has consistently appeared on the best seller lists, he has an extraordinary manner of invading the minds of his characters and bringing them into the light. Here I sit, having just finished this intriguing novel, in a small Northern Italian village, and yet I've been transported to London's Courts for an emotional visit.
Fiona is an erudite high court job with family problems of her own that might just impact her ability to impart impartial judgements in family law cases. One case, that of a young teen Jehovah's witness in dire need of a blood transfusion, will have a considerable impact on her life.
This is compelling stuff and certainly something I would recommend. I think in part because of the surgical way it dissects emotional upheavals and brings them to light. The dryness and unexpected upheaval that the death of a sexual relationship can bring about, along with the neediness engendered when parental constraints are turned over is intricately explored. There are many layers, all of them fascinating.

5 out of 5 watchtowers weren't sung about by Jimi Hendrix.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

"It doesn’t make sense, and I could scream with the frus­tra­tion of it, the not know­ing, the use­less­ness of my own brain."

Everyone it seems is raving about The Girl on the Train, and settle in readers, I'm about to do the same. Told from the perspective of three very different women with a lot more in common than they realise, it is captivating in its doling out of suspense by the truck load.
Along with the crime mystery aspects it delivers an insightful portrayal of the unsavoury results of infidelity and divorce - sadness, loneliness, alcoholism, jealousy - all rear their ugly heads within.
Rachel is unable to cope with her divorce from Tom. Her inability to have children has led her down a dark path of copious drinking, black outs and the termination of her marriage. Tom meanwhile has moved on to Anna and now has a little baby, to Rachel's constant consternation. Having lost her job, Rachel pretends to go to work every day on the train and is fixated by a couple whose window she spies in passing. 

When the woman from the couple in the window disappears, Rachel will be drawn into the web of mystery. Her black outs make her an unreliable narrator and really add to the suspense. What happened that Saturday night? You will want to finish it and find out.

5 out of 5 train trips haven't been this intriguing since Hitchcock.

The Rosie Project By Graeme Simsion

"If Gene and Clau­dia had owned a rab­bit, it would have been in se­ri­ous dan­ger from a dis­grun­tled lover."

It is rare for me to actually enjoy a novel or film that is of the romantic comedy variety. Usually everyone is oh so perfect and annoying, this is the exception. It gives me unending joy to think that it harks from a Melbournian writer and it made me smile every time I recognised a location from my previous home of several years.

Don Tillman is a little unique, to put it mildly, and yet he is adorable. Unable to read social queues, the professor of genetics, realises that he faces a lonely future and so embarks on 'the wife project' to find a life partner. His dating mishaps are hilarious, as is his continual naiveté and wonder at the goings on around him.

When his dodgy friend, Gene, sends him an unlikely candidate in the form of bartender Rosie, Don's life gets turned upside down. A new project threatens his job and his  way of life, but promotes intriguing changes and Gregory Peck style costume changes and I really enjoyed the ride.

5 out of 5 restaurants require jackets.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

"But it’s odd that so many of us see sham­ing the way free-mar­ket lib­er­tar­i­ans see cap­i­tal­ism, as a beau­ti­ful beast that must be al­lowed to run free."

Another really interesting and timely piece of work from Mr Ronson. In today's world the internet is the first port of call for so many judgement calls. Should I employ this person, should I date this one? Who do we look to, if not Mr Google?
For those people out in the world who have made mistakes, and who hasn't, the potential to be publicly shamed is a real and present danger.

One ill-timed or insensitive public tweet could spiral into some very dark territories and this is the landscape that the book explores.

Coming at the problem from a number of different angles, the book develops a number of ideas in a manner which is relatable and easy to read. The thing I admire about his writing is how effortless it is to read and absorb.

5 out of 5 offensive posts will hang you out to dry.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Walters

"We're like Anna and Vronsky, aren't we?"

The latest tome from Sarah Waters has already received significant acclaim including nominations for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, and the Specsavers National Book Award For UK Author of the year, not to mention fanfare all round. As I had previously thoroughly enjoyed The Little Stranger, I was eager to explore the author's latest work.
After an unexpected 9 hour flight delay in Hong Kong, and therefore zero sleep in 48 hours, I commenced reading and finished this book on the flight to Italy.

It is part love story, part crime story and makes for a speedy read, due to consistent sense of tension - will they  / won't they, will they get caught? 
The protagonist, Frances Wray and her mother are forced to take on paying guests to make ends meet, in the form of Leon and Lilian Barber. The worlds of Frances and Lilian collide and will never be the same again.

Nineteen twenties London is clearly not the easiest time for two women in love. Particularly when one is trapped in a loveless marriage and the other is trapped with an overbearing mother who will not accept her love life.

When disaster strikes, the tension mounts.

I found Lilian a really unsympathetic character and difficult to relate to. That is perhaps my rationale for removing one point. Their love story also seemed some what over the top.

Despite those slight misgivings, I would say, pack this one in your suitcase, it makes for great holiday reading. Mind you, it was a little disconcerting reading the love scenes seated next to a sweet faced young Chinese boy , I'm certain he couldn't read over my shoulder at any rate.

