This book is almost too beautiful to let into the hands of small children! It’s a simple 1-10 counting book designed for pre-schoolers so there are tw...moreThis book is almost too beautiful to let into the hands of small children! It’s a simple 1-10 counting book designed for pre-schoolers so there are two kookaburras laughing on the fence and five cockatoos squawking in the trees, and so on – but the illustrations are so stunning, most adults would be happy to have them framed and hanging on the wall. The colours are so vivid they almost take your breath away.
If I hadn’t already got this book, it would definitely be on my wish-list for Christmas. Historic Heston is the ultimate book for anyone interested in...moreIf I hadn’t already got this book, it would definitely be on my wish-list for Christmas. Historic Heston is the ultimate book for anyone interested in the history of food and cooking, and it’s a sumptuously luxurious book of ‘food porn’ into the bargain. Unabashed by Wayne Macauley’s clever satire The Cook, we here chez The Spouse et Moi are devoted to Masterchef Australia, and always look forward to Heston Blumenthal’s appearances for the extravagance of his creations and his humorous adaptations of staples like hamburgers.
Historic Heston is a generous (i.e. hefty) book of 430-odd pages, printed on expensive high-quality paper with a silky bookmark – and the witty graphics by Dave McKean and photography by Romas Foord are superb works of art in their own right. The still life for eggs in verjuice is worthy of a place in the National Gallery. I am sorely tempted to upload a page or two just to prove it but rather than breach copyright I suggest that you can get an idea by visiting this article by Peter Aspden, and if you watch carefully you can see the still life at this trailer for the book, as well as some of McKean’s art work. You can also see one of Foord’s still life photographs at a site called Good Food, which notes BTW that Historic Heston was co-winner of the James Beard Foundation’s annual Books, Broadcast and Journalism award for 2014.
The concept that lies behind this book is Blumenthal’s mission to rescue Britain’s melancholy reputation for awful food by exploring its grand old traditions using chef’s recipe books of the past, and adapting them into scrumptious creations for the menu at his London restaurant Dinner – and *in my dreams* wouldn’t I love to include a visit there on my next trip, sitting at the Chef’s Table!
Even if you’re not a ‘foodie’, Historic Heston is fascinating reading. Starting in medieval times, the original recipes used all kinds of strange ingredients not always recognisable and of course the cooking methods described in Ye Olde English are entirely different. In the chapter which charts the development of Blumenthal’s recipe for Alows of Beef, which dates from 1430, he explains that roasting, like everything else, was done over an open fire. These alows were basically stuffed meat rolls using small cuts of beef, so they had to be cooked on a spit. Turning that spit by hand fell to one of the ‘scullions’, i.e.the lowest in the pecking order in the kitchen, and this child (who often lived and slept in the kitchen, and stripped off when tending the flames) had the job for as long as it took, supervised by the chef who monitored how the wood was burning, and when to move food nearer to or further from the flames.
Now that I’ve caught up on my reviews for the books I read while I was away in Queensland, I’m ready to tell you about the first one I read when I got...moreNow that I’ve caught up on my reviews for the books I read while I was away in Queensland, I’m ready to tell you about the first one I read when I got back: Nemesis, fourth in the sequence of Roth’s late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, and The Humbling. It’s captivating reading, and because of a slight similarity in the setting, it reminds me also that I must soon read Joan London’s new book The Golden Age. Those of us who love London’s writing have been waiting impatiently for a new novel, and yet it’s been sitting on my shelves for over a month. I must get my reading priorities in order!
That’s not to say that I regret reading the Roth. Nemesis is a human tragedy that was probably all too common in the years before the Salk and Sabine vaccines made polio obsolete in western nations. This short novel of 280 pages shows the impact of a polio epidemic in Newark in the sweltering summer of 1944, when not even the cause of polio was known. Bucky Cantor is an athletic young man unfit for war service like his friends because he has poor eyesight, inherited from his ne’er-do-well father who disappeared out of his childhood. Cantor works as a playground supervisor (presumably similar to being a yard duty teacher in Australia, but in Nemesis it’s a paid position available during the holidays).
