A LEGACY OF SPIES by John le Carre

He certainly has not lost his touch, the master story teller at 86 years of age still turning out a good spy yarn. I read somewhere that it  would help to have read the previous novels of 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold', 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' and 'The Honourable Schoolboy' which all predate the action in this novel. But a quick google gave me a pretty good idea what had been going on, and I did refer back to Prof G while reading this.

Basically the past has come back to bite Smiley's trusty lieutenant Peter Guillam on the bum. Retired and living out his well earned rest on his family property in France, a letter arrives and he is summoned to appear in London. Duly questioned, threatened, on the receiving end of many of the techniques he employed during his time of service in the Circus, the story of what happened years before at the height of the Cold War slowly unravels. And at the end, the question is was it all worth it?

I love these types of books, this author in particular. I surprise myself that I have not  read any of the three previous novels, even though I have read plenty le Carre novels and seen movies/TV series. This is absolute classic stuff, such a good story, the slow and gradual reveal in an atmosphere of how much does poor Peter allow himself to give away, and at the same time save himself. Brilliant.


Well, you won't believe how many web pages and images come up when you google 'how to eat a cupcake'. If you were in a pickle over the 'right' way to pour a cup of tea, you will be in the pits of despair when it comes to eating a cupcake. Who would have thought?

Rest assured, this light and happily predictable read is not going to torture you with how to eat these little delicacies. Although there are one or two suggestions.....

 Two young women - Annie Quintana and Julia St Clair. They grew up together in Julia's parents' San Francisco mansion. Annie's mother was the cook. Both girls were treated equally and beautifully by Julia's parents and Annie's mum, an idyllic childhood for the two girls, really quite oblivious of the obvious economic and class disparity between them. Things went horribly wrong in their last year of high school, both girls then going off in different directions. Julia to the corporate world of New York, and Annie to become a pastry chef. Now Julia has come back home to prepare for her wedding, Annie being asked by Julia's charity queen mother to cater the cup cakes for a function where she and Julia meet up again.

Despite all the hurt and pain of their younger years, a door opens ever so slightly when Julia declares she wants to go into business with Annie - in a cupcakery. Mistrust is never far from the surface however, with lots of old ground having to be raked over, old wounds opened - lots of two steps forward, one step back. At the same time there is someone trying to sabotage the shop, and who is the mysterious man seen lurking in the streets near the shop? Has Julia made the right choice in her fiancĂ©? Can she let her guard down enough to share a shattering event with him? And  what about Annie? Will she trust Julia again? Will she also find love? Will the cupcakery survive the troubles swirling around it? And will you bake a cup cake or two on finishing this easily digestible story?


Hannah is at that awkward stage in life when many women question what the hell they are doing, where is their life going, with ageing parents to attend to, looking after and living with their partner of the last 30 years - is this really all there is to the rest of one's life? Yep, the post menopausal woman. Awesome. No, I don't want to read about such a depressing subject!

But wait! In the midst of her mother's illness, death and subsequent funeral, her fracturing relationship with her husband Simon and her lifelong difficult relationship with her sister Maggie, she is given a duckling. A cute, yellow downy feathered gorgeous little creature that she pours her complete heart and soul into. Not surprisingly this all consuming focus on the duck alienates her from those who love her, and whose help she cannot see. Will the love of her life turn out to be the duck or will she return to the land of human beings?

How can one resist such a lovely little creature - the development of the relationship between Hannah and the duck is funny, moving, weird, alarming and when the duck gets big - it is a Muscovy duck - becomes downright dangerous. She has conversations with the duck, seeing the world from the duck's point of view as well as her own. The duck as therapist helps her unravel her complicated relationship with her mother and sister, helps her mourn her mother's death. Her sister Maggie and drug addicted husband Toby have their own troubles, with both marriages under threat. Will an impasse be reached? Will Hannah choose the duck over Simon? And what about Toby - can he survive?

I very much enjoyed this insightful and compassionate look at middle age, death, change of life. I found much of the duck dialogue/interface very weird, at times tedious and ridiculous, but never having experienced life-stopping grief I should not be too critical about how others cope! To top it all off, Judith White is a New Zealand author, and writes beautifully of the landscape, the beaches, the farmland, and surroundings that Hannah and Simon live in. Well worth a read.

MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan

Oh how I loved this fabulous novel, a great story, great characters, twists and turns, unexpected outcomes all over the place, a truly gripping read perfect for long stretches of self indulgent reading. It is both the story line and the characters together who are extraordinary, equally balanced. The characters are so human, so real, flawed, passionate, loyal, fierce, strong, intelligent, I loved them all. There is so much going on here, not just in the story line, but also the skill with which it moves back and forth in time. It is like a miracle that it can all be held together so well. I guess if you previously won a Pulitzer Prize, you do have some writing smarts!

