Saturday, December 30, 2006

How to Kill your Husband (and other handy household hints)

“All women want to kill their husbands some of the time” says the blurb on Kathy Lette’s How to Kill your Husband. You might be forgiven to expect a bitter tale of matrimonial misery, but the book is pure chick lit for the thirty- and forty-something crowd, with a lot of laughter thrown in to counterbalance the deadly accurate reflections of nuptial life. In fact, it probably contains too many one-liners for my liking. Normally I adore one-liners, but when I encounter three on every page, I tend to feel somewhat distracted from the actual plot.

Not a deep or memorable book by any means, it is nevertheless a good book to throw at your husband (be it figuratively or otherwise) when the going gets tough.

Some of my favourite quotes:
“A woman needs a man to desire her. At least half as much as he desires victory for his country in the cricket.”
On being told by your best friend’s husband that you (as opposed to her) must be very creative in bed: “Oh yes, I am. I do origami, macramé and needlework.”
Husband’s excuse for not helping with the kids on a particularly busy and late morning: “I knew I’d just get under your feet. You’re so brilliant at multitasking!” (Sadly, that’s not the husband who gets killed....)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Warning: too little stress leads to reading

I don’t know whether I’m less stressed this week because I’m reading again, or whether I’m reading again because I have more time to myself because there are no stressful fires to kill... but anyway, I’m reading.

The first book in the marathon was Nicci French’s “Catch me when I fall”. Normally, I adore the work of this married duo of authors hiding under the pseudonym of Nicci French, because their work is both very female (emotions, great characterisation) and male (fast pacing, logical intricate plots with twists).

Now, before you all flame me for the sexist remark, and point out all the great male writers who use emotions and all the great female writers who do logic, let me tell you why I’m not too crazy about “Catch me when I fall”: it failed to have strong female as well as strong male attributes. It was difficult to get into the heroine’s head (admittedly, it may have been done on purpose to illustrate the enigma of somebody suffering from a bi-polar disorder), not much was emotionally at stake, the plot didn’t hold many surprises nor was it particularly menacing. The premise seemed to have lost the plot, and what could have been a gripping thriller about how a drunken one night stand with a mentally unhinged person could affect a happy marriage (I believe when Glenn Close cooked the bunny, she did not say everything there is to say on the topic), the book turned into a case study of a person suffering from a bi-polar disorder. Even the lost house key, like the proverbial gun hanging on the wall, failed to discharge by the end of the book. While the book was hard to put down thanks to the excellent writing, it was overall disappointing given the author(s).

The second book was Kathy Lette’s “How to kill your husband” (almost too hilarious), and the third “Between, Georgia” by the author of “gods in Alabama”. Watch this space.

Oh, a quick plug here: my "Murder @ A Little Bead Shop" is now availalbe from Echelon Press. Have a look on http://yewalus.kiwiwebhost.net.nz/.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Family Baggage

What do you have in your pocketses? What’s your personal Family Baggage? Mine is so varied and colourful, it would easily take a 500-page novel to examine.

Which is why I was a bit disappointed by Monica McInerney’s book by that title. “Family Baggage” implies a suitcase of morsel-size secrets packed neatly in tissue paper as padding for one huge fragile skeleton. What you get is an Australian family saga with a small secret blown totally out of proportion.

Fortunately, you also get a set of lively characters, each of whom you’d be lucky to call a friend. You get a warm fuzzy feeling and cool dialogue. You get a free tour of Cornwall (which is now on my “new places to visit” list just below Japan). All in all, a good comfort read.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

gods in Alabama

There, on page 16 of the hardback version, is the quote that made me decide to buy this book:

“It can’t be that you’re smart, or handsome, or interesting, or successful, because you can’t be any of those things when you’re in Possett, Alabama. You will be much too busy being black. When you’re with my family, being black is such a big job, it takes up your entire definition. You don’t get to be anything else.”

gods in Alabamawritten by Joshilyn Jackson and published by Warner Books, is a beautiful book. Cleverly crafted with realistic characters and plot twists in every chapter, it is written with humour and an effortless style. It’s a murder mystery, of sorts, but it’s much more than that. It’s a subtle social commentary on “Steel Magnolias”, and it’s much better done than the original. The book will make you laugh and cry and think twice about ever having racial prejudices.

What more can I cay? I wish I’d written it. I actually dropped the book I was reading (“Everything is illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer, which received great reviews, but is actually a schlep to read) for this one. And I never looked back.

Plot hook into “gods in Alabama”: Before leaving Possett, Alabama, Lena made three promises to God: she will not tell another lie, she will stop fornicating and she will never return home if only the body is never found....

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Angels in Disguise

I am fascinated by the concept of angels, so the title of the book grabbed my attention straight away. I’m not sure what I expected from a murder mystery novel called “Angels in Disguise” (by Betty Sullivan La Pierre), but what I got was a book rich in emotions as well as a good plot.

When I was younger, I defined a good murder mystery by how complex the plot was and how difficult it was for me to solve it. But, with time, I started to prefer books with likeable characters, interesting emotional developments and... well... depth. “Angels in Disguise” has them all.

For those of you intending to read it, a caveat. Perhaps I’m slow, but it took me a while to realise that the book is one of a series (8th in the Hawkman series). It may make sense to start at number 1, though the book can of course be enjoyed as a stand-alone.

A quick plot summary: Hawkman is hired to find a missing wife. The couple are separated, though the husband still picks up the bills, possibly because he wants to provide a comfortable home for his daughter. As the trail heats up, Hawkman is threatened to drop the case or the child will be hurt. Meanwhile, his own life is not in the greatest shape with the news of his much loved wife’s illness....

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Day Break

You won’t believe this, but this is yet another book-unrelated blog. I’m expecting Santa to deliver some reading matter, though, so... no, wait, those books will all be Polish. Well then, I’ll visit the local library as soon as my book launch is over and I have time again....

Meanwhile, I switch on the mind-sucker at night when I’m too tired to work and too tired to sleep, and I’ve discovered a promising new series. It’s not Prison Break or Lost by any means, but I’ve watched 2 episodes and am willing to give the third one a go, so it can’t be that bad.

The series is called Day Break, and if I were to pitch it as an idea to my publisher, I’d say “Groundhog Day meets 24”. In a nutshell: the hero is accused of murder and he must keep on re-living the same day until he gets it right (presumably, until he figures out how to clear his name, save his girlfriend, sister and partner, and possibly lock away the baddies too, since he’s a cop). You get 2 days per episode, and the days are rather different despite the fact that it’s all the same day, so the pace is good (not as stressful as Prison Break, not as slooooooooooooooow as Lost).

