I love these Tumblr posts.

I think I’ll start posting more of them…

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I Like Browsing The Books In The Gift Store In Art Galleries.

Art galleries never sell it for any cheaper, mind you, only ever at the retail price, but I adore their selections.

I was at the Art Gallery of NSW to look at the Andy Warhol exhibition and I did the obligatory walk through the gift store. And even though they didn’t have a large variety, they had a very good collection. An indie book store in a hipster town (like Newtown for you Sydneysiders) would be proud of their selection.

I especially love their coffee book selections, the books contain such exquisite photography (even f I don’t understand half of it). 

When I get my own place, I want to have a couple of fashion photography books lying on my coffee table; that is definitely part of the dream.

The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood

This is the fifth installment of the Phryne Fisher series and to date, I honestly think this is Greenwood’s best one so far. She’s finally found her stride and rhythm.

It seems that Greenwood has a template that she sticks to, yet her stories never feel repetitive. Picking up a Phryne Fisher novel, it looks like I can expect the following:

  • Crimes that require attention to detail to solve, rather than brute force and luck.
  • Realistic assistance from the supporting cast like her loyal maid, Dot.
  • A variety of characters that do not feel repeated in any way.
  • Beautiful descriptions of 1930s fashion and style.
  • Steamy sex scenes conducted by a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid of to get it.

Greenwod has established everything she needs to for a solid and reliable series; we know all her key supporting characters, and we have a realistic understanding of her star detective’s capabilities, so now we can finally focus on Miss Fisher’s ingenuity and her adventures.

She has found the perfect blend between realism and fantasy. Greenwood understands that this world she’s created is essentially a fantasy world; one where rich socialites with gumption and good sense can pursue careers they would never have been able to in the 1920s.

Yet none of her characters are cartoonish or flat; they almost seem rooted in someone real that Greenwood has encountered in her legal career. From the controlling matriarch her murky motives that Phryne never truly understands, to the vivacious buxom singer that hits Phryne right in the ego, there is never a character that gives me a sense of déjà vu.

This novel seamlessly blends two crimes together but doesn’t make the story feel disjointed or crowded. And the story ends on a realistic note, one that doesn’t make Phryne feel like an all-knowing persona with no vulnerabilities, and again, this helps grounds the series.

If all her installments are roughly this quality, I can see why the Phryne Fisher series has lasted as long as it has.

 

On Another Note

I think once I polish off about ten installments, I’ll start watching the ABC ‘Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries’ series. I don’t want to give myself any spoilers but I’m honestly not waiting till I catch up to all 20+ books.

I also have five unread books in this series so I’m debating whether I should independently review them or do a joint one since I worry I might be writing about the same issues in each one.

Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale

This was an enlightening read. Not only in the behaviour of a conman but in his exploits.

The memoir details his youth and his exploits as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, but most importantly, as a cheque forger. It spans over his entire career before ending at his final escape, right before he’s caught for the final time.

It’s a fast-paced, adventurous read. If I didn’t know it was based on true events, I would have thought it was a highly entertaining but very improbable story. If this autobiography had gone on for any longer, the boasting would have gotten tiring but it ends at exactly the right place. Abagnale knows how to control his story for the audience and when to end it before it goes too far, and I expect nothing less from one of the most daring American con artists.

Abagnale thinks highly of himself. Like, really thinks he’s the bee’s knees. He even admits in the opening paragraph that “Modesty is not one of my virtues”. But even from the most damning critic, you can’t deny that he was a bright, talented, young man with a desire for wealth and beautiful women. Here was a man who could understand medical journals, pass the bar exam and teach himself the inner workings of a bank, all before the age of 21. Abagnale was, for all intents and purposes, a force of nature.

And like any arrogant young man, Abagnale humble-brags. For example, he points out his own inexperience and lack of contacts in counterfeiting but quickly points out in the next paragraph that this autonomy prevented the police from finding him for years since they didn’t know anyone who knew him. He also emphasised that he “shunned any place that smacked of being a criminal haunt”, like he was above the common riff raff.

But there is absolutely no doubt that he knows his stuff, and whilst his crimes are unbelievable, his knowledge and character make it believable that he could have committed all of this. Abagnale takes care to outline the detail behind his crimes, like discussing the serial numbers on each cheque, almost as if to remind his audience that he didn’t just coast by on his good looks and personality.

His writing style is not that of a trained author though, but I don’t think a ghost writer was in play, or at the very least, Abagnale wrote 99% his autobiography himself, and it’s because too much of his personality shines through. The writing feels a little cheesy at times but I feel like that’s part of the charm; Frank never downplays his confidence or his intelligence and I can see why so many people fell for his act. For example, he refers to himself as the “Prince of Philanderers” which is a title even Don Juan would not have called himself. But it works.

He even drops little gems of wisdom that, if written by any other author would have made me roll my eyes but really fits in with his charm. When explaining to his audience how he can get away with the occasional mistake in his forgers, or con experienced colleagues into forgiving his mistakes, he explains:

… A thrift-shop dress is usually mistaken for high fashion when it’s revealed under a mink coat.

There were two additions to the memoir that I liked: a third person recount of what happened to Frank after his final escape and an interview with Stan Redding. Abagnale writes his adventures as nothing more than hijinks that spiralled into something out of control, and that he never intended to let it get so far. But these two elements grounds his memoirs, so it’s reads less like Abagnale is bragging about his wonderful brain and I was reminded that the events weren’t charming antics of a young man, but rather a criminal act.

It’s fascinating and audacious and everything you expect a conman to be. I highly recommend this.

 

On Another Note

I watched the movie before I read the autobiography so I was surprised by some of the events written because, shockingly, Spielberg has to make a few concessions to cram a 300 page book into a two hour movie. For example:

  • The portrayal of his parents greatly deviated from the movie, for example, Movie!Dad was a conman who encouraged Frank to pursue a life of crime as a means of revenge against the US Government vs. Book!Dad who was, by Frank’s accounts, an upstanding man.
  • Amy Adam’s character, Brenda Strong, was comprised of several of Frank’s girlfriends and is a much, much more sympathetic character.
  • Spielberg really played up Abagnale’s tragic past and just how big of an impact the divorce had on him. Even by Frank’s own admission

But I’m glad the main events were actually rooted in truth like Abagnale’s encounter with a high-class call girl and swanning into Miami airport with a bunch of women. Those were my favourite cons in the movie and I’m happy they weren’t exaggerated. Spielberg did the autobiography justice.

BBC Mini-Series: And Then There Were None

The British love their mini-series, don’t they? And they really love Agatha Christie, so this was kind of inevitable. Before I start, I just want to establish a few things:

  • There will be spoilers.
  • The acronym I will be using for the ‘And Then There Were None’ will be ATTWN.
  • My angle will be to review ATTWN in comparison to the book, not as a stand-alone mini-series.
  • I found this very difficult to write. I had a thousand things I wanted to discuss but for some reason they weren’t flowing onto the page.

Clear then? Let’s get started!

And_then_there_where_none_BBC_still_02

To summarise, this mini-series was perfect in every way possible. BBC may not have been completely loyal to Christie’s masterpiece but they captured the essence of the story. And what this story essentially is, is not a murder mystery, but rather a psychological drama showing how people cope when confronted with crimes they thought would never come back to haunt them. They showed what people are truly like under the fear of death and what they come to regret.

There were some immaterial changes for example,

  • They fiddled around with some of the motives behind the murders committed by the victims,
  • There was a confrontation between the last victim and the serial killer, and
  • A romance was created between Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard.

But in terms of their contribution to the story, the impact just meant that BBC made its mark on the story, rather than a straight adaptation.

And as for the cast…

  • Charles Dance (as Justice Wargrave) was amazing, given the little time on screen that he had, but then again, Dance rarely fails.
  • I thought Maeve Dermody (the woman who played Vera Claythorne) could be better. I mean she was good, but not great. Vera is a natural liar and sociopath, there should be no feelings of pity at her death in the end, only satisfaction that someone like Vera is killed. However, Dance’s performance as Wargrave was so overwhelming, you would still be left reeling at the revelation.
  • But the standout was really Aidan Turner (who played Philip Lombard). I can see why everyone’s clamouring to make him the next James Bond, he’s certainly James Bond material. There’s something very primal in his swagger which probably drives half his sex appeal. Luckily BBC changed his crime from the racist act of ‘letting Africans die instead of White Men because Africans are apparently used to that sort of thing’ to the greedy act of ‘killing twenty-one people for diamonds’. I assume the change was so certain parts of the demographic wouldn’t feel morally conflicted when the continued to lust after Turner and his portrayal of Lombard.

There were some areas that I thought the mini-series did better than the book:

  • The analysis of social, racial and gender discrimination. This story forces ten different kinds of people, from all different walks of life, to congregate on an island. Under normal circumstances, none of these people would have met and watching them being forced to interact was an enlightening commentary on the British social structure in the 1930s.
  • They’ve expanded the roles of some of the inhabitants, especially Lombard. In ATTWN, the people take a more active role in trying to work out who the killer is, instead of just flailing about in the novel.
  • I especially enjoyed the visual portrayals of each of the ten people’s crimes. The producers used flashback and hallucinations to really drive the point home.

But there was one sticky point I thought the mini-series didn’t capture so well; the mini-series doesn’t explain how Justice Wargrave came to find the other nine victims.

In the novel, Wargrave writes a long letter that is basically the denouement, explaining why and how he’s done it; BBC condensed that into a ten minute confrontation between him and Vera and made it seem as if he found them using the power of deus ex machina. Which is disappointing because it doesn’t show the intense planning he put in his murders and this is a particularly important characteristic that makes it believable that Wargrave is the killer.

Furthermore, showing that he had connections to the victims makes how he tracked down Vera even more symbolic; it was only through chance that he learnt about Vera Claythorne’s crime, which is a fitting end, as it was only through chance that Vera got away with her murder. It would have made their final confrontation more momentous.

Nor does he explain the rationale behind the order of his victims, for example, Mrs Rogers was killed early as she was merely complicit in her husband’s crime and therefore didn’t deserve the pain of a long-drawn out psychological torture. It’s a pity because Wargrave puts in so much planning in his crime and the audience never really gets to appreciate it.

I will be recommending this series to everyone. This series isn’t just for long-time Agatha Christie fans but for anyone who wants to understand the enduring appeal of Christie and her ability to understand what makes people tick.

Happy Free Comic Book Day!!

I love Free Comic Book Day!

I try to be in the city on this day so I can wonder off to Kinokuniya and soak in the atmosphere. Either that or trek down to smaller comic book stores where they won’t be so stingy with the free comics.

But I really love going to Kinokuniya, it reminds me so much of my high school days when I was openly into anime and manga. Sadly I’m feeling the burden of adulthood so my love of anime is a guilty pleasure that I can’t help indulging, so seeing everyone get so excited makes me a little nostalgic. To any hardcore fan out there, don’t give in; you’re going to have wonderful memories of these moments so don’t hesitate to embrace your nerdiness.

And of course, here’s my obligatory haul. My favourite was ‘Attack On Titans’. The story had depth and could stand on its own. But I liked the drawings in Buffy.

How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’

Everyone read this article from The Guardian, which outlines the decline in e-book sales.

In a nutshell, despite publishers being convinced that paper would be obliterated off the face of this earth due to smartphones, or similar, books are still standing and not only that, the e-book sales are falling.

Honestly, but this doesn’t surprise me. If you love books, and I mean, really love books, you’re not just going to be satisfied with jusy reading the story itself and therefore, just be satisfied with any format the words come in. 

You want the whole package.

You want the experience of relaxing with a cup of tea. You want the feel of the paper in your hands. The smell of the books. The wear and tear that comes naturally when you re-read something over and over again.

And in the age of the Instagram, you want pretty pictures for your #bookstagram, like an artful lay of your current read next to some pop culture item, or a photo of your current bookshelf, where you can earn your internet karma. 

And you can’t do any of those things if you only have a kindle.

Asking this audience is a bit moot since as book bloggers, we all want hard copies and it’s obvious that we’ve expanded the hobby of reading from just only reading, but I’d like to know your opinions on e-books. I have never purchased an e-book since I so prefer a physical copy for the above reasons but I want to hear your thoughts!