WITH ONE HUNDRED AND TWO SEDUCTIONS BETWEEN THEM, JAMES AND HERBERT LEAVE ME GREY.

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52-seductions-us-cover2Bette Midler once asked “If sex is such a natural phenomenon, how come there so many books on how to? Sex and literature have always gone well together, whether it’s harking back to Lady Chatterley’s lover, Mills and Boon, Jilly Cooper in the eighties or onto the nineties when Candice Bushnell was throwing open the doors to the taboo laden closet with her column and books. But just when we thought we’d hit the bottom and got immune to the numerous repeats of Carrie or more appropriately Samantha’s bedroom gymnastics, along comes the likes of EL James and Betty Herbert.

This year in March it was my turn to present a book to my book group. I was trying to repeat my success of last year when I put forward Emma Donoghue’s The Room. Over Christmas I stumbled on Betty Herbert’s The 52 Seductions, thinking this would be a rather jovial thing to present to the literary gathering, and a way of pushing the boundaries of the group.

The 52 Seductions is  a book by Betty Herbert  a blogger who writes an online sexual advice column www.bettyherbert.com. It describes herself and her husband’s (supposedly, I think it’s a work of fiction) attempts to re-invigorate their sex life by having sex every week of a year, fair play to them. Most of us are happy if it happens twice to three times a month and would think we’d died and gone to heaven if it happened every week. But the pressures of daily life, stress and fatigue etc all take their toll preventing us from achieving anywhere close to this.

The first thing that hits you about the book is that to protect her husbands identity she calls him Herbert, so his name comes out as Herbert Herbert. So either his parents weren’t very bright.  Or Betty and her editor aren’t very inventive and couldn’t have come up with something more original then that. As most fiction writers will tell you and prove to you, creating a believable but fictitious name is easy enough.

Betty Herbert

The book starts off very well and for the first couple of months or chapters, because that’s how they’re set out. It’s entertaining and educational (I’m not that innocent, but I didn’t know what the Reverse Cow Girl was until then). It also caused amusement and embarrassment to some of my book group colleagues, when they found it in the self-help section or had to go asking for it.

But just as Betty and Herbert find it hard to keep to the schedule, so does the book. Okay, so there are a couple of subplots centering  on them wanting to have a baby and Betty’s gynecological problems, but apart from that what starts out as and looks promising,  gets rather tired and laborious at the end. This was an opinion that most members of book group who read it expressed.

As for how I would describe The 52 Seductions? Its all mouth and no trousers… Excuse the pun.

When the storm broke about EL James’ Fifty Shades trilogy I decided my readers and followers on twitter and other social media should be given my view of this current hot topic.

Fifty Shades of Grey has stormed out of nowhere to become this fifty-shades-of-grey-book-coveryears literary must read. Ripping up records and dispatching contenders from all other genres off the top spots in all the sales charts. If you’ve been stuck in a hermitage or marooned on a desert island for the past six months the main synopsis is as follows. Ana Steele a mid twenties final year student in a Seattle university goes to interview a wealthy young dot com entrepreneur Christian Grey, for the university paper. There a spark ignites between them  and what follows is a very “little left to the imagination” trip into the dark and seedy world of bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism often referred to as BDSM. What we discover is that Christian wants to dominate Ana sexually, using an array of devices in his “Playroom”. But also Christian has a dark past hence the fifty shades.

Maybe it’s because I’m a man. But I again found the book initially interesting, then certain things about the story, led me think this is totally unbelievable, although isn’t most porn. Firstly, Ana is a virgin…. She’s twenty four, has been to an average US College and is, we are led to believe, very attractive but has never once been with anyone sexually… This is very hard to believe in this day and age, unless she was studying at a convent. Which, she wasn’t.

There’s other things like her alcohol intake, she hasn’t taken the pledge, but the first time she gets really drunk is on the night she finishes her exams, on this occasion Christian rides to her rescue. Again she comes across as too pure as driven snow, so much so the Virgin Mary looks rather second fiddle to her. Also her food intake, she hardly eats and if were real would most probably be Anorexic.

But on the diet of a sparrow she and Christian go at it with the vim and vigour of two olympic athletes, who must be using some sort of steroid or having intravenous lines of a leading energy drink pumped into them. Also if he’s not using some sort of Co. Cork mass produced prescription aphrodisiac, then he’s fitter then Atlas, or has a serious health problem. I’m fit but my stamina would be rather depleted after the energy these two expel on a daily basis.

Then there’s the all but creepy aide of Grey’s called Taylor who seems to hover just out of sight. God if he  was interrogated wouldn’t it be a delightful modern take on “What the Butler Saw” or heard in this case.  Also one slightly quirky character in the book is Ana’s subconscious that takes on a very almost human form and reminds me of the Mother Nature character in a current tampon TV advert.