I loved reading The Piano Cemetery, but I’m not going to pretend for one moment that I understand what it was about. And I don’t feel the least little...moreI loved reading The Piano Cemetery, but I’m not going to pretend for one moment that I understand what it was about. And I don’t feel the least little bit embarrassed about that, because Ursula Le Guin was baffled too. Some reviewers were overtly hostile to the difficulty of reading this book, while others found it frustrating. Perhaps I was more tolerant because it was not until quite late in the book that I became confused, and by then I was so intrigued, it didn’t matter…
The story has two narrators, and I must be circumspect in this review because part of what I enjoyed was hope that the second narrator Francisco Lazaro would transcend his ostensible heritage. The book is a very loose fictionalisation of the story of the Olympic athlete who died at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in the marathon when he reached the 30 kilometre mark. Named for his father, the Francisco of the novel wants to make his name his own. Naming is significant in this novel.
The Piano Cemetery isn’t the first book to use the same name for father and son. Such naming was, after all, very common indeed in Britain and Europe for centuries. And the naming’s not the source of the confusion because the voices in the novel are entirely distinct: Francisco the Father narrates his story in ordinary paragraphs in a coherent way, despite not being in chronological order. Oh yes, I nearly forgot, and despite being dead…
Up front, I have to admit that I would never have read this most interesting book if not for the fact that Annabel Smith is one of my favourite author...moreUp front, I have to admit that I would never have read this most interesting book if not for the fact that Annabel Smith is one of my favourite authors. Firstly, I don’t like reading eBooks, and secondly, I’m not fond of speculative fiction. It’s a measure of this author’s skill that I was captivated right from the start and finished the book wishing it was longer.
The Ark doesn’t have to be read as an eBook, but (yes, I know I’m contradicting what I’ve written here many times before) I think it’s more fun, and more authentic, given its subject matter and experimental style. The story is composed of emails and other digital forms of communication, and there are links in the text that you can explore as well. You can, for example, explore the setting through creepy little black and white vimeos with eerie sound tracks! I read part of it on my kindle (because I was too impatient to wait for the iPad version) and then when it was available I read the rest of it on the iPad that I otherwise only use for taking photos of student work at school.
The story begins in 2093 with Book One, titled ‘Kirk’ and a ‘report’ from The Australian: 17 people have emerged from a bunker built into Mt Kosciuszko, revealing a priceless storehouse of seed specimens previously thought to be extinct. The survivors have been there for almost half a century, their numbers dwindling from the original 26 to only four, while the other 13 are second or third-generation bunker-babies. From this beginning, the story then travels back in time to 2041 when a seed bank called ‘Ark’ is sealed with a small group of people inside. (A seed bank is a storage repository for seeds in case some sort of disaster destroys the world’s reserves. There are a number of these seed banks around the world, the most famous of which is the Svalbard one in Norway.) In The Ark the oil crisis has created havoc in the global economy and society has broken down, so the decision is taken to preserve the seeds for whatever the precarious future might hold.
Day is Mother’s Day (1985) is an early novel by Hilary Mantel, now a the bestselling Booker Prize winner of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies fame. It...moreDay is Mother’s Day (1985) is an early novel by Hilary Mantel, now a the bestselling Booker Prize winner of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies fame. It is quite different in style to the Tudor novels, more like Beyond Black which I read and enjoyed for his sardonic humour in 2005.
The ironic title refers to the battle of wills between Mrs Axon, the vicious mother of Muriel, who’s not too intellectually disabled to wage war of her own; and Isabel Field, the hapless social worker who’s completely out of her depth with this woman. Isabel is also having a lacklustre affair with a teacher called Colin Sydney, and she loses the file on the Axon case.
Black humour charts impending disaster. Isabel briefly succeeds in getting some stimulation for Muriel at a sort of day centre, but that leads to a disaster only too common for intellectually disabled young women, and that’s when Mrs Axon shuts and bolts the door against any interference.
It’s a grim book, but it shows Mantel’s early skill in characterisation, and her talent for poking fun at pretension. Sandra Duncan does a fine job of narrating the story. (less)
I've read three editions of Sappho now, this last apparently being one of the most authoritative. I read it for a Great Books Masterclass at the Unive...moreI've read three editions of Sappho now, this last apparently being one of the most authoritative. I read it for a Great Books Masterclass at the University of Melbourne, and will this week find out why this poetry is so revered, from no less a personage than Germaine Greer who is the guest lecturer for this month's class. I'll come back here and share any erudite thoughts I might have after the lecture, but for now, *ducking for cover* I'm not so very excited by Sappho, mainly because lyric poetry is not my thing. I like exciting poetry like T S Eliot's The Waste Land, and clever, witty poetry by John Donne and Shakespeare, of course. But if anyone can talk me into admiring Sappho, it will be Germaine Greer!(less)
Dear me, I read this nauseating collection of flowery driblets which are *based on* Sappho's fragments, thinking they were Sappho's poems too, that ma...moreDear me, I read this nauseating collection of flowery driblets which are *based on* Sappho's fragments, thinking they were Sappho's poems too, that makes two pretenders to Sappho that I've read, thanks to wholly inadequate descriptions at the iTunes store.