The best thing about Day Break is that I’m pretty sure it’ll finish within its allocated time span and there will be no Season 2. And it’ll definitely finish in time for Lost to come back in February. Lost has a few problems, but I care deeply about its characters, and everything else is just a distraction while I’m waiting for Sawyer and co. to return. (A special note to JJ Abrams: you kill Sawyer, I stop watching.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The White Masai

I must be really missing Africa, because I really wanted to see “The White Masai”, despite all the mediocre reviews. The movie is everything I usually hate about older-fashioned movies (like Jack Nicholson’s “The Passenger”, for example): slow, with little dialogue and lots of scenery and a simple predictable plot. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Perhaps it was the foreign-movieness that added to the film’s magic (it’s always cool to watch something in another language, plus non-American films tend to be less formulaic). Or was it the romantic notion of love at first sight that made it such a compelling tale?
Either way, I was delighted to discover that the movie’s based on a book, and I can’t wait to read it.
Speaking of reading, I haven’t had very much time for books lately (the little reading I do all has to do with raising children, and the only books I tend to look at nowadays are my own, in preparation for the launch), so it’s no surprise really that two of my blogs in a row talk about movies instead.
“The White Masai” has whet my appetite for things African, so as soon as we can get a babysitter, we’ll be seeing “Wah-wah”. I don’t like Richard E Grant, so watch this space.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

I’m not quite sure just what Prada actually is, I definitely can’t tell it from Manolo Blahniks, and I only know about Manolo Blahniks because I used to be a Sex in the City fan. I confess I find most designer clothes ridiculously ugly (a good example in the movie was a green dress with faux black and white fur trimmings), hideously expensive and not meant for my body shape anyway.

So how could I have possibly enjoyed a movie about the fashion industry, a formulaic Hollywood don’t-think-and-feel-good movie? Well, probably precisely because it was a don’t-think-and-feel-good movie. Picture this: a tired brain that wants to be entertained (but not stretched), a glass of wine, a Saturday night (one of those rare nights on which I chose to relax instead of catching up on work).

As I watched the heroine take on an impossible work load, send emails at 2am and kiss her dream of being a writer goodbye, I thought: yep, I can relate (except that my boss is heaps nicer).

So, in a sense, the movie was an eye opener for me. I will try to work less and to write more. And when I am an Orange Prize winner, I can say: “And this is all thanks to the movie The Devil Wears Prada”. Not that I will say that, of course. I’ve got my speech and (outfit) all planned, and neither contains anything Prada.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Beyond Black

Beyond Black” by Hilary Mantel is not an easy book to read. Not because the writing is inaccessible, but because it’s well, dark. The protagonist is a very large medium, whose life is constantly marred by ugly, uncouth and unkind spirits as much as it is marred by her weight problem and her abused childhood.

Apart form the originality of the ideas, there is really very little to like about the book. Most of the characters are as mean as the spirits, and their pointless ugly lives seems to seep through their fingers like grey plasma.

I would recommend this book to anyone who feels that life is too beautiful. As for myself, I’ll try to forget I’ve ever read it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bored with good wine?

“I rather like bad wine,” somebody once said. “One gets so bored with good wine.”
They must have been insane.

I’ve had some good wine lately. Kanonkop Pinotage 1998 that’s strong on berry, yet well-rounded, and was it a hint of chocolate there at the back of the throat? It almost made me forget my latest love: Waipara Hills Waipara Pinot Gris - Gold Medal And Trophy Winner, which gave me apricot and almond in a creamy texture. Then there was the surprise: Wild South Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 - I don't usually do Sauv Blanc, but I was tempted this once, and the one-lunch stand proved exceptional, with just the right amount of citrus and lime.

I’ve also had some exceptionally bad wine. A bottle of corked Villa Maria Reserve that tasted of fizzy burnt car tyres, for example. It provided many a laugh, but, ultimately, I would have preferred to taste the unspoiled thing.

I also tasted a few high-end bottles of New Zealand Pinot Noir, which would have been ok in isolation, but I had the misfortune of tasting them in a comparison match between New Zealand and French wines. I ended up spitting out most of the New Zealand ones. I mean, how can you drink a Pegasus Bay when you have a Nicolas Potel Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru La Combe au Moine 2002 next to it?

So if you are ever bored with good wine, please let me know. I’ll give you the address to which you can ship it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Desert Warrior

Nalini Singh spins a real Arabian Tale with her “Desert Warrior” (Silhouette Books, Desire). It’s a pure romance set in a fictional sheikdom, and part of the fun reading this book is learning about the country, its people, the customs and the minerals unique to the region. It’s a little like reading a fantasy book and getting to discover a new (imaginary) world.

The sheik is an alpha male supreme, of course. Handsome, passionate and powerful, his darker moods are easily provoked by possessiveness and memories of a past hurt.

The heroine is superbly equipped to deal with her sheik: she has all her love, plus her quiet feminine determination to earn the love of the man she’s once rejected.

It’s a good book to read when on a day when your belief in true love is ebbing and you can do with a chocolate balm for your emotions.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Shadow

The Shadow” by Shelley Munro (just published by Medallion Press) is a humorous tale of a she cat burglar in training. I’m ashamed to admit that the first thing that attracted me to the book was the cover: a cartoon of an elegant black cat tiptoeing towards a huge sparkly diamond. I love cats and I’d be crazy not to like diamonds.

But after reading the first paragraph, I was hooked on the style, on the characters and on the glamorous setting. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

What can I say about Al Gore’s Global Warming documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, that hasn’t been said already? Fascinating, eye-opening, scientifically sound, a must-see - these are all clichés.

But I’ll tell you one thing. All the sceptics who say that global warming is cyclic, that we’ve had one in the middle ages, that global warming is just a theory... they can’t possibly have seen the data or they would have realised how wrong they are. So, if you are one of them, please go see the movie. And if you’re not, you will have seen it already.

This is certainly the best (not to mention the most important) movie I’ve seen in a long time.

Which reminds me: don’t bother with “The Wild”. “The Wild” is the story of “Finding Nemo” using “The Lion King” characters placed in a “Madagascar” setting, with a few in-jokes from “Pirates of the Caribbean 2”. And, judging by the trailers, we have a “Babe” the talking piglet remake too, this one called ”Charlotte’s Web”.

Come on, screenwriters, surely there are some original ideas out there? Not to blow my own trumpet, or anything.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Blind Traveler Down a Dark River

I started reading Robert Bennett’s “Blind Traveler Down a Dark River” without any pre-conceived notions. I didn’t look at the blurb, the preface or other reviews. With a paper book, I probably would have read the back cover first, but this was an e-book, so I just plunged in.

I read the first chapter about the CEO of a company that was trying to combine the best qualities of steel and plastic. So far, so good. I mean, why not? A very sensible idea and I’m surprised it hasn’t been done yet.

The guy had his problems: a drinking domineering wife and a trade union that wouldn’t quit. I liked him from the start and I was sad to realize he was not to be the main character, when around came a visually-impaired man whose story this actually is (and who’s responsible for the title of the book).