I didn’t finish Fifty Shades because it got rather repetitive and I couldn’t see myself reading the other two books in the trilogy, even though the big mystery is what in Grey’s past has made him such a damaged person. Also any book that has to fill a whole chapter with the complete text of a legal document is lacking in something.

EL James

If asked to describe Fifty Shades, it’s a poor cross between Pretty Woman and Nine And A Half Weeks. So the hordes of women who are burning up the lines to Amazon down-loading the electronic versions and clearing out shelves of it in book stores across the world will most probably make the movie a world wide hit when it’s released next year and Ms. James even more wealthy. My only interest now is to see how she will top this success and what she’ll write about next.

I Think Somerset Maughan said it well when he said. “there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror”.

(First Published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

 

VLAUTIN ROCKS ON, DESPITE BEING PIPPED THE AT POST FOR IMPAC WITH A SURE FIRE WINNER

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lassie & timmySome of the best stories down through the years are those that have featured a kid and their pet or an animal that they’ve built a rapport with, whether it‘s a kangaroo, rough collie, kestrel, whale or a horse. But try to marry that with musicians who’ve taken up the pen in the literary sense, not to write their ramblings of the hedonistic days at the height of their careers, there’s a select few. Josh Ritter recently promoted his first novel, Bright’s Passage at Dublin Writers week. Other famous singers who’ve become authors include, Madonna, Nick Cave and Alice Cooper who, strangely enough, wrote a golfing self- help book.

Last week a journalistic colleague introduced me to another, Willy Vlautin. He’s actually the front man for the country rock band Richmond Fontaine. His third book is Lean on Pete which was shortlisted for the highly acclaimed Dublin IMPAC literary award 2012.

Lean on Pete tells the story of Charley Thompson, a fifteen year old whose lone parent father drags him across the American lean on petenorthwest from one dead beat job to another. After arriving in Portland, Charley comes across a local race course while out running. To feed himself he gets a job from Del Montgomery a struggling alcoholic race horse trainer and his, well past it horse, the titular ‘Lean on Pete’. Del isn’t up for any awards for employer or horse owner of the year and neither is the Charley’s dad in the parenting department for that matter. When his dad dies at the hands of a large Samoan whose wife he’d been fooling around with and Del tries to sell Pete, Charley takes his new best friend and they set off on road trip for pastures new and to try and find Charley’s only remaining relative, his aunt on his dad’s side, whose last known address was Boise, Idaho about four hundred and thirty miles away.

Vlautin’s gritty and realistic descriptions of Charley and Pete’s hand to mouth existence prior to and on the road along with their adventures, which has them at one stage enduring a trek across a desert, had me humming America’s – Horse with No Name. Coupled with the mixed bag of characters they encounter is evidence of why this book made it to the shortlist of IMPAC.

I’m a martyr to my emotions at the best of times and animal movies always set me off.  I just about managed to keep things in check while being gripped by this solid page turner. But there was a thin line between the strong-willed book reviewer and a gibbering crumpled heap in the corner.

Willy Vlautin

I haven’t read Vlautin’s other two books, The Motel life and Northline. But after this one, I’ll definitely be reading these and as we enter the summer holiday season and we all head away for our two weeks recharging the vitamin D levels, I’d definitely recommend this book for inclusion in your stable of holiday reads.

As for the musical side of Vlautin’s life, Richmond Fontaine where in Kilkenny for the Roots festival in May and will be back on these shores in November playing a gig at Roisin Dubh in Galway, for more info on their tour dates check the bands website www.richmondfontaine.com .

(First Published  www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

NOTARO LEAVES US WITH PROOF SHE HAD THE LITERARY X FACTOR.

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a-moment-like-this-anita-notaroIt’s always tragic when you hear of someone struck down in their prime or on the cusp of success. There are examples of this across the musical, acting and literary fields. For instance , Elvis, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the actors  River Pheonix and Heath Ledger come to mind. In the literary world we have in the past couple of years had the sudden death of Stieg Larsson, days after submitting the three manuscripts for the Millenium trilogy; Terry Pratchett diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and then most recently in Ireland the news that acclaimed author Anita Notaro has been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia.

