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Italian Food
Italian Food
by Elizabeth David
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting slice of culinary history, 18 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Italian Food (Paperback)
What I found most interesting about this book was not so much the recipes, but more what it revealed about the conditions and attitudes to food of the post-war years, when this was first published. So much has changed, partly thanks to Elizabeth David herself - thank God we no longer have to use Primula as a substitute for mascarpone, as she grudgingly suggests! And I cannot imagine a time when pasta was a speciality to be tracked down in a couple of London shops.

If you're used to the more verbose, food-porn style of Nigella and Jamie Oliver, the recipes here may seem a bit spare - an ounce of this, two ounces of that, and fry. However, this format means that she can pack a lot into this little book. I don't think I've ever attempted one of her recipes - being a product of my time, I prefer the metric measurements and enthusiasm of Jamie Oliver's "Jamie's Italy" - but I still keep Elizabeth David's book in the kitchen as an interesting snapshot of its time, and I'm sure its time will come when I fancy something back-to-basics!


Feast: Food that Celebrates Life
Feast: Food that Celebrates Life
by Nigella Lawson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dozen chocolate cakes - need I say more?, 18 Mar. 2008
My favourite ever book for chocolate cake, even though that's not really the main focus of the book. Look out for the section where each delectable cake is accompanied by a photo, each more beautiful than the last... One of the less beautiful cakes is a chocolate gingerbread cake, which I have been known to make weekly in the depths of winter; it's the ultimate luxurious comfort food, and I've never seen another recipe like it (tip - add chopped ginger from a jar).

If you like cookbooks with a lot of commentary, you'll like this - Nigella has a lovely way of writing both about what the recipe should hopefully look and feel like at its different stages to reassure you, and about any topic that comes into her head, sparked off by the food in question.

The recipes are typical Nigella hedonism - everything made as luxurious, tasty and soul-feeding as possible, without compromise. As well as 'English' type food, there's an emphasis on some lesser-known cuisines, like Georgian and Islamic, as well as Jewish, though all with a personalised spin.


Blonde
Blonde
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.88

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little maudlin, but entertaining, 18 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Blonde (Paperback)
From what I've read of hers, it seems to me that Joyce Carol Oates likes very much to centre her story around a girl who is an innocent of the soul, whose very loveliness is her downfall via brutish men. Blonde is the supreme example of this. Certainly, it is very well written and I don't disagree with many of the positive things that have been said about it. Hundreds of pages of the same, almost maudlin, characterisation can get a bit tiresome, though. It's perfectly valid to draw attention to 'Marilyn''s insecurity, neediness and desire to perfect her craft, and doubtless the men of Hollywood and elsewhere at the time could be ruthless little snakes and predators. But subtlety-wise, Oates verges on the hysterical. It also gets quite blurry towards the end and seems to lose focus; the end is rather confusing. I suppose this might be an intentional parallel to 'Marilyn''s life, though!


The Reluctant Queen (Queens of England Series)
The Reluctant Queen (Queens of England Series)
by Jean Plaidy
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Wooden and hackish - don't bother, 17 Mar. 2008
I'm absolutely amazed that this has got a five star review. It reads as if it were written for children, and not very well at that. Perhaps it's because I've just read Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, which deals with the same basic story but over 900 colourful, detailed pages. Compared to that, The Reluctant Queen feels utterly devoid of life, verve or interest. There is no suspense as it's in the form of Anne's plodding memoirs, and it finishes, of neccessity, before Anne's death and thus before Richard's downfall. There are almost no little everyday details that might bring alive mediaeval life; it might have taken place anywhere at any time. This lack of description reduced it to a simple tale of "This happened, then this happened, and then this happened. I said this, he said this, I said this, and he said this.". Life-changing events are dealt with over a sentence or two, accompanied by expositional dialogue which spells everything out in the dullest, most simplistic terms.

I'll give you an example - the death of King Edward, Richard's brother.

