Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Castle by Franz Kafka

"He was irresistibly drawn towards seeking out fresh acquaintanceships, yet each fresh acquaintanceship increased his weariness"

I have to say it took me quite some time to finish what is really quite a slim volume of a novel, famously unfinished by the author due to his untimely demise. Let me share with you some sage advice that I have learnt through reading the book. If you are feeling uncertain and frustrated about your current relationship, concerned that it is all give, no take and headed the usual nowhere. Don't read this book. It will be an entirely miserable experience.
When you share the same initial as the protagonist, K, that torture will somehow be amplified.
K is consistently thwarted in his attempts to take his place in The Castle in the role of land surveyor that drew him there in the first place. His struggles struck a chord as I see them reflected in my inability to enter the "promised land" of couple-dom. That heady place where you have a lover / companion that feels as equally predisposed to you, as you do to them. K is unlucky in love, Frieda and he share a strange connection, strange, empty and temporary. If Tinder was around, no doubt that would've brought them together and potentially tore them apart sooner.
If I sound despondent, fear not - I am no longer. Like K, I'll keep trying to get into the Castle and perhaps one day soon I'll make it. I wonder what would have happened in the completed novel? Perhaps that's my life's work to find out.

4 out of 5 - not what I needed this month, but torture nonetheless amazingly rendered.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Burden of Lies by Richard Beasley

"Defending a racist wasn't the lowest point of Tanner's career. He'd helped worse people that Corey Wilson walk free."

What a corker of a novel. Sadly its taken me a while to get through it as I just needed a respite from the social chaos of the Christmas period and the horror of returning to work (not to mention the dramas of modern dating) to sit down and immerse myself in the seedy world of Peter Tanner. A droll criminal lawyer with an eye for the ladies, he's been through the wringer, has a chip on his shoulder, but likes to win.
What's not to like here? The action begins with a coke addled banker corruption, murder and residential construction, in fact when net galley so kindly gave me a pre-release copy, I have to admit I'd asked for it based on the synopsis "Cocaine. Construction. Corruption. The unholy trinity of Sydney." I'd like to state for the record that I do work in construction and am not privy to such goings on - nevertheless they make for a fantastic work of fiction.
The protagonist is so delightfully fleshed out, tough, yet broken - so my type.
The action is palpable with a real sense of threat that combines court procedures with the menace of stand over tactics. No person or dog is safe.
A topsy-turvy tale that draws you in and then throws you for six. Clearly I very much enjoyed this and would happily venture into Peter Tanner's chambers again.

5 out of 5 readers will love this without reasonable doubts.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

“Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you.”

I have a guilty confession to make - I might just be a little in love with the slightly damaged protagonist of The Dry and now Force of Nature, Aaron Faulk. The characters created in the latest novel elevate it from what could be a typical murder mystery, thriller. The women, in particular, are so well rendered, you feel that you might have met them. The office politics that precede the central drama and are exposed as the tale unravels are also familiar territory. Marry that with an increasingly foreboding sense of dread that kept me turning pages well after bedtime in a vain attempt to settle that awkward feeling in the pit of my stomach and you have a fantastic read. Not only did I immediately order this sequel as soon as I’d finished the first novel, I’m now anxiously anticipating further works. If I knew Jane, I’d dare say I’d be on the phone saying “hurry up and write the next one, you know I’ll buy it”.
AFP man, Aaron, has the seemingly unique ability to make sifting through financials and paperwork sexy. My only complaint was that he didn’t give into his baser urges with his colleague Carmen, whose fiancĂ©e sounds like a complete waste of space. Of course he didn’t though, because he’s such a lovely guy and still smarting from all the pain and suffering of the first book. I just want to give him a hug, after all, I am the patron saint of lost, damaged causes.

The use and abuse of mobile phones is particularly well treated here. Our reliance on them to get us out of trouble and the truly terrifying idea of being without cellular reception in a crisis. Not to mention the particularly topical aspects around sexting teens and cyber bullying.