That’s when my grip on reality started to loosen. I’ve worked with GPS, I’ve even driven a car with a navigation system, but do the blind really use GPS to find their way around? And those driver-less buses, maybe they indeed exist overseas?

The writing was so believable and so unlike the conventional Science Fiction style, that it took several GPS experts, together with the book’s blurb, to convince me that this was, indeed, a futuristic setting and the year was 2021.

The premise of the book is simple: imagine a blind man who’s dependent on all this futuristic technology. Imagine the technology going haywire. Imagine him witness a murder… without actually being present at the scene.

A great premise. A very good book.

(The Blind Traveller is available in paperback.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Do you remember your first birthday cake?

I do. I was turning 4 and it was the first time my parents deemed it necessary for me to have a party. The party consisted of three friends from kindergarten invited on the day (two of whom showed up), one parent (my father was away) and one birthday cake (bought from the most expensive baker in town).

In that time and place (we’re talking the seventies and commie Poland), the idea of a birthday cake was a cylinder of three layers of sponge interlaced with creamy icing, with a few turrets of cream on top as decoration. Did I mention that the choice as far as the shape went was a cylinder, or a cylinder, or a cylinder? Nobody thought of baking me a Mickey Mouse cake or a Gingerbread Man one. A cylinder it was. But it was a chocolate cylinder and I was happy...

... At least until I tasted it. The icing was spiked with brandy, the sponge was soaked in brandy, and the large 4 calligraphed in brandy cream on top gave it all an ironic twist.

Which is probably why I spend a fortune nowadays on my children’s birthday cakes. Every birthday will usually see 3 cakes: one for Kindy, one for home, and one for the extravagant birthday party. We’ve had a Buzzy Bee, a Fairy, a Mermaid, a Barbie, a Duckie, a Computer, a Lolly Cake and an Aeroplane. Some of them I’m surprised to have baked at home (one can do wonders with a set of hired baking tins), others I order from the most heavenly confectioner in Auckland: http://fleursfantasycakes.co.nz/. The cakes taste as good as they look, and she doesn't even put any brandy into them.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Prison Break 2

I never thought I’d be saying this, but Prison Break 2 is every bit as good as Season 1. (The rest of this entry may contain spoilers if you’re still busy with Season 1, so feel suitably warned.)

What I loved about Season 1 were the inside-the-prison scenes (as opposed to the lawyers trying to do their thing outside). What I loved even more, was the fact that The Pretty had such a meticulously thought-out plan, which covered scenarios A., B and C for almost every situation imaginable. And so, when the grand finale came, I wondered how a. they were going to justify the title, and b. how they could possibly maintain my interest now that the action would shift focus away from the prison and the tattoo.

But I worried needlessly. The tattoo is back in action, now more than ever as it’s being analysed by the experts, there is definitely a plan, and there is a prison break in the brewing. The writers haven’t lost their knack for pacing, and even though it’s formulaic in the extreme (take the hero, put him in deep trouble, pile on more trouble, see what else can go wrong and make it do so, repeat for all the lesser characters the reader/viewer cares about), it seems to work wonders.

The only thing I would prefer to watch right now instead of the next episode of Prison Break 2, is the first episode of Lost 3.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Feint of Art

By Hailey Lind (that's apparently a pseudonym of two sisters who write together)

I loved this murder mystery! It's quirky, upbeat, fast-paced and fun to read.

The heroine, Annie Kincaid, is unusual too: an interior decorator who's trying to make everybody forget her brief past as an art forger. Her grandfather would love to see her return to her wayward youth, and fate seems to be shoving her firmly in that direction when a fake painting is discovered in her local museum.

To top it all, she gets commissioned to find some original drawings (also replaced by fakes), and the new landlord is threatening to double her rent. Before you know it, Annie is in the middle of the action, with two unsuitable suitors to choose from and The Hulk panting for her blood.

The puns in "Feint of Art" remind me of Tamar Myers' work (that includes the title), but they are not nearly so OTT.

Quite by coincidence, this awaited me in my inbox this morning:
“Shooting Gallery, second in the Art Lover’s Mystery Series starring Annie Kincaid -- ex-art forger extraordinaire-- is due for release October 3 (A Signet Mystery, $6.99).”

I can’t wait. I just have to know with whom Annie’s going to get lucky.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean 2 - Dead Man’s Chest

I used to love art movies, I really did. Betty Blue, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Mediterraneo, Bitter Moon, Il Postino.... In fact, “Three colours blue” I loved so much, I included it in my first novel as a major theme.

The last art movie I saw, and I do mean the very last one and never again, was a Spanish one about parents who’ve lost their baby girl. I think I must have suppressed the title due to the post-traumatic shock. Instead of being a therapy for my (hopefully irrational) fears, the film made me cry for days.

So I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that I haven’t seen the latest stuff about transsexuals, abused children, war, hostages and 911. Instead, I went to Pirates 2. I’m not ashamed to admit that I didn’t follow the plot at all. I simply enjoyed the eye-candy and almost 3 hours of mindless escapism.

I don’t know whether the movie itself was any good. Other reviewers gave the movie 3 out of 3. I doubt they knew what they were talking about, either.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives

By Sarah Stroymeyer

I started reading this book on http://www.dearreader.com/ (the deal is they email you the first few pages and then you decide whether to buy/borrow the rest). After the first instalment came in through email, I couldn't wait to read the rest.

The premise is simple: in the middle of nowhere Ohio there is a world where husbands are rich and wives are slim, sexy and shopping. The live by the rules (invented by themselves) and they are all happy… except for Marti, whose husband seems to be disappearing. He comes home long after she falls asleep and is gone in the morning before she wakes up, with only a Post-It note of instructions to her as an indication that he came home at all. As we read on, enter Claire, an outsider and an immediate rival, and we discover that Marti's story, intriguing as it is, is marginal.

It's not great literature by any means, but it's a fast fun read. What hooked me onto it, was not only the fun delivery style and punchy dialogues, but the dream of being a kept woman. Those of you who follow my blog will remember my un-PC desire to be a housewife. Some of you argued that it’s sad (or indeed insane). And perhaps they have a point: women who have no choice but play perfect wives, probably yearn for the freedom of a career. Well, I have an education, I have a career or three, and I say I’m willing to taste the grass on the other side.

So. All these women in “The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives” have to do all day is look fabulous, be pampered and spend indecent sums of money. OK, so they can’t eat chocolate or chips or toast or meat or just about anything except yoghurt and celery sticks. That’s a small price to pay, if you ask me.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Dark Backwards

Julia Buckley
Midnight Ink 2006

This one is a real cosy! You can't help loving the heroine, Lily Caldwell, who manages to be tough and vulnerable at the same time. I'm a bit tired of all the tough female PIs (e.g., Susan Grafton's), and more than a bit tired of the "too scared to touch a firearm" ones (e.g., Janet Evanovich's), but Julia Buckley manages to get the balance exactly right with Lily. Yes, Lily is almost too nice, her only vice being excessive grouchiness, but she is so, well, nice, that you forgive the author for this almost too perfect a character.

Did I just say it was a real cosy? Well, I take it back. The pacing is as good as any thriller, and the book kept me up way past my bedtime (I just had to make sure everything turned out well). Fortunately, it's a fast, easy read, so it only took me one late night to read it.

The first chapter of Ms Buckley's second murder mystery "Pity Him Afterwards" also reads well, and I look forward to reading the rest.

Now for the appetiser: Lily Caldwell dies. How's that for a quick read? LOL. Anyway, while "away", she sees the face of the man who murdered her. Naturally, when she returns from the dead, nobody believes her. And that includes her beloved husband and her fatherly boss. We meet Lily when she's as down on her luck as she can get (no job, no husband, a mysterious mugging)- and then she discovers somebody's bugged her house. To solve the mystery of her own murder, Lily must go back 17 years and investigate another unsolved murder...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fall of a Philanderer

I like Carola Dunn’s writing: it’s relaxing and pretty (in the most flattering sense of the word). And I like her amateur detective, Daisy Dalrymple. I mean, let’s face it, how many of us would be gracious about it if our spouse’s work encroached on our family holiday time? The 3-month pregnant Daisy, however, knew what she was getting into when she married a policeman, and she calmly goes about solving the murder mystery.

There is something about the "Fall of a Philanderer" that reminds me about Dorothy Sayers’ work: the time period, perhaps, or the cosiness of the plot. Yes, it’s still a murder mystery, but there is no gore, no car chases, no crack heads, no swear words. Instead, you have good solid characters and sparkling dialogue and an intriguing puzzle to solve. OK, and you do have the small town seduction artist (thus the title) who tries his luck on everybody, including Daisy. I’ll take that over incest, abuse and post-mortem descriptions any day.

A quick summary with no spoilers: The time period is Post World War I, the setting a small coastal town. Daisy is on holiday with her husband, stepdaughter and the stepdaughter’s friend. When they discover a body and the local police find out Alec is a Scotland Yard Inspector... now open the book and read on.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Swan Lake on Ice

Imagine two hours of ballet-like ice-skating performed by world-class figure skaters to one of the most beautiful of Tchaikovsky’s music creations. Add daring feats like skating while carrying 3 other skaters, or doing backward somersaults on the very edge of the stage. Add touches of fire rings and ultraviolet light and white feathers snowing onto the audience.

Imagine all that and you’re not even close to realising how beautiful it was.

That my 22-month old son sat through it all without protest, and that my 3.5-yo daughter burst into tears when it was over, may give you an idea.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Science of Sleep or If the French had filmed Mulholland Drive....

I remember seeing David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” at the Auckland Film Festival a few years ago (I’m guessing 4, when we were still technically child-free). The theatre was packed to the brim and when the credits started to roll and the lights came on at the end, nobody moved, nobody spoke. We all sat there, bewildered, until somebody shouted: “what the f- actually happened?”

Now, The Science of Sleep (yeah, it has a French title, which I can’t remember) screened at this year’s Auckland Film Festival was a little bit like Mulholland Drive minus all the Lynch-esque macabre. You still had no clue what, if anything, was real, except that, in this case, it didn’t matter in the least.

You watch The Science of Sleep for the sheer beauty of cellophane water ripples, and to see a patchwork horse gallop gracefully in a meadow. You watch it to get the recipe for making dreams. You watch it because the film is delightful, funny and fun.

And you watch it because it’s your only ever chance to call an art film “fluffy, warm and fuzzy”.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Murder on the Mind

L.L. Bartlett is a brave woman. That was the first thing that crossed my thoughts when I got into her mystery novel, “Murder on the Mind”. Murder mysteries are usually enjoyed by left-brained analytic people, so it’s a risk having a psychic protagonist, which is very much a thing for a right-brained audience (if you’re not sure what all that left-right-brained stuff means, see http://www.creativelearning.com/ where I sunlight - as opposed to moonlight - as an employee).

Yes, I know, there is a whole sub-genre devoted to paranormal mysteries, but this one was the first for me, and what an enjoyable introduction it turned out to be! The author knows her job and writes with a light pen, creating fully developed three-dimensional characters, most of whom you would love to befriend.

A word of warning for all you cosy-lovers: this book crosses the line into the macabre with the murder’s modus operandi. Nevertheless, the majority of the book is just as I like my mysteries: intelligent, easy to read, and best of all: cosy without being fluffy.

Now for a summary of the first part of the book for those of you who like that sort of thing: Jeffrey seems to be a regular guy, a bit down on his luck. His luck worsens considerably when he gets mugged and receives a blow to his head that makes him psychic. He moves in with his ultra-rich half-brother and gets them both into progressively more trouble with his investigation of a local murder. There is a romantic angle too, when the murder enquiry leads him to a girl who, in addition to being a good source of information on the victim, also makes his body go zing.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Chocolate

No, I don’t mean Chocolat the book (although if you can get hold of it, read it: it’s better than the already-good movie). I mean chocolate. No, Chocolate with a capital C. It deserves the capital.

What’s your favourite? Mine is of the light brown variety (milk chocolate, not white, not dark), and the Lindt estate with its creamy palate and caramel nose beats everything else hands down.

But sometimes I venture into the dangerous world of Belgian pralines and truffles. I say “dangerous” for two reasons. The first is the Forrest Gump one: you never know what you’re going to get, and while that may be exciting in life, when it comes to chocolate, it’s a no-no. Imagine the disappointment when you’ve prepped yourself for a soft melt-in-the mouth experience of crème, only to be stuck with a porn-hard centre!

The second reason is that when buying hand-crafter chocolates, you have to interface with salespeople. Some of them are wonderful (the chocolate shop in Takapuna’s Hurstmere Rd, the heroine in Chocolat), others can be cows (the chocolate shop in Birkenhead).

Picture this: you walk into a chocolate shop and, without browsing, you head for the counter where the Florentines and the Chocolate Pigs and the Cherry Liqueur Pyramids await. The two salescows are happily chatting among themselves. Being a polite sort of customer, you wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually you hazard an “excuse me”, only to be greeted with a look that makes it only too clear what a terrible burden it is to have to serve you. Oh, and don’t make the mistake of asking which pralines are the coffee-flavoured ones - that’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to judge from the shape of the chocolate itself. The one with the coffee bean on top then, right? Nope - that’s Irish Cream, and you should have known it. I honestly don’t know how the shop is surviving in this competitive market, but it’ll have to do it without my support.