Annie Kerrigan is just twelve when the story starts in the depressions years of the early 1930s. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her father Eddie, mother Agnes and sister Lydia who is severely disabled. Eddie does his best to provide for his family, to make Lydia's life as comfortable as possible, leading him down  dodgy pathways, until one day he just simply disappears. Annie spends a lot of time with her father, trailing around after him as he goes out about his various business activities. One day on the shores of the beach, she is with her father when he meets with Dexter Styles, a man of mystery to a twelve year old, but to us old hacks clearly a man not to be messed with, which would appear to be where her father went wrong.

The narrative fast forwards to the war years, and Annie is now late teens. She is works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, doing essential war work, her meagre earnings supporting her sister and mother. Somewhat bizarrely she becomes a diver, the first female diver, an occupation considered dangerous and risky for even men to contemplate. She is quite a girl Annie, to take on the misogyny of the navy at this particular time. Her life finally has purpose, until she meets up again with Dexter Styles, still involved in his shady dealings. Once she realises she knows him, her one mission in life is to find out what happened to her father.

Fantastic read, not particularly fast moving, but compelling, surprising, the writing perfectly poised to keep us turning the page, yet also marvelling at the pages already read. Loved it. 

THREE MARTINI LUNCH by Suzanne Rindell

I felt really quite disappointed with this novel by the time I got to the end. Such a great plot line - three young people wanting to leave their mark on the literary world, baed in New York, with big dreams, talent, ambition. Cliff wants to be the next Jack Kerouac, and will do anything to attain that goal. His father is a very successful New York editor/publisher, Cliff struggling to win his father's approval. Eden is a bright, hardworking and ambitious young woman from the mid-west, looking to become an editor herself, as a woman a laughable and unlikely achievement. Miles is a young black man from Harlem, an insanely talented writer, also looking to make it big, but with more hurdles to jump than either of the other two.

Their progress to the top is thwarted by the usual road blocks - the mean father who won't indulge his wayward son, the glass ceiling and workplace sexual harassment, deeply ingrained racial prejudice to name a few. Has much changed in the decades since?

With these fairly predictable power imbalances being the foundations of the plot, I felt that the three main characters, as well as some of the minor characters,  were on a hiding to nowhere. As a result, with all their talent and brains, it seems to me that the author simply does not want them to win. They all make decisions which, in the end, for me, made them quite unlikeable, their original core values compromised by their ambition. Eden is the only one who remains true to her goal - an editor, but it is a tortuous route there. I wonder if this is how people would behave in real life

What I did like however was how the author wrote about the times - New York and San Francisco at a turning point in our recent history. The author lives in both New York and California and her love of both cities shows in her depictions of fashion, food, cafes, bars, street life, San Fran fog, the three martini lunches in New York where so much business is done - all very Mad Men.


Two families in New York in 2007, one white, one black; one American, one African; one poor, one rich; one in a position of power, the other not. But the dreams are the same - advancement, wealth, making it, succeeding. Two families with the same dreams, but vastly different paths to achieving those dreams.

Jende Jonga, his wife Neni and six year old son are migrants from Cameroon. America is the land of opportunity, the only chance they have in life to make money, get rich, achieve the American dream of the house in the suburbs, a good education for their children, good jobs for themselves. Jende is essentially an illegal, but that does not stop him seeking jobs. Neni has a student visa, she wants to be a pharmacist, and their son has a visa under Neni's student one. The optimism and their energy is boundless in this land of amazing opportunity. The Edwards are also chasing that dream, and it would seem they have well and truly made it. They are privileged, powerful, rich, living the dream. Clark is very senior in Lehman Brothers, Cindy is his society wife, and they have two sons, one of whom is hating law school, and the much younger Mighty. Jende lands himself a well paid job as Clark's chauffeur and so begins a relationship that ends up transcending the employer/employee dynamic. Jende and Neni can now see a future for themselves, if only they could get over the stumbling block of Jende's illegal resident status.

But is 2007-2008, and we all know what happened to Lehman Brothers, as well as many other financial giants. The fall out is enormous, like a big spreading stain, affecting thousands of people caught up in the washout. At times the story lumbers along, making it for me a bit too long and drawn out. But the characters are wonderful, fully rounded, their good sides and their bad sides in full view. I love books with real people in them, people you can relate to, people you can shout at no don't do that, people you want to meet and give a big hug too because in all their goodness and badness they are so intensely human. This is such an insight into the migrant experience in a truly tough town like New York, as the author herself was. New York is a magnet for people not just from other countries, but also from within the US, as it was for Clark and Cindy. So this book is also about the white, privileged migrant experience.