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Didier (Ghent, Belgium)

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STAUB Cocotte Round 28cm Grenadine red
STAUB Cocotte Round 28cm Grenadine red
Price: £240.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 3 Mar. 2014
I own two Staub cocottes in this size (though of a different color) and absolutely adore them. The cast iron distributes heat evenly, the spikes ('picots') on the underside of the lid work terrifically, and you can cook just about anything in them. I like to prepare stews and the like in the oven so to me personally it is also a great advantage that you can put them in the oven for a couple of hours and need not worry: your food will come out tasting great. They look great as well I think so I always use them to present food in as well.

If it's anything to go by: I prepared a lamb stew recently in one of these for a company of 6 adults thinking I had used sufficient ingredients for at least 8, only to find that I was soon scraping the bottom of the cocotte to help one of my guests to his third helping...

Granted, Staub is expensive, but worth every penny!


STAUB Cocotte Round 26cm Cherry
STAUB Cocotte Round 26cm Cherry
Price: £128.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The very best, 3 Mar. 2014
I've owned one of these for a while now and it's an absolute joy to use! I bought it when I first became more interested in cooking and as a result of using it I've turned into an even more enthusiastic cook.

The cast iron distributes heat very evenly and the little spikes ('picots') on the underside of the lid truly ensure that all the steam produced drips back down on whatever you're cooking, preserving all the taste. Washing up is easy, and (but that's my personal opinion) I think they look great as well. Judging from other reviews most people tend to use these to make stews, ragouts and the like, and it's true they are absolutely brilliant for that kind of cooking, but I use them just as well to prepare vegetables, cook potatoes, just about anything really.

Is Staub better than Le Creuset? Well, I have several of the latter as well and find it hard to choose between them, in a way it's like comparing BMW and Mercedes-Benz: both are quality brands which - except perhaps on rare occasions - will never let you down so at a certain point the choice is really up to personal (i.e. subjective) preference. You can't really go wrong with either of the two according to me.

Staub is indeed expensive, but if taken proper care of they will last a lifetime.


Rustication: A Novel
Rustication: A Novel
by Charles Palliser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.86

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling, 1 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Rustication: A Novel (Paperback)
Richard Shenstone, aged 17, in the winter of 1863 returns home to Herriard House under a cloud, after having been rusticated from Cambridge after only a couple of months. Quite why isn't clear, and apart from that, Richard's father has died in those months (something Richard had to learn from the newspapers). Living at Herriard House as well he finds his mother, terribly aged, and his sister Euphemia ('Effie'), neither of whom seem very thrilled to welcome Richard home. On the surface cocky but inside struggling with his sexuality and the remembrance of what happened at Cambridge, Richard is soon - as is the entire village - obsessed with a series of gruesome events that begin soon after his arrival: cattle is found horribly mutilated, and some of the inhabitants receive threatening letters...

That is the situation at the beginning of the novel, apart from one thing: in his Foreword Palliser seems to let the cat out of the bag immediately by stating that a murder has been committed, as announced in one of the threatening letters (since he does so himself, I hope you'll not consider this a spoiler). What follows is a transcription of Richard Shenstone's journal of the fateful months preceding that murder.

So this is not your typical 'whodunit' where murder is first committed and we as readers together with the detective at hand try to find the culprit after the facts. Turning this convention upside-down is in my opinion quite a stroke of genius, because you'll find yourself (at least I did) constantly looking for clues in Richard's journal who the 'murderer-to-be' could be, in the certainty that murder will be committed. That's something Richard doesn't know of course at the time of writing, which makes it all the more captivating: we only know what he sees and chooses to record in his journal.

Apart from that, I simply cannot but (loudly!) applaud the dazzling mastery of style and vocabulary Palliser demonstrates. The descriptions of the landscape, Herriard House and the neighbouring village are quite brilliant and evocative, and so is the way in which he paints his characters. They are quite a colourful bunch, actually, and after having met them one might be justified in asking 'with friends like these who needs enemies?'.

All in all, this is quite a marvellous Victiorian mystery, the perfect book to snuggle up with on a dark winter's evening!


Hester (Oxford World's Classics)
Hester (Oxford World's Classics)
by Margaret Oliphant
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.63

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping clash of generations, 24 Feb. 2014
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I got to know Margaret Oliphant through to her fabulous novel 'Miss Marjoribanks', and was sad to discover that though she wrote a huge number of novels, precious few of those are still in print. Luckily, this one still is because it is an absolute gem.