Oh, look, my Lindt slab is almost totally gone. Speak of subliminal messaging!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Gilded Folly

The woman dug frantically in the rich soil, the earthy scent making her shiver. There was an underlying sourness to the dampness, which spoke of death...
It’s here. It has to be. This was where panicky instinct had led her.
More than intuition...
No. A bad dream. That’s all it was. Sleepwalking again. Gritting her teeth, Glys forced herself to withdraw her hands—to fight against impulse. She knelt there, rigid with compulsion, and lifted her eyes to the moon.
It nearly choked her. The light was so cold it chilled to the bone, and gooseflesh rode reckless across her skin. Moonshadows gloomed everywhere, leached from the innocent silhouettes of tree and shrub.
One of those silhouettes was moving. Her breath caught, finishing what that frozen moon had begun. All rational thought fled in the face of need.
Her fingers tore at the soil once more, as she dug like a caged animal. Only one way lay freedom....
The next moment her fingers had closed on it and a wash of cold relief cleared her mind.
Then, for an instant only, she could see pursuit clearly, racing across the slope.
It’s a dream...only a dream.
A nightmare. The difference was, in this one, she could run.


Thus begins N.D. Hansen-Hill's "Gilded Folly", and, if you like fantasy/futuristic stuff with layers and layers of complexity, you will love this book. If you like twists and turns in the plot, with perfect pacing and great visual descriptions, you will love this book. If you enjoy reading about bigger than life themes, this one's theme is loyalty.

(Oh, and the book's not available from Amazon, isn't that refreshing? Try www.cerridwenpress.com instead.)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blindsight

I’ve been accused of only ever reading female writers, and, to a certain extent, that’s true. As a young girl, I loved murder mysteries, so I read the likes of ES Gardner, James McClure, Ross MacDonald and Patrick Quentin (I didn’t like Ellery Queen or Rex Stout).

Then I discovered non-detective fiction and moved on to Irwin Shaw, Eric Malpass and Robert Graves. Teenage years saw John Wyndham and Douglas Adams and Maurice Druon and a million other (men) whose names I can’t be bothered to remember at the moment.

But nowadays I find male voices too violent, too crude, too visual, too weird. I remember reading Wharton’s Last Lovers not so long ago and doing a mental “blehhh” in several places.

Phew, that’s quite an introduction to Maurice Gee’s “Blindsight”. Written in the first person singular FEMALE, it was perhaps easier to stomach than it might have been otherwise. Easier, but not easy. The book is a sad one (at its core is the break-up of a loving sibling relationship) and I would hesitate to recommend it, except for the beauty of its prose and for the fullness of its protagonists.

Oh, and for one other thing: “Blindsight”, in a subtle literary way, reminds us that our actions, big or small, can destroy lives. Other people’s lives. The lives of the people we most care about.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Prison Break

What do you do when you have a pile of “to read” books that’s a metre high and only a month to do it in? Panic and watch TV, of course.

And so I was please with New Zealand’s TV schedule for yesterday: Lost and Prison Break on one night! They are screened on different channels and clash horribly, but hey, they probably imagine people can multitask, right?

Anyway, as Lost’s biggest fan, I’m already up to date with all that’s been filmed, so last night I watched a few episodes of Prison Break. I haven’t yet decided whether it’s good (in fact, anything I have to say about the show right now would be highly unfavourable) but, curiously enough, I want to keep watching it. Kind of like peanuts: I don’t really like the the taste, but once I start eating… you get the image.

Gotta go now. Episode 4 awaits.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Long live soccer

Would you believe that, in this age of technology, I’m struggling to find a way to watch the 2006 Soccer World Cup?

You would think, surely the Internet. Well, yes, sort of: you can get the highlights as soon as the game is over; or, if you wait a few days and are lucky, you can get the whole game (and then it takes about 24 hours to download it using our New Zealand broadband)... but the net is full of decoys that look like the real thing yet only give you the first 20 minutes. Last time (and that was 4 - four - years ago), we could follow the commentary live on the net, but this year FIFA scheduled the matches for the middle of the night, so I haven’t even checked whether that’s an option this year.

So, TV1? Highlights again, mostly, with an occasional game thrown in to look as though they care.

Sky! Sky! Get Sky TV! I hear you shout. Nope, sorry, I have better ideas for spending my overdraft. I’m addicted to soccer, but even my addiction knows its financial limits.

So, I’ve called in all favours, promised bribes, and asked every friend I could think of whether they would kindly tape the games for me. I discovered that my friends fall into one of the following categories:
don’t have Sky (I forgive them),
have Sky but don’t have a recording device (WHAT???),
have Sky and a recording device but don’t have blank tapes and they live in a different part of the planet,
have Sky and a recording device and tapes but don’t like soccer so they forget to tape it,
have Sky and a recording device and tapes (mine) and like soccer but they forget to tape it anyway.

So, come 2010, I will have to:
Move back to South Africa and watch the Cup from the stands, or
Get new friends.
(Unless by then the kids are running the show and we have Sky.)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Geography

The book is hard to find on amazon.com. Think about it: if you can’t remember that Sophie Cunningham is the author and you simply search for “Geography”, guess what happens. Which is a shame, because the book is well worth reading (and owning). Perhaps “Geography of Obsession” would have been a catchier title.

Not that the author was going for catchy. The beginning is slow, albeit beautiful. That beauty of prose is evident throughout the book, yet it doesn’t make the style any less accessible nor less erotic. The ideas within the book make you think and empathise. The ending, although not a surprise one, is thoroughly... ahem... satisfying.

I leave you with a quotes:
“In the years that followed, I kept thinking back to those two nights [] trying to work out the moment that he got under my skin. Trying to pinpoint the moment things have shifted from play and romance into obsession. Was it when the sex was good? Was it when he made me feel like an adult? Was it when he made me feel like a child? Was is Los Angeles? I tried to work it out. I wanted to make sure it never happened again.”

Thursday, June 01, 2006

citymix

My favourite magazine at the moment is not the intelligent fun South African magazine Femina. It’s not the super-useful Writing News from the UK. It’s our local monthly of the “what to do in Auckland in June” ilk.

Yes, the articles are interesting and the reviews helpful and I like the news about new cafés and restaurants. But the readers’ freebies are the real reason I make sure I don’t miss a single issue.

In the last year, we attended free movie previews three times (on the second occasion, we were given gourmet snacks, wine and more wine to take home with a DVD). I also won two tickets to the Opera, a booklet of discount vouchers and a double movie pass.

And that is how citymix gets my vote. If only the editors offered to babysit for us, too...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Live to Eat

Do you have a favourite gourmet restaurant? I do, and I bet you mine is better than yours. Does yours offer a chorizo and onion tartlet with squid and goat cheese froth? Well, ok, neither does mine, not any more, but it used to... and despite the wacky description, it was a sublime concerto of textures and tastes, one that I miss in my most depressing dreams.

I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible snob when it comes to food. While most of my life I eat takeaway curry, weatbix and fish fillets microwave-cooked from frozen, every once in a while I indulge. And the more restaurants I visit, the more certain I become that the best gourmet place in Auckland is not the renowned French Café that gets all the Metro Restaurant of the Year awards. It’s The Grove.