Her sixth and what is now her final book is called A Moment Like This. It tells the story of Antonia Trent a shy twenty-something and a carer for her stroke victim mother. They live in the County Wicklow village of Glenvarra. Her only social outlet is her participation in the local church choir and this is where we discover she has a natural talent – the voice of an angel as her friends keep telling her. When her mother dies suddenly she is thrust into a brave new world of having to fend for herself with out her only real companion, or so she thinks. But then the day after the funeral a letter arrives from the national TV station telling her she’s made the auditions for “That’s Talent!”, Ireland’s answer to the ‘X Factor’. Unbeknownst to her, the leader of the choir sent in a CD of Antonia singing.

What follows is a journey through the hectic world of the talent shows, seen from the perspective of the shy and naive. Along the way we meet a mixed bag of characters from the decent people who can’t do enough for you to the be-grudgers, hangers-on and twisted weirdo’s who all inhabit this world.  Some of the characters are cut straight from real life, such as Maurice Prendergast the reality show judge and music promoter who is basically the very loveable Louis Walsh down to a tee. Also thrown in for good measure is a romantic element involving a dashing young doctor.

This book has “decent and heart-warming” stamped all over it. “Chick Lit” it’s not because , whilst that’s a rather derogatory term that I could never use for this book, also it’s not’ mushy’ and keeps the reader engaged and gets you behind Antonia.  A Moment Like Mary ByrneThis stands out there with the likes of P.S. I Love You as an original tale or maybe even a modern day The Commitments. The story is ripped straight from that of Susan Boyle and Mary Byrne’s exploits, except that Antonia is younger and more representative of the hundreds of young girls and boys who queue up in their thousands each year for a lottery style chance to make it big. Not forgetting the wannabees who return year after year in the hope of getting somewhere. Anita has those types represented too, in the characters of Amanda and Damien.

If it were to be made for TV or film, I could conceivably see the lead being made more mature, with maybe Mary Byrne playing the lead, but don’t you just know that if push comes to shove, they’ll give it to some little known Irish pop starlet.

One of the most heart wrenching parts of the book is the acknowledgement at the end which is written by Anita’s husband, Gerry. It brings home the fact that this is her last book and reads sort of like a living will. It would take a very strong person not be moved by this glowing tribute to her many friends and readers.

Anita Notaro

So if you like heart warming stories of shy unknown talent finally making it big and going from rags to riches, and you missed Mary’s most recent gigs with Phil Coulter and The Susan Boyle Story on in a theatre near you. Then this book is definitely worth a read and even better at more than half the price of those tickets.

Anita’s previous books are: Back after the Breakbehind The ScenesThe WWW ClubTake a Look at Me Now and No Ordinary Love.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

O’DONOVAN DELIVERS PACE BUT NEEDS A PRAYER TO REPEAT THE ORIGINALITY OF PRIEST

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Dublin DeadI’ve always steered clear of Irish crime fiction. I don’t know why really. Maybe it’s because I have the plots of a number of books inside me, that I don’t want to see already written about when I open up some Sunday paper hack’s latest attempt to fill the remaining hours of their days and weekends, when they’re not sleeping, eating, drinking or just catching up with the family.

I think it’s because when put up against the likes of Morse, Reacher, Bosch etc; they don’t have the same romanticism. I live in and visit the settings on a regular if not daily basis and find it hard to picture them in the same way as a Midwest American two horse town or the cobbled bicycle congested lanes of Oxford.

Back in February my partner gave me a copy of Gerard O’Donovan’s latest book “Dublin Dead” as a Valentines Day present. I think I gave her a voucher for M&S… Hmm, true romantics both of us… Anyway I let the book sit on my bedside locker as a reminder that it was on my TBR (To Be Read) list. Then as I ran out the door last week to my sisters wedding in Italy without anything to read, the love of my life suggested rather subtlety that I hadn’t read “… That book I gave you for Valentines”.  So into the bag it went, displacing Anita Notaro’s latest from a round trip to Lake Garda.

gerard O'Donovan

This is O’Donovan’s second book after “Priest”, both feature the Dublin DI Mike Mulcahy and Sunday paper journalist Siobhan Fallon. In “Dublin Dead” both are a year on from their encounter with a deranged priest who via back story we discover impaled Fallon on the papal cross in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Now that’s what I call original and made me sit up and take note. Anyway in this outing Fallon is working through her Post Traumatic Stress on a dead end suicide story which then leads to a missing persons, while Mulcahy is following up the murder of a Dublin gangster in Spain and the link to the largest haul of drugs off the cork coast and the involvement of an internationally feared Colombian hit-man, while trying to prevent the closure of his Drug Liaison Unit by the end of the week. Soon both hero and heroine find themselves pursued and pursuers with a climactic finale in west cork.