Hester Vernon is the young relative of the ageing Catherine Vernon, and shortly after Hester's father dies she comes to live on Catherine's estate 'the Vernonry' together with her kind-hearted but rather dull-witted mother. It doesn't take Hester, who's anything but dull-witted, very long to realize they have stepped into a hornets' nest: several other aged relatives of Catherine are also living at the Vernonry, most of them grudging a venomous hatred towards Catherine (the Miss Vernon-Ridgways and Mr Mildmay Vernon are amongst the most venomous fictional characters I've come across), and Hester and Catherine from the very start get off on the wrong foot. And then there's some mystery surrounding Hester's father: how exactly was he involved in the Vernon Banking House, at the head of which Catherine has been sitting for years?

I cannot heap enough praise on this brilliant novel, though it is entirely different from 'Miss Marjoribanks'. Whereas in the latter there's plenty of high humor and laugh-out-loud moments, 'Hester' is a lot more serious, at times tragic, in tone. The characters (all of them really, but first and foremost Hester and Catherine) are brilliantly drawn, and I could not stop reading in my eagerness to find out how the story would develop and, ultimately, end.

Warmly recommended!


A Simple Story (Oxford World's Classics)
A Simple Story (Oxford World's Classics)
by Elizabeth Inchbald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.71

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of Austen's precursors, 24 Feb. 2014
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This story about Miss Milner, a wealthy orphan, and her love for her guardian the catholic priest Dorriforth is well worth the read! It actually falls into three pieces, the first two concentrating on Miss Milner herself, while the third part is about her daughter Matilda.

In itself the theme is (or at least was at the time) very provoking but Inchbald handles it very well, and shows herself capable of creating captivating and lifelike characters. In several ways Inchbald might very well be considered one of the forerunners of Jane Austen: (a woman's) love and love's tribulations are at the center of the novel, there is a limited number of characters, all of them belonging to 'the gentry'.

In my humble opinion Austen is definitely better, but nonetheless 'A Simple Story' is in fact anything but that, showing that there is no simple answer to some of life's most pressing questions.


The Marquise of O -: And Other Stories
The Marquise of O -: And Other Stories
Price: £3.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant stuff, 24 Feb. 2014
Heinrich Von Kleist was until recently just a name to me, 'one of the more important German authors from a while ago' just about sums up what I could have told you about him. This collection of short stories remedied that excellently. The book contains the following stories:
- The Earthquake in Chile
- The Marquise of O-
- Michael Kohlhaas
- The beggarwoman of Locarno
- St Cecilia or the power of music
- The Betrothal in Santo Domingo
- The Foundling
- The Duel

Not all of them are of the same quality, but the good ones (my personal favorites being The Marquise of O-, The Earthquake in Chile, The Beggarwoman of Locarno) are very impressive, the common denominator being the deceptiveness of human nature, and our inability to truly get at 'the truth' (and this in a time when belief in human progress was virtually limitless). Many of the stories have an element of the 'uncanny' in them, and some are quite gruesome.

Incidentally, Von Kleist himself seems to have led rather an eventful and tragic life struggling with the above themes, in the end killing himself at the age of 34.

As a final note: this edition comes with a good introduction which is absolutely helpful to gain a deeper insight into the stories, but beware that it is filled to the brim with spoilers so by all means read the stories first and only then the introduction.


Belinda (Oxford World's Classics)
Belinda (Oxford World's Classics)
by Maria Edgeworth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable - for Austen fans and others, 22 Jan. 2014
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I earlier read Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent (Oxford World's Classics) and greatly enjoyed that. I can say the very same about this lovely novel, though it's a very different kettle of fish.

Belinda Portman is the sole unmarried niece of Mrs. Stanhope who, though not really rich herself, has managed to marry of all her other nieces to rich men. When Belinda is sent to London to spend time with Lady Delacour in order to create plenty of opportunities for her to meet some eligible men, she finds herself in a society completely alien to all she has known before: Lady Delacour turns out to be a sharp-tongued harpy towards her husband but also a bewitching coquette in the presence of other men, first and foremost among them the young Clarence Hervey. And so Belinda finds herself the center of attention in this 'marriage market'. Will she follow Lady Delacour's lead and be 'governed by pride, by sentiment, by whim, by enthusiasm, by passion - by any thing but reason'? Or will she stay true to herself?

I heartily invite you to find out for yourselves, because this is truly a very enjoyable comedy. All the characters are well-drawn, the dialogue is sparkling with wit, and the action is - believe it or not - fast paced. Heartily recommended, definitely for all Austen-lovers. Like an other reviewer said, it's very much like an Austen-novel only wilder and more exuberant.


Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (Oxford World's Classics)
Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (Oxford World's Classics)
by Fanny Burney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.78

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poor dear Cecilia!, 10 Jan. 2014
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Rarely have I felt as sorry for a fictional character as I have for Cecilia!

At the beginