Posts Tagged ‘4+ Stars’
Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
The Art of Travel Synopsis
Any Baedeker will tell us where we ought to travel, but only Alain de Botton will tell us how and why. With the same intelligence and insouciant charm he brought to How Proust Can Save Your Life, de Botton considers the pleasures of anticipation; the allure of the exotic, and the value of noticing everything from a seascape in Barbados to the takeoffs at Heathrow.
Even as de Botton takes the reader along on his own peregrinations, he also cites such distinguished fellow-travelers as Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Van Gogh, the biologist Alexander von Humboldt, and the 18th-century eccentric Xavier de Maistre, who catalogued the wonders of his bedroom. The Art of Travel is a wise and utterly original book. Don’t leave home without it. (Amazon)
While I do not as a rule read self help books, I had heard great things about the writings of Alain de Botton and so wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Of all non-fiction I am most partial to travel memoirs and so I decided that out of his extensive back catalogue The Art of Travel was the perfect place for me to start.
Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
Black Bread White Beer Synopsis
OBSERVER BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2012
LONGLISTED FOR THE DSC PRIZE FOR SOUTH ASIAN LITERATURE
Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse.
In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate.
A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, Black Bread White Beer keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.
(The Friday Project, Harper Collins)
BOOK REVIEW by Tony Ziemek
In tone and atmosphere, Black Bread White Beer by Niven Govinden is quintessentially British. Yet it is not just the Britain of village greens and quaint pubs but the modern one of cultural intermingling and friction. Amal is from an Indian family in Leicester. He is married to Claud, whose family live in a Sussex village of maypoles, morris dancers and organising petitions against a changing world.
Thursday, May 16th, 2013
Dead Lions Synopsis
London’s Slough House is where the washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. The “slow horses,” as they’re called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated here. Maybe they messed up an op badly and can’t be trusted any more. Maybe they got in the way of an ambitious colleague and had the rug yanked out from under them. Maybe they just got too dependent on the bottle-not unusual in this line of work. One thing they all have in common, though, is they all want to be back in the action. And most of them would do anything to get there — even if it means having to collaborate with one another.
Now the slow horses have a chance at redemption. An old Cold War-era spy is found dead on a bus outside Oxford, far from his usual haunts. The despicable, irascible Jackson Lamb is convinced Dickie Bow was murdered. As the agents dig into their fallen comrade’s circumstances, they uncover a shadowy tangle of ancient Cold War secrets that seem to lead back to a man named Alexander Popov, who is either a Soviet bogeyman or the most dangerous man in the world. How many more people will have to die to keep those secrets buried?
I was an unabashed fan of the British TV series Spooks and will admit to having enjoyed an episode or two of the slightly less cool but charming TV series New Tricks. Add to that my penchant for satire and humour on the darker side, and it seems Mick Herron’s latest novel Dead Lions was made for me.
Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
The Gunners of Shenyang Synopsis
In Yu Jihui’s memoir of his life as a university student in China as the nation starved during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, carrots are decadent luxuries and flatulence is the people’s true common language. “Soapy,” the author’s nickname during his college days, has been dubious about the benefits of the socialist revolution sweeping the country ever since his father was exiled to a desolate town in the middle of nowhere for daring to question the wisdom of trying to industrialize overnight. As a young adult, Soapy and his dorm-mates attend classes, chase girls, and attend endless political meetings, always struggling with the need to maintain a cheerfully patriotic outlook despite that pesky urge to faint from hunger from time to time. When Big Zhang, an older boy from the provinces, dares to be a nonconformist, openly mocking the system, the dangerous silliness of the day turns to literal, life-or-death danger.
The Gunners of Shenyang is at once hilarious, revealing, informative, thought-provoking, and sometimes college-boy vulgar — a memoir of the horrors of the times from a boy still young enough to enjoy himself and a man now wise enough to see the big picture for what it was. (Signal 8 Press)
BOOK REVIEW by Tony Ziemek
The Gunners of Shenyang is a memoir dedicated to the author’s parents and it is recounted sparingly and with poignancy. It is a tale of friendship, love, humanity and hunger. I found it fascinating because it is an unfamiliar world but one peopled with characters that are universal in their lives, loves, friendships and the many (often ribald) jokes that defy the austerity of the times.
Sunday, April 28th, 2013
Survival Skills Synopsis
Jean Ryan’s debut collection tells stories of nature and of human nature.
The characters who inhabit Jean Ryan’s graceful, imaginative collection of stories are survivors of accidents and acts of nature, of injuries both physical and emotional. Ryan writes of beauty and aging, of love won and lost-with characters enveloped in the mysteries of the natural world and the animal kingdom.
In “Greyhound,” a woman brings home a rescued dog for her troubled partner in hopes that they might heal one another-while the dog in “What Gretel Knows” is the keeper of her owner’s deepest secrets. In “Migration,” a recently divorced woman retreats to a lake front cabin where she is befriended by a mysterious Canada goose just as autumn begins to turn to winter. As a tornado ravages three towns in “The Spider in the Sink,” a storm chaser’s wife spares the life of a spider as she anxiously waits for her husband to return. And in “A Sea Change,” a relationship falls victim to a woman’s obsession with the world below the waves.
The world is at once a beautiful and perilous place, Jean Ryan’s stories tell us, and our lives are defined by the shelters we build. (Ashland Creek Press)
Survival Skills by Jean Ryan is one of the more unique offerings I have come across in my recent quest to read more short story collections. The collection consists of 13 standalone stories ranging from 6 to 21 pages in length. There is a real clarity and strong sense of purpose about each story, but common to all is Jean Ryan’s refreshing voice and open-minded and unadorned perspective.
Thursday, April 18th, 2013
The Amber Amulet Synopsis
Please find enclosed this AMBER AMULET. That must sound unusual to a citizen, but you will have to trust me on this count because the science is too detailed for me to outline here. All you need to know is that the AMBER AMULET will eliminate your unhappiness by counteracting it with POSITIVE ENERGY. This should see you straight. Fear not, you’re in safe hands now.
The Masked Avenger
Meet twelve-year-old Liam McKenzie, who patrols his suburban neighbourhood as the Masked Avenger – a superhero with powers so potent not even he can fully comprehend their extent.
Along with his sidekick, Richie the Powerbeagle, he protects the people of Franklin Street from chaos, mayhem, evil and low tyre pressure – but can he save them from sadness?
This perfect jewel of a book by the award-winning author of the 2009 Book of the Year Jasper Jones will hold all readers in its irresistible power. (Booktopia)
At only 96 pages, and only 65 minutes in the audio format I consumed it in, The Amber Amulet is the most recent literary offering from talented Aussie author Craig Silvey. Although told from a child’s perspective, the mature vocabulary and the humour and poignancy of a child’s observations will be best appreciated by an adult audience.
Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore Synopsis
A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life — mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone — and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra.
The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.
With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day. (Amazon)
Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore reminds me of a cult movie classic combo – Hackers meets The Goonies – with a helping of Gen Y style thrown in.