O’Donovan’s own back story reads a little fantastically, he’s had a job in the Irish civil service, worked abroad as a barman, gherkin bottler and philosophy teacher…. Umm, if you can figure how you go from pushing paper in Dublin to pushing knobbly green veg into bottles, answers in the comments box below. I suppose teaching philosophy is similar to that of the gherkin bottler, you’re pushing knobbly shaped theories into empty vessels.

The book slams you straight into the action from the first page andThe Priest the pace is relentless to the end. The story line is topical, inspired by a recent botched drug run on a yacht off the south coast and with references to NAMA and the perilous state of the economy. Where it is disappointing is in the final confrontation, here it feels a bit limp and goes down a well worn path. For someone who had one of his lead characters crucified on a 116ft high monument over looking Dublin previously I expected a better ending and some more dramatic set pieces through out the book, but take my word for it this is well worth the read and probably even better if you start with “Priest” .

(First published  www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

FIFTY YEARS ON LEE STILL HAS PEOPLE FLOCKING TO READ HER LITERARY CLASSIC

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to-kill-a-mockingbirdFor years people have been saying to me, if you have to read one book before you die, you’ve go to read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Not that I’m ready to die now that I’ve read it, but having done so I can certainly tick it off my “Bucket List”.

Published in 1960, it’s the only book Lee wrote and with it she created one of the greatest literary works of our time and in it gave us one of the great literary characters, in the shape of Atticus Finch. A father figure coveted by every kid in Christendom or at least the child inside everyone whose ever read the book or seen the Oscar winning film, starring Gregory Peck (Atticus) and a very young Robert Duvall (Boo Radley). In my view, if they ever wanted to replace Father Christmas; they wouldn’t be far wrong replacing him with Atticus Finch. I have to admit to looking back while reading this book and seeing aspects of Atticus in my late father or maybe it’s more to do with aspects of Atticus in all our fathers.

The book follows the young lives of Jem Finch and his sister “Scout” or Jean Louise, to give her full name. As they grow up in the small town of Maycomb in America’s Deep South during the 1930’s when the issue of race is at its height. Their father Atticus is a widower and local lawyer who is tasked with defending a young black man accused of raping a local white girl. The town takes sides and the ugly spectacle of mob justice and small town back-biting comes knocking on the quiet suburban door of the Finch family, The court case and the ripples it causes in the small town are seen through the eyes of young Scout, a girl wise beyond her years.

Maycomb has its usual gathering of weird and wonderful characters from the mysterious Boo Radley, who lives a secluded to-kill-a-mockingbird-movie-posterlife in his parent’s house across the street from the Finches. To the various women in the neighbourhood who help open the children’s eyes to the harsh realities of life.  But time and again the most outstanding character in the book is the kid’s father Atticus, a man who gives his kids just enough leeway to enjoy themselves but also someone worldly–wise, principled and unafraid  to stand up  for what is right.

The book was selected by my book group and I must say it was a fantastic read, although it does take a while to get to the courtroom drama. The run up to it is a good scene setter and the descriptions of the town are excellently done but once the court room drama is over, the book takes on a sedentary pace till the very end, when Lee hits us with a curve ball out of left field. At ten to one the other morning I was just about throw the book down and not finish it, when I reached the last two chapters and’ bam!’ I was hit square on by the turn of events and my determination to finish the book was rejuvenated.

There was a bit of confusion caused by the book during the past month among the book groupers; one of them thought we were supposed to be reading ‘Catcher in the Rye ‘(Don’t ask me how). On another occasion, a friend my partner and I had met for a drink asked me what the book was about, I quipped it’s like an episode of ‘Matlock,’ in three hundred pages. To which my partner said, ‘no! You’re confusing it with the guy in the wheelchair.’ We both looked at her and said, ‘Err that’s Ironside’.

harper-lee

So, take my advice if you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird yet, and your looking for a good read, you’ll not be disappointed by this book and like me and many others around the globe including one Victoria Beckham (she supposedly named her daughter Harper, after reading the book)  you too can take it off your great “To Do” list.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

TOWNSEND’S LATEST RAISES A SMILE, BUT FAILS TO GET OUT OF BED IN OTHER WAYS

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wman who wnt to bed cvrWe all like our beds and relish the chance of a good old lie-on, usually at the weekends but if it occurs on a weekday you sometimes feel like you’ve won the lottery. Well I do anyway, especially as I’m a night owl who can survive on six hours sleep. So the thought of going to bed for an extended period might make some of us wet ourselves with anticipation. This is the premise for Sue Townsend’s latest book, The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year.

It’s thirty years since The Leicester born playwright and novelist’s first book The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾  hit the shelves, I can remember reading her Adrian Mole column in my mother’s  Woman’s Realm magazine before it got published. I empathized with him because we were both christened Adrian, were around the same age and had a passion for writing. Since then there have been a further seven Adrian Mole instalments and a TV adaptation as well as five other novels including The Queen and I and Number Ten.