"The man gasped out "The King is dead!". We were stunned. Richard went pale and shook his head. I could see he was clinging to disbelief. He could not speak for a few seconds, then he cried "When?". The ninth of April, and we were more than halfway through the month.
"You come from the queen?" asked Richard.
"No, my lord, on the command of my lord Hastings".
[...]
When the messenger had been sent to the kitchens to refresh himself, I said to Richard "What now?"
Richard was thoughtful. Then he said slowly "The young king is at Ludlow with Lord Rivers. The best plan is to send to him there. I will tell him that [...]"
"Oh, what bad news this is, Richard. I know what you felt for him."

And that is more or less it. "Oh, what bad news this is" - you don't say! Reading this book, I wondered whether Jean Plaidy actually exists or whether 'she' is just a consortium of hacks trying to fill library shelves, writing to a specification of a reading age of eight. I can't imagine anyone having got much pleasure out of writing this. Perhaps her fans will enjoy it; this was my first book of hers, so I can't judge.

Basically, there are much, much better books than this if you want to read about the last years of the Plantagenets (or about anything else, for that matter).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2008 9:09 PM BST


The Reluctant Queen: The Story of Anne of York (Queens of England Novel)
The Reluctant Queen: The Story of Anne of York (Queens of England Novel)
by Jean Plaidy
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Wooden and hackish - don't bother, 17 Mar. 2008
I'm absolutely amazed that this has got a five star review. It reads as if it were written for children, and not very well at that. Perhaps it's because I've just read Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, which deals with the same basic story but over 900 colourful, detailed pages. Compared to that, The Reluctant Queen feels utterly devoid of life, verve or interest. There is no suspense as it's in the form of Anne's plodding memoirs, and it finishes, of neccessity, before Anne's death and thus before Richard's downfall. There are almost no little everyday details that might bring alive mediaeval life; it might have taken place anywhere at any time. This lack of description reduced it to a simple tale of "This happened, then this happened, and then this happened. I said this, he said this, I said this, and he said this.". Life-changing events are dealt with over a sentence or two, accompanied by expositional dialogue which spells everything out in the dullest, most simplistic terms.

I'll give you an example - the death of King Edward, Richard's brother.

"The man gasped out "The King is dead!". We were stunned. Richard went pale and shook his head. I could see he was clinging to disbelief. He could not speak for a few seconds, then he cried "When?". The ninth of April, and we were more than halfway through the month.
"You come from the queen?" asked Richard.
"No, my lord, on the command of my lord Hastings".
[...]
When the messenger had been sent to the kitchens to refresh himself, I said to Richard "What now?"
Richard was thoughtful. Then he said slowly "The young king is at Ludlow with Lord Rivers. The best plan is to send to him there. I will tell him that [...]"
"Oh, what bad news this is, Richard. I know what you felt for him."

And that is more or less it. "Oh, what bad news this is" - you don't say! Reading this book, I wondered whether Jean Plaidy actually exists or whether 'she' is just a consortium of hacks trying to fill library shelves, writing to a specification of a reading age of eight. I can't imagine anyone having got much pleasure out of writing this. Perhaps her fans will enjoy it; this was my first book of hers, so I can't judge.

Basically, there are much, much better books than this if you want to read about the last years of the Plantagenets (or about anything else, for that matter).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 12, 2010 11:23 AM BST


The Constant Princess: 4 (Tudor series)
The Constant Princess: 4 (Tudor series)
by Philippa Gregory
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow-paced and sweet, for those on "Team Aragon"!, 9 Mar. 2008
Having read The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance, I thought I'd go back to the beginning of the story and read more about Katherine of Aragon; she was characterised as such a class act in The Other Boleyn Girl novel (unlike in the film - but that's another story!). So The Constant Princess is the story of what made little Catalina, daughter of a warrior queen, into the steely-strong queen of the later days.

My favourite part of the novel was when Catalina and Arthur fall in love. Their awkward, unhappy adolescent relationship and its transformation into a tender and complete love, with all the passion and idealism of youth, was told very well. Philippa Gregory has a great talent for breathing fresh life into figures from history, and this relationship really came alive for me. After Arthur's death, I slightly lost interest in the novel; perhaps not all Philippa Gregory's fault, as she probably did what she could with seven lost, boring years of Catalina's isolation. The only thing sustaining the plot was Catalina's determination to keep her promise to her boy-husband and rule England for him as they had planned to do together. She has to use all her wits to steer around the obstacles to her planned marriage to the much younger "Harry", of whom she grows fond, despite knowing well his faults. Once she's got the ring on her finger, it does get a little bitty; battling the Scots one minute, and Anne Boleyn the next as it draws to a close.