4 out of 5 horizontal dances leave you flushed.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

"But sex does not seem to be the hangup with this crowd."

The novel that formed the basis for the Racquel Welsh film of the same name is a strange beast. Myra was not born a girl but now boasts amazing breasts thanks to talented surgeons and skilfully fashioned silicone. When not teaching Posture and Empathy to students of the Academy for Aspiring Young Actors and Actresses, she enjoys breaking up relationships, taking drugs, going to orgies that sort of thing in an overblown swinging sixties, "oh look isn't this shocking", kind of way.
I found it a little boring and written in a strangely quaint fashion. The orgy scene is fleeting and even the controversial dildo scene hardly made me raise an eyebrow. Perhaps I am not easily shocked, or perhaps because I knew it was coming.
Myra falls for Mary-Ann, who likes her but wishes she was a man. A fortuitous car accident returns Myra in many ways back to her Myron days, albeit minus a fundamental piece of equipment..."Where are my breasts?". What girl wouldn't want a eunuch? That's a rhetorical question by the way.
High camp but not nearly as entertaining as The Valley of the Dolls or anything Jackie Collins might deliver. Good news is that this ticks off another 1001 novels list and is also featured on Bloom's Western Canon, I do love ticking off lists.

3 out of 5 ugly men are swingers according to this book.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

"I assumed that building a hope chest was a question of exercising the muscles of the chest, to get busts."

I hope this doesn't make you feel too jealous dear reader. Today I feel decidedly cosmopolitan, finishing up reading a book about the Congo overlooking Hong Kong Harbour and now writing my review in the comfort of an airport lounge. Much as the girls of the book miss their creature comforts when removed from civilisation, so I just about hugged the shower attendant after he showed me the way to the showers after a day's wandering due to locked up funds in a malfunctioning travel card - see not all jet-setter lifestyle after all. Back to the book, because you don't want me to jabber on about my day now do you?

The novel features a number of narrators which delivers additional depth to the narrative. Nathan and Orleanna Price move their  four daughters to the remote environs of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo. Nathan is a devout southern baptist missionary out to spread the word to the Congolese, little anticipating their resistance to white interference. Tragedy ensues, but you will have to read the book to find out exactly how. Life twists and turns in unexpected directions for the Price sisters and their journey is recounted in compelling detail.

I flew through this one, it really gives an interesting account of place and growing up. The different ages of the girls as they tell their tale and their stages in life is expertly crafted and makes for a very speedy read. The diverse characters are also particularly memorable, no wonder the book was shortlisted for the Pulitzer prize, was a best seller and won the Boeke prize in South Africa. Did I also mention, it means I can tick another 1001 novel off my list- winning all round! 

5 out of 5 pack this bible in your luggage instead.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Child of Pleasure by Gabriele D'Annunzio

"It seems to me- she said with closed eyes - that all the pores of my skin are like a million tiny mouths all craving yours, in spasms of desire to be chosen, the one envious of the other"

People are strange, multi-faceted creatures aren’t they? There are moments of such delightfully decadent, unadulterated lust in the Child Of Pleasure or Pleasure as it goes by in the edition I just finished reading. Now reading a little bit about the author, it is particularly interesting that the author whose character is so driven by the sensuous, ended up declaring war on Italy and attempting to set up an independent state in the lead role as ‘duce’ prefiguring the fascist movement. There’s no doubt he was a passionate character if his seductive prose is anything to go by. Seemingly he was hot headed politically too. A diverse background of wealth, illegitimacy, poetry and love affairs make his life story almost as tantalising reading as the novel.
Written way back in 1889, Pleasure,  has a dream like quality which is distinctly pleasurable. There are moments of pure bliss - i mean just read the quotation for goodness sake. It is more difficult to write a review of such a sensuous work when I'm sitting in the departures lounge with all the rampant humanity and feeling a little romantically rejected myself. Perhaps like D'Annunzio I run a little too hot and cold.

While much of the work reaches ecstatic heights, the protagonist is a fickle fellow and the ending hits suddenly. I kind of loved the agent provocateur reminiscent cover art too.

4 out of 5 spasms of desire.

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

 “A whole world unfolds before my eyes all because of the regularly irregular dark green edging to a pale green dress worn by the girl in front of me of whom I see only her brown neck.”

As someone who spends the greater part of their life trapped in an office pondering the meaning of life, The Book of Disquiet speaks volumes. It is a book of such exquisite beauty, that any lover of words could not help but fall for its beautiful phrases on tedium, life, solitude and all the other random thoughts that pepper the intellect of the book’s voice, Bernardo Soares.

This is not a linear tale, it consists of fragments and a rudimentary search on the internet points to numerous quibbles between scholars as to the book’s preferred make – up, published, as it was, posthumously. It is strangely insightful in demonstrating the disconnection between the outside world and our inner musings and the prose is amazingly poetic and beautiful.

I loved this book so much that I actually wish to re-read it and will wholeheartedly recommend it to friends.

5 out of 5 restless minds turn to the internet these days.