Apparently Mary Robinson, nee Darby (1757-1800) was an English poet and novelist and during her lifetime she was known as the English Sappho. Poor Sappho, to be so cruelly debased!
Moral: stick to real books publisher by real publishers who describe their contents accurately so that you know what you're getting.
*smacks forehead* I read these thinking that they were Sappho's. Moral: don't buy books from the iTunes iBook store because their descriptions aren't...more*smacks forehead* I read these thinking that they were Sappho's. Moral: don't buy books from the iTunes iBook store because their descriptions aren't adequate. (less)
I am indebted to Marilyn Brady for her recommendation to read Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die. Not being interested in crime fiction, I most cer...moreI am indebted to Marilyn Brady for her recommendation to read Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die. Not being interested in crime fiction, I most certainly would have missed reading it if not for Marilyn’s enticing review, and that would have been a pity because A Beautiful Place to Die is much more than genre fiction. It reminded me of the best of Graham Greene in the way that the novel explores how context and culture impact on crime and justice, and how survival in an intransigently corrupt society involves an existential struggle between integrity and resignation to the inevitable.
I bought a copy of the book not long after reading Marilyn’s review but it was still biding its time on the TBR when I saw it available as an audio book at the library. Truth be told, although the title and author seemed vaguely familiar I forgot that I had the book at home, and didn’t find it until after I had finished the audio-book and I was *blush* shelving some other new acquisitions on the N shelf. I am not at all sorry that I made this mistake, because I think this is a rare example of the audio-book being a better way to ‘read’ the book.
Humphrey Bower is a remarkable narrator: I have enjoyed many of his readings before, but this one is astonishingly good. In the course of this novel Bower has to convey a multiplicity of accents because A Beautiful Place to Die is set in South Africa. In Jacob’s Creek deep in Boer Country near the Mozambique border where the story takes place, there are Boer-Afrikaners, Zulu, ‘British’ South African, German-Jewish and Indian accents, and Bower convincingly recreates them all. I couldn’t fault it.
Set in the early 1950s when apartheid was becoming rigidly institutionalised through legislation, Detective Inspector Emmanuel Cooper is sent by his ambitious boss Van Niekerk to investigate the murder of Captain Willem Pretorius, the well-respected Afrikaner local police officer who rules Jacob’s Creek with more authority than his position entitles him to. Cooper barely has time to interview Pretorius’s thuggish sons before the Security Branch arrive with their own agenda, which is to locate a likely ‘Communist’ suspect who can be beaten up in order to extract a confession. (I invite anyone who thinks this unlikely to remember Steve Biko, and to note the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, see #123).
**spoiler alert** So disappointing! This novel started off really well & progressed at a thrilling pace for about 2/3 of the story. A sociopath wh...more**spoiler alert** So disappointing! This novel started off really well & progressed at a thrilling pace for about 2/3 of the story. A sociopath who likes killing women in the most repulsive way is used by a CIA-type secret organisation to kill those on its mysterious hit-list. Two innocents (both anti-heroes, very ordinary, the female is an aimless nobody who likes sex over-much, and the male is an inconsequential agent) are sucked by mistake into Hollis's hideout (an improbable closed baseball stadium). Improbable escapes occur - it would make a great action B-movie with a young Harrison Ford in the lead). There are several times when a character 'dies' (falling from tall buildings, raging infernos etc.) only to miraculously recover. It's a jolly good read (in its own genre, that is) until the plot twist is revealed. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER The great cover-up is not to conceal some presidential corruption or CIA machinations, but to conceal and alien invasion. And from the moment this is revealed, the plot degenerates badly, with silly mystic experiences and totally unsatisfactory plot endings. Where was the editor who let what could have been an entertaining thriller end up like this mish-amsh? (less)