The Woman Who Went To Bed For a Year, charts the year in the life of Eva Beaver a housewife and mother. She’s married to Dr. Brian Beaver an Astronomer and they have two highly intelligent twins Brian Jnr. and Brianne. The day they both go off to university she decides to take to her bed, to supposedly find herself after years of looking after the kids and Brian. Along the way she enlists the help of her dreadlocked handyman Alexander to help her drastically de-clutter her life, wardrobe and bedroom. While on her journey of self discovery she picks up a menagerie of followers as word of her plight spreads around the globe.

I was disappointed by the book It is a funny read for three quarters of way but at the end it felt flat and came across as having lost its way. This is easy to see as its four hundred and thirty pages long. There are too many characters in the book to keep track of and it appears as if the editor missed cutting out a few of them, especially a Chinese classmate of the twins who has no real purpose in the story and has a whole chapter on his parents receiving a letter from him. This might have brought the page count under four hundred.

suetownsend

Most of Townsend’s previous books seem to feature dysfunctional families and relationships and the main dwellings always feel like a halfway house for society’s lame ducks and make you want to hum a Madness hit. The same applies here, early on in the book Eva discovers her husband has been having an eight year affair with a colleague, in the shed it the back garden. She then forms a relationship with Alexander the handy man, which stumbles through the book.

The main characters are well written and the basic idea of the story is interesting, but I think that because it deals with the subject of ScrtDiary of AMolemental health and how society views it. This subject and humour do not make the best bed fellows, unless dealt with by a sound comedic writer like Townsend, here she fails. As for the conclusion, we never really discover if Eva found herself and what happened after she got out of bed. The book just seems to come to a dead stop, leaving a load of loose ends.  So if you feel like getting out of bed for a book or staying in bed with one, this isn’t it.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

DEWITT AND THE SISTERS RIDE-IN WITH A CLASSIC BUT HUMOUROUS WESTERN

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The western has come along way on the big screen since GeneGebe Autry Thief river outlws Autry  and the Lone Ranger  rode out all those years ago.  In recent times it’s had a bit of a resurgence what with UnforgivenBroke Back Mountain and this years below par big budget release of  Cowboys and Aliens, a feeble attempt at bridging the generational gap.

Books haven’t fared as well, back in the days westerns were your equivalent of pulp fiction, hard and gritty and what every boy read to fuel a dream of owning a horse and  living out in the great outdoors, unfettered by rules or fences. The very first and only western I read was one originally owned by my father, it was “Gene Autry and the Thief River Outlaws”, published in 1944 and still available on Amazon for the more nostalgic of us. My copy is floating round my mum’s house somewhere. Printed westerns have fallen by the wayside and now become a niche read, sought out by the Stetson wearing anorak classes in dusty dark corners at the back of all good bookshops. That is until this month’s read, Patrick Dewitt’s “The Sisters Brothers”.

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Set in 1851, the story follows Charlie and Eli Sisters, two feared gunslingers and their faithful horses Nimble and Tubs as they journey from Oregon to San Francisco on the trail on a man called Hermann Kermit Warm, who is in possession of something wanted by their employer The Commodore. On their Journey, told through younger brother Eli’s eyes. We discover he’s a dreamer who yearns to step a way from his life of killing to order, after this last job. To find love, settle down and set up a General Store. While Charlie is the hard drinking, hard boiled type who lives to kill and instill fear into his victims and just wants to prove to the “The Commodore” that he can be the lead man. The brother’s relationship, lives and wealth go through highs and lows as they meet a cross section of society in the shape of weird and wonderful characters all hell bent on finding their fortune in the gold rush or  dealing with the affects it has had on their lives.
The book is awkward in that there are times when you want to laugh out loud at their exploits, and you do. But then other times, especially when reading Eli’s heart wrenching relationship with his horse Tubs and DeWitt’s telling of the story, that I was stuck between crying and laughing.

The Story is excellent overall and keeps you turning the pages and at just over 300 words it’s a book you can easily read in one sitting, as the prose and the chapters flow easily and quickly, a gangly and wordy Dickensian novel this isn’t and after throwing down “Great Expectations” before this and resorting to the BBC’s excellent version, I was delighted to get back into an enchanting and funny read.

Patrick dewittThis is Dewitt’s second book after “Ablutions” and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year, but was just beaten by Julian BarnesA Sense of Ending”.  So get in your favourite seat/saddle and join Charlie and Eli for an emotional journey through the Gold Rush, and discover for yourself a real nugget of a novel.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2011)