The main draw of this book is a view from Katherine's mind, because in The Other Boleyn Girl she was only seen through the eyes of other characters. However, I do agree that it could have been more tightly edited towards the end, where her flashbacks and inner monologues become a bit repetitive. I enjoyed them more when she looked back on her childhood (her stories to Arthur about Spanish life and the Moors were interesting); less when they seemed to become a concentrated twice-daily dose of grit and determination. Also quite irritating was the overuse of "flatly" and "shortly" - just about everything that comes out of anyone's mouth is said "flatly" or "shortly", to the point where you could build a drinking game around it. Rather than lie in bed downing shots of vodka at every paragraph, I actually began listing synonyms to myself just to prove that there were other words in the English language that could be used instead.

Overall, I'd recommend it to those who loved The Other Boleyn Girl but fancy something a bit simpler and slower-paced.


The Amateur Marriage
The Amateur Marriage
by Anne Tyler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't expect much of a story, though!, 9 Mar. 2008
This review is from: The Amateur Marriage (Paperback)
The Amateur Marriage is a lovely novel; Michael and Pauline are well-drawn and Pauline in particular is quite good entertainment value; I really felt quite sympathetic towards her despite herself. It's a nice book to read if you're in the mood for something quite slow-paced and a bit literary, the kind of book that lets you delve into the characters' heads.

For someone after an engaging plot, I wouldn't recommend it. It's interesting to watch Michael and Pauline grow older and develop (or not), but I felt like not enough was said about their children - Lindy was eternally surrounded by a mysterious blank which I never felt was resolved, and almost nothing was said about George and Karen, the younger two. In turn, this made me wonder why; why was the author seemingly withholding information and detail? It broke my suspension of disbelief that I was having to step outside the book before I'd even finished it. Although, to look at it another way, the answers are rarely cut and dried in real life either. The Lindy plotline/character is something I can imagine affecting a real family, and perhaps what we learn of Lindy's childhood, family background and the type of girl she was should give us all the information we need - no more than her own family have, anyway.

It was my first Anne Tyler book, and I liked it enough to read a couple of her other books, neither of which I enjoyed as much. Michael and Pauline are quite exceptional characters in that way, that they engage your heart and stay with you after. But I guess in the end with The Amateur Marriage, it's a question of taste and of what kind of book you're after.

I've given it four stars, but maybe 3.5 is more like it, in terms of enjoyment.


Gods In Alabama
Gods In Alabama
by Joshilyn Jackson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I want more!, 9 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Gods In Alabama (Paperback)
5 stars, because I was completely gripped while reading it and it stayed with me after I'd put it down. I love the way Joshilyn Jackson writes - funny and quirky, but not in a forced and OTT Diablo Cody way. It was too long since I read a novel with a charismatic and witty narrator! Lena/Arlene is no smart alec, though; her character and her relationship with her family develop into something multi-layered and touching.

As for the plot, it worked both backwards, with the mystery of what led Arlene to kill Jim Beverly, and forward, with the suspense of whether she'd be found out, and what Lena/Arlene begins to find out about the night of Jim's death.

My only criticism is that sometimes passages went right over my head and I was left re-reading them and wondering what I'd missed, when the information needed to understand was only given later. So I spent a bit of time flipping back and forth filling myself in on what I'd missed. Actually, there is still one detail of the plot I don't get... but maybe that's just me; I wouldn't want to give the impression that Gods in Alabama was a slog to get through, because although it's cleverly written, it was a really enjoyable and smooth read, and not too long either - the perfect length for a long rainy evening.