For those of you unfortunate enough not to live in Auckland, this place alone makes New Zealand a worthwhile place to visit. I’m not kidding.

Last Tuesday, I had a roasted crayfish tail with cauliflower purée (I couldn’t taste a whiff of cauliflower, it was all texture), pomegranate molasses, lemon salad and curry oil. They didn’t provide a sauce spoon, so I licked the plate clean with my finger (no, it’s not usually that sort of place, unless I’m there). The quail starter was almost as good (five spice quail with baba ghanoush, cucumber and peanuts, spring onion relish, honey emulsion). And although I haven’t had it for three months, I can recommend their yellow fin tuna with bonito gelée, wasabi caviar, mirin dressing and seaweed: the delicate tuna flesh contrasts beautifully with the granularity of the “caviar”, the flavours are as diverse as they are well harmonised.... You get the idea.

Sometimes eating is like watching an art movie, going to a gallery, listening to Beethoven’s 9th. Sometimes it’s even better than that.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

That big screen

I have two jobs and two small kids and 103 writing projects. So it’s only to be expected that sometimes months would go by without my checking in with the real world.

BUT there were two movies I wanted to see this year: Basic Instinct 2 and The Pink Panther. When I wanted to book the tickets for my Mother’s Day outing, however, I discovered that they were long gone. Finished. Sharon Stone and Kevin Kline came to New Zealand’s theatres and I missed it. It didn’t even register on my personal blipometer.

Sad, I tell you. Friends try to comfort me by telling that both movies were crap. That’s even sadder, in a way. And now the Da Vinci Code I so looked forward to for my nameday is getting bad reviews too.

MI3, here I come. Reluctantly.

Still, there are movies out there worth a mention. Like the Inside Man: a thoroughly enjoyable thinking thriller, with two timelines that pushed it above the average for me. Imagine Me and You was also highly watchable, although it did make me realise that my ear is now far more attuned to a myriad of American accents, and that it’s a challenge to understand plain spoken English.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dreaming helps you make it through the day

Dreaming, when there's nothing left to say
Dreaming, helps to take the pain away
Me, I live in dreams.

So much for one of my favourite Amanda McBroom songs. If you don’t know it, buy it. The reason it’s snorkelling around in my head is because of a book “Always a Bridesmaid” by Jane Beckenham.

“Always a Bridesmaid” is a romance, and it made me understand why so many women turn to that particular genre: from time to time, a woman needs to dream about a tycoon in shining Armani suit who will come and take her “away from all of this”.

What I like about “Always a Bridesmaid” is that it takes place in New Zealand (a rare find in itself) and that it’s not formulaic. Yes, there is an ex-wife who also happens to be the leading lady’s archrival, but no, she is not part of the problem. Yes, there is the alpha male’s brother, but no, there is no silly confusion or misunderstanding between the leading lady and the brother. And there is an adorable four-year old kid who doesn’t miraculously save the day.

And there is a happy ending. Dreaming, no it’s not the same as lies.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Doubt

Yes, it’s official: even with two preschoolers, we can - from time to time - pretend that we have a life. A few weeks ago we decided to do just that. And so we abandoned the children (at the cost of $10 per hour) and rushed off to the closing night of a Pulitzer Prize winning play called “Doubt”.

It was good. Superb acting and a fast-paced script with surprising twists and quirky reactions, but ultimately, I wouldn’t have given it the Pulitzer. It didn’t carry any profound messages and it lacked originality (I’ve heard the story about the feathers and gossip before). We discussed the play immediately afterwards, and the next day we hardly remembered watching it.
I measure all plays against “Twilight of the Golds” - now that was a Play.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Desperate Housewives

Is it just my critical pen, or is Desperate Housewives deteriorating to the point of becoming just another soap opera?

I was addicted to Desperate Housewives even before I saw the first episode. The title rings true with every “family woman”, whether she works for a living or not. I must admit, the suicide mystery was not what I expected, but I went along with it and it was fun for a while. The early episodes of the first season made sure they justified the adjective in the title by pointing out the little frustrations of being a homemaker, a mother and a sex partner; and I really enjoyed my Monday nights in front of the box. Ok, so it wasn’t as quirky as Ally McBeal or as fascinating as Lost, but hey, I liked it.

We are now over halfway with season two, and so far we’ve had Gabrielle in a punch-up with a nun, we’ve had chopped-off fingers, we’ve had Insane Susan hop around the hospital with medical equipment. What once was a semi-intelligent TV entertainment program (if you forgive the oxymoron), has now turned to slapstick.

I don’t know about other housewives, but this one is indeed desperate. Change the writers or I’ll change the channel.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

You Drive Me Crazy

I like books by Carole Matthews. They are fast easy reading that relax the brain without engaging it, and they take place in the UK, which is a nice relief from all the USA settings. Having said that, I was disappointed with “You Drive Me Crazy”. The male protagonist is Mr Nice Guy, and, while that is supposed to be a good thing, I couldn’t find him sexy. Perhaps it’s just me, with my unhealthy attraction to arrogant bastards (come on, admit it, they are irresistible!), or perhaps the Romance genre has had it right all along with their insistence on Alpha Males as their heroes (you know the ones: big-headed millionaires with big anatomy and bigger hearts, gorgeous womanisers subconsciously waiting for The One, boardroom sharks, the Heathcliffs and the Rhett Butlers), but I found it difficult to stomach a whole book about a nice car salesman (sic!) who gets shafted by customers, conmen and ex-wife.

Average writing, average characters and not a single new situation or resolution. “More to life than this” by the same author was miles better.

Not to mention “We need to talk about Kevin”. That book is going to stay with me for a while, despite its USA setting, so prepare to meet it time and time again. And, for goodness’ sake, read it if you haven’t.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Don’t come back from the moon

DearReader.com put me onto this one. “Don’t come back from the moon” is about blue-collar America, so not something I know a lot about. But what attracted me to the book, apart from its original idea and readable style, was the portrayal of second-generation emigrants who are the protagonists of this book. People with names like Kolya or Tom Slowinski consider themselves pure USA, yet they happily eat kielbasa and celebrate Paczki Day. The mixing and matching and melding of nationalities fascinates me as much as my daughter’s flexible accent which she adjusts for pre-school and home.

I saw a discussion about that recently: Americans (rightly or wrongly) are fiercely proud of being American. What can New Zealand do to achieve the same level of patriotism? Are we too tolerant of different cultures here, too eager to preserve our home languages and customs, and is that what’s preventing us from bubbling happily in the melting pot as True Blue Aotearoans?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

We need to talk about Kevin

Ordinarily, I don't read Booker or Orange Prize winners. For one, the writing is often pretentiously inaccessible. For another, I want to write Orange Prize winners, not read them. And finally, I have a bone to pick with the woman who recommended this book (she runs a bookshop and she refused to put my murder mystery on her shelf because “murder mysteries don’t sell”.)

Nevertheless, I made an exception for this book, and I both glad and incredibly sad that I did.

To begin with, I admit the title’s catchy. "We need to talk about Kevin"... and even before you know that the book is about a teenage mass-murderer, you are burning to know why, why we need to talk about this Kevin chap.

The why is peppered throughout the book: why did he do it? But the sense of mystery and helplessness is not why the book is such a success. Neither is the beautiful prose. For me, the book’s value lies in its astute philosophies and acute observations. The author is merciless on the American way of life, which I admire (the fact, not the way of life); and she exposes the mind of a mother so well that I needed to stop reading a few times just to catch my breath.

Being a mother is, of course, why I’m also so incredibly sad that I’ve read the book. Some emotions are not meant to be experienced, not even through the narrative of a fictional character.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Anne of Green Gables

You know, I've always lived in a big city. And most of the time I love it: the ease of shopping for fresh fruit as well as for Christmas presents, the proximity to the theatre and ballet and top restaurants.

But... deep inside I wonder what it would be like to live on Prince Edward Island. Not the one today, with a car bridge and a museum devoted to Lucy Maud Montgomery, but in that beautiful hundred-years ago island accessible only by ferry or imagination.

People who've lived in small communities tell me it's hateful, particularly if you're a non-conformist individual with ideas, ambitions and a desire to stand out of the crowd. Small communities don't like achievers. Hmmm, come to think of it, that sounds exactly like New Zealand, so perhaps I'm living on my dream island already. If that's the case, I'm loving it! I have access to all the shopping I want (in the nearby Melbourne) and the restaurants (Sydney), and I've experienced my share of being shunned as a tall poppy. Plus, Auckland's weather way beats Canada's snowy winters.

Anyway, I always read the Anne series when I need perspective. It helps me remember to open my eyes and look at the way the moon shines across the bay and listen to the dryads laugh in the trees. It helps me believe that goodwill will conquer small-mindedness every time. And it lets me marvel at how inept novel-writing was a mere century ago.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lost

At first, I tried to avoid watching the TV series Lost. The reason? I thought it smacked of "Survivor", and I detest all the backstabbing and brown-nosing that (I imagine) must go on in such programs.

Then several friends mentioned the eye-candy in Lost, and I grew curious as to what all the fuss was about. The way they talked, you'd swear Brad, Leo, Matt and Antonio were all starring in the series. So I watched the first 10 minutes of the first episode... and I was hooked.

I admit that the hook is the plot (any budding writer should study it, then follow the lessons learnt - religiously), and that my favourite eye-candy in the series is the gorgeous blue-green-gold-grey-aquamarine-turquoise ocean. But the actors aren't half bad-looking either, and if anybody knows Sawyer's number (the character, not the actor), please let me lay my hot grubby hands on it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A bone, to borrow a cliché

Yep, a bone. To pick. Of contention. Insert your smutty comment here. Whatever.

You see, I've discovered recently that it can be fun to do household chores. There is something surprisingly soothing about folding your children's tiny laundry, putting fresh Nemo bedding on their bunk beds, packing their lunches. Even vacuuming can be fun when you leave it as late as we do and you can actually see a trail of Clean left by the machine among the confetti of the dead leaves and dried up peas on the carpet (she says while listening to the sound of the vacuum cleaner, compliments of her husband).

The point? Think of a book, any book (or movie, or TV series), where one of the characters keeps a well-run household. My examples: Rebecca, The Little House, Desperate Housewives, The Stepford Wives, The Other Woman, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Chances are, the character turns out to be a villain, or at least a woman with serious psychological issues.

Why is that? Have we sunk so deep into the Executive Girl dream that we cannot imagine a normal woman doing what we've done for millennia without having a powerful (and usually sinister) motive?

Well, how about these for starters: I enjoy gourmet meals, I like clean windows, I love my family?
Nah, it would never fly in a NY Times bestseller.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Glorious 50s

I love the TV programme "Wonder Years". Through a shimmering cloud of nostalgia, the creators managed to portray a childhood world of love, safety, security... and yes, all right, and wonder. Kind of like Pleasantville, but without the issues.

Not that I've experienced the 50s, nor even the 60s (apart from a few months as an infant). I grew up in the 80s, when it was self-evident that a woman is worthless unless she is simultaneously a full time career-climber, a full time home-maker, a party animal and a part-time student. From that point of view, from my point of view, the women in the 50s had it easy: they could spend time with their children, they didn't have paid jobs to stress them out, and they didn't have to lock their front door.

But they got bored, I hear you say? Hah! Show me a modern woman who doesn't get bored in her paid employment.

But they didn't have any money of their own? Well, in today's consumer society, neither do we. All our money goes towards maintaining our take-away lifestyle, and we use up credit to pay for our house cleaners and child minders.

That whole emancipation thing was a mistake, methinks. I'll swap my right to vote for the right to be a 50s woman any time.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hard to please

Hard to please, that's me. Just as I finished complaining that we don't get enough kick-ass heroines, I pick up Janet Evanovich's "Metro Girl". I enjoy (in a mindless way) Janet's Stephanie Plum series, but the main reason I picked up "Metro Girl" was because it was about scuba diving. (Or so I thought. As it turned out, the first scuba dive was outside the narration and the second one took less than a minute and the diver was anchored to a helicopter.)

So anyway, the heroine seems everything I'd requested: she can repair car and boat engines, she goes on rescue missions to get her younger brother out of trouble, she knows how to fist fight and she uses men as eye candy. Despite all that, she's still not the role model I had in mind for modern female readers. She's street-smart but not intelligent. Is intelligence too much to ask for? When has it gone out of fashion?

The book itself holds no tension despite its high stakes: 16 million dollars' worth of gold bars and a bomb that can kill free civilisation. The heroine's life is in constant danger, yet I've had no trouble putting the book down whenever my attention was required elsewhere.

The book is not all bad. I did finish it, after all.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Secret Smile

All Nicci French titles sound the same to me: "Secret Smile", "Beneath the Skin", "Killing Me Softly" (now if I start humming to this one, I will reveal my age, right?) and they all sound like romance books, not thrillers. Even the author's name, or rather pseudonym, seems to speak of exotic places and things French.

Still, I read one of them (and I'm almost 100% sure it was "Secret Smile", LOL, though the blurb "Killing Me Softly" sounds fantastic with its promise of obliterating sex). And it was good. Apart from the helpless heroine, of course, who got herself into more and more mess by her inaction and her reluctance to argue a point.

We need strong, clever, effectual heroines in our fiction. Our daughters need role models. Onto the pyre with Bridget Jones.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Feminists worldwide, redefine!

The dictionary defines feminism as "The view, articulated in the 19th century, that women are inherently equal to men and deserve equal rights and opportunities. "

I fully support that notion. I believe that there is no difference in potential when it comes to men, women and the technical world of computers. Which is why I have full confidence in my husband's ability to tinker with pesky software on my blog site and make the "subscribe" button work as it should. Thanks, honey!