Family drama is at the core of both novels and is something most readers can relate to in at least some degree.  There is a nuanced psychological motivation behind all the drama as it unfolds and a continued theme around how much our destiny is shaped by our parents. This serves to enrich the story and keep you engaged on multiple levels. The spectre of an Ivan Milat style killer’s son potentially on the loose, adds to the drama and further explores the notion of nature versus nurture. The scenes around the cabin invoked some white knuckle reading for me – I’m still exhausted today as I didn’t put this down until well after midnight, and then I had to read something else to settle my nerves.

Perhaps what I’m most excited about is how much fantastic writing is coming out of Australia at the moment. For a relatively small population, we produce some amazing reads and 2017 (and hopefully 2018) are proving to be stellar in that department. Force of Nature is no exception.

5 out of 5 – another tour de force.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

"I had a moment of panic; but then he came and stood before me, and looked expectant"

After spending the early hours of 2018 at a drag queen's party, it seems oddly appropriate that this should be the first book I read for the year. Sarah Waters is such as amazing writer and I've thoroughly enjoyed everything I've read to date that she's written. Similar to Fingersmith,  yes I know her titles are a little obvious - this one is about a woman who is repressed by her circumstances, but boy when she finds her footing, things get loose. Initially working in the family oyster business, Nance meets actress, Kitty. Kitty performs on stage in male costume and Nance is intrigued. Becoming her dresser and after a heck of a lot of pages of unrequited love - which is so beautifully rendered that you don't mind - they eventually get together. Nance changes her name and becomes part of the act on stage and in the bedroom. The horror of being found out as a "Tom" leads Nance to life as a rent boy - dressed as a boy she is rather popular with gents in the street, before she meets the terrifying and yet educational, Diana with her special box of toys. When circumstances turn, Nance finally finds a supportive and exceptional partner and you will be on board for the whole story.
This was the author's first novel and it is amazing to think such an assured work would be the first. It is so unusual to be so completely transported into another time and I think the sense of the other really adds to that. Nance is imperfect and that makes her a beautiful protagonist.

5 out of 5 first times clearly aren't always horrid.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

"There were tales of dope fiends, of old debauchees who frequented hotels in search of pretty page-boys, of thefts and blackmail."

Orwell's tales of artistic endeavour and economic struggles make for a heady mix of grit and grime. Things go from bad to worse. Initially making do with an ever decreasing purse, living the hospitality lifestyle ( strangely the same today) and then finally ending up as a full blown tramp. His depictions of his struggles are visceral and strangely captivating.You can almost smell the sweat and cigarette butts.There is something so reminiscent of today, despite the book being published in 1933. What does that tell you? Oh we're all going to hell in a hand basket again clearly.
Anthony Bourdain's introduction is also stellar!

5 out of 5 people smell less than fresh without a shower.

Laughing Gas by P.G.Wodehouse

"So, to avoid the distasteful encounter, I just slid noiselessly from the chair and ducked down behind it, hoping that when he came in and saw nobody in the room he would go away again."

A trip to the dentist can change your life. While this isn't quite as hilariously funny as the Jeeves stories, it certainly has its moments.This is a kind of early Freaky Friday  style body swap comedy set in crazy Hollywood, so you can image its a wild romp.Now I have to confess something here. In my desperation to finish 100 books this year.. I did finish this one on the 31st December and perhaps I'd already cracked open the champagne by say about 3pm. Living in my suburb ( that gets locked down from about 2pm) it was necessary to couch surf at my buddy's house for most of the afternoon. Therefore my review will not be an in-depth one. Apologies all.

5 out of 5 pass the anaesthesia.

A Short History of the Middle East: From Ancient Empires to Islamic State by Gordon Kerr

"It had all been so simple before the outbreak of the First World War."

I was attracted to this little book in an effort to perhaps round out the huge gaps in my historical knowledge of the region and also by the fact that it  (the book) was on sale. Having studied ancient history at high school so many moons ago, it was interesting to contemplate the many periods and rules that weren't covered in my studies. Those outside of the Egyptians and the Greeks, Romans and the Persians ( up to about the Persian war era). So much has changed and occurred since those days and this book gives a nice cheat sheet, which I found intriguing.
Even just a touch of historical context brings a better understanding of some of the conflicts that continue today. If we don't understand the past we are always doomed to repeat it and I believe the study of history is imperative. So, this is far from a comprehensive study, and yet its an interesting refresher of the snapshot variety.

4 out of 5, because I'd like to learn more.