The Boleyn Inheritance
The Boleyn Inheritance
by Philippa Gregory
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable, but don't expect another T.O.B.G., 1 Mar. 2008
This review is from: The Boleyn Inheritance (Paperback)
The Boleyn Inheritance is not quite in the same league as The Other Boleyn Girl - it's slighter, less atmospheric and less suspenseful. Everyone's familiar with "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived",so there's never any real doubt as to Anne and Katherine's fates, and because the story only takes place over a couple of years,with all three narrators chipping in to add their perspective on each event, it seems to move quite slowly.

However, it is definitely worth a read, whether you have read The Other Boleyn Girl or not (although you might get more out of it if you read TOBG first). The three narrators, Anne of Cleves, "Kitty" Howard and Jane Boleyn, each have a distinctive voice and Philippa Gregory has created a fresh take on the two queens. All I knew of Anne of Cleves was the old story of the deceptively flattering portrait sent over, and Henry's disappointment at the "Flanders mare". In this novel, she is fleshed out into an interesting and very sympathetic woman - the real heroine of the story, who gets a lucky escape. I knew absolutely nothing of Katherine Howard, so I was caught off guard by this girl of fourteen - nothing like the young Mary Boleyn of the first book, but more like a spoilt, spirited but naive young teenager of today. Her chapters provide the comedy, but it's also shocking to realise that this harmless kitten of a girl is to play at Queen to a repulsive man old enough to be her grandfather, and suffer the consequences of her youthfulness. I found Jane Boleyn's chapters the least enjoyable; I feel like Philippa Gregory could have portrayed her in a more interesting way, sketched out her madness more vividly. Jane manages to be dour and pragmatic, while also apparently disturbed and damaged. The crazy comes out towards the end of the book, but for the first few chapters I was confused at the apparent change in her character since the first book, and her self-proclaimed loyalty to her late husband George.

Altogether, though, although the pace is a little slower than The Other Boleyn Girl and it can be a little repetitive, it does have the advantage of bringing to life the 'forgotten wives' and creating an engaging relationship between the three protagonists, each of whom will end up with a very different "Boleyn inheritance".


Blue Castle (Children's continuous series)
Blue Castle (Children's continuous series)
by L. M. Montgomery
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick with it... it does get good!, 27 Feb. 2008
I think this is L.M. Montgomery's only novel for adults; strange that it has ended up published in the "Children's Continuous Series"! Not that it is "adult" in today's language - it's all good clean fun - but don't be put off by the idea of it being a children's book (to be honest, I really think the older you are the more you can appreciate L.M. Montgomery). Blue Castle is a charming story of the kind you don't get very often nowadays, and I really enjoyed it.

The reason I give it four stars instead of five is because it starts off too slowly. The first few chapters are irritatingly repetitive; it is drummed into the reader that Valancy's family are oppressive, 'clannish' tyrants (and the characterisation of the Stirling family definitely verges on not-too-funny caricature; your standard L.M. Montgomery puritanical matriarchal old villains, x 10). It stretches the reader's suspension of disbelief.

However! It does really pick up once Valancy hears her prognosis, and gathers steam as she sets about living life as far out on the edge as one can in these books - actually, her boldness was pretty surprising in the context of the times and the genre. The love story was really sweet and genuinely touching, and as always the sense of place was gorgeous. The story goes through some twists and upsets before wrapping up nicely. Actually, by the end of the book, I kind of had the feeling that the plodding restraint of the first few chapters had served a purpose by getting the reader to feel like the repressed Valancy, at almost 30 years of age stuck in the same old house with the same miserable old women telling her the same thing every day, and be screaming for a bit of action and romance!

If you like L.M. Mongomery, you'll probably like this - it's a distinctly different type of book to the Anne and Emily series, but a lot of the themes are the same and there is that same eye for beauty and nature that feeds all her books. More so that the other books, there is an exposure of, an sympathy towards, the people living at the edge of the rather rigid society of the time and place. Some of the most sympathetic characters in Blue Castle are an unrepentant drunk and the young mother of an illegitimate son, and we also see a dance on the wrong side of town. Unlike the other books, which are set in a child's world or a loving family context, Blue Castle lets us experience its setting through the eyes of a grown-up single woman. And the love story is just a little more exciting than that of Anne and Gilbert, bless them!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 21, 2013 7:19 PM BST


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