For those of you who've tried to subscribe in the past and gave up, it's all running smoothly now.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

When I grow up I want to be Elizabeth Berg

Yes, I admit it: I'm envious. Elizabeth Berg is the author of New York Times bestsellers and award-winning novels. But more importantly, she writes the way I hope to write one day.

In Talk Before Sleep, she portrays the sorrow of losing a friend to cancer. But the book, instead of being depressing or annoying (anybody who's seen Leaving Las Vegas will know what I mean), manages to be uplifting, humorous and warm.

Say When is another potentially difficult book, this time about the journey of a marriage, the inevitable irritations, the heartbreak of the break-up, the bitter sweetness of the reunion. And yet, instead of being banal, Say When brims with hope, interesting twists and real people.

Some authors you love at first sight. Until I grow up, though, I'll have to hate this one.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Invisible

This post is about Margaret Murphy's "Now You See Me", or, more specifically, about a single sentiment expressed in the book: "Her greatest dream was to be invisible".

Now, I just don't get it. I spend my life dressing in red, I have a web presence, I want to play first fiddle at every gathering. The idea that somebody would want to be so diametrally opposite is just....

Well, it's an idea anyway. Perhaps I should have as my next protagonist somebody akin to Megan in Ms Murphy's book: secretive, antisocial, apparently dull. Perhaps that way people will stop saying: "Your heroine, why, she's just like you"! And then I'll stop saying: "Well, you see, not really. It was a joke: to create a heroine who appeared similar, but in fact... oh, forget it."

A good book, by the way, that "Now You See Me". Clever dialogue, good technical detail, no excessive violence and only one car chase. I suppose, in this day and age, we can't ask for much more. :-)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Devil's Feather

A fitting title for what turns out to be a book about sexual slavery (the devil's feather is said to be a woman who leads men on, a sex tease) and images that are sometimes best left to the adult groups on yahoo. But Minette Walters has never in the past shied away from topics that shock and shake and hurt to think about (The Breaker about a toddler exposed to sex, Disordered Minds about the post-911 racism and pre-teen rape, Fox Evil about fox hunting - to name just a few). What I admire, is not only the author's courage in bringing these subjects into the open, but also the effortless way in which she presents them as palatable.

A page-turner, as usual. Minette Walters is one of my favourite contemporary mystery writers. But sometimes I can't help wishing she'd turn her pen to cozies....

Monday, January 23, 2006

Monsters in law

By the time "The Little House" by Philippa Gregory arrived from the library, I could no longer remember why I'd ordered it. The blurb said "psychological thriller", and I smiled in anticipation of a book that - for a change - didn't have babies in it. By the time I realised that "The Little House" did indeed feature babies and bored housewives, it was too late: I was hooked.

I wouldn't exactly describe it as a thriller, though. It's a contemporary novel, unlike the author's usual work (and it only mentions the slaves of Bristol in passing). Call it women's fiction, if you like. There is nothing wrong with the label. Fiction that would appeal to women, most often written by a woman. "We need to talk about Kevin" is women's fiction. "Sexing the cherry" is women's fiction. And so is "The handmaid's tale". But I digress.

Most reviews would describe "The Little House" as a book "for every woman who feels like she's married her inlaws" and a "warning for those about to marry a mummy's boy". I didn't see it as that... perhaps because my own inlaws aren't an interfering bunch. What I saw was a mother in law trying to do her best for her son and grandson. I saw a mother in law who could look after a baby and still run an immaculate household, two households, to be precise, and never resort to ready-made dinners for the baby or the grown-ups. I mean, come on, how many women can manage that? *she says glancing guiltily at the grubby kitchen floor*

I confess the book grabbed my emotions and wrung them dry. I confess I couldn't bear the prospect of the heroine being forced to give up her baby (yeah, ok, being forced by her mother in law, to be precise). And I confess to breaking the cardinal rule and reading the ending when I was only halfway through the book, when I could stand the suspense no longer. And I blame all of it solely on the motherhood hormones racing through my body. I'm sure a non-mother would put down this book wondering what the fuss was all about.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

She may not leave

She writes well, this Fay Weldon. The words go straight to the heart. But the style of "She may not leave" is taxing: I would read a few pages and feel tired (this from somebody who read Rich Man Poor Man at one sitting). Because this is my only Weldon so far, I can't tell whether the style is a bug or a feature. Still, on I went, hoping for a twist at the end... and when it came, I felt the knife. And before you all raise your eyebrows (SPOILER SPOILER), it's not about the fact that the au pair gets the husband. It's about the heroine's reaction. This book, about career women and au pairs, is probably not meant for emotionally vulnerable mothers.

Sleeping Arrangements

So whenever I tired of Weldon, I reached for my well-loved copy of Madeleine Wickham's "Sleeping arrangements". Now here is an author I can read cover to cover time and time again. Coincidentally, this book has a one-liner that ties in neatly with the theme of "She may not leave": loosely quoted, it says that the relationship between the nanny and her employer is that of hatred: the nanny envies the employer's money, the employer envies the nanny's sex life.

The Undomestic Goddess

But I digress. For those of you who don't know, Madeleine Wickham also writes as Sophie Kinsella (of the Shopaholic fame, and, more recently, "Can you keep a secret" and "The Undomestic Goddess"), and proves the theory that one should write down to your reader in order to become a best-selling novelist.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The King of Kongs

Everybody is talking about the King Kong movie lately... well, they are if you happen to be in New Zealand, at any rate. Normally, I don't like crowded topics, but I couldn't resist this one. After all, I know people who know people who helped make the model of the boat! (We found his name in the credits list, well done, Josh!)

Having cried for days after the 70s version of King Kong, I went into the Peter Jackson movie vowing not to get emotionally involved. It may have been that resolve, or it may have been the Gold Class cinema with fully reclining seats, foot rests and meal service, but once the action moved from the plot to the special effects, I became increasingly more distracted by my seat's complex console.

Don't get me wrong: King Kong is a great movie. Probably the best of 2005 (if you discount the art films). But when we got to the dinosaur scene, I couldn't help wondering whether there was a special deal on Jurassic Park's discarded footage thrown in with the original King Kong tapes.

Or perhaps bits of the movie were meant as a spoof. The battles with the dinosaurs were oddly reminiscent of the 70s Japanese Godzilla movies, we certainly got the reference to the sunset scene in the Titanic, and one scenery shot looked a bit like the opening of Indochine... but I'm probably just being difficult.

My heart leapt with pride, however, when I saw the inside of Auckland's Civic Theatre used as the theatre in which King Kong was displayed. And incidentally, his body language in that single scene of submission - that one snippet alone - should win Andy an Oscar.

I wonder what Jackson is planning to do from here. My secret hope is: the Discworld series. If anybody can pull it off, it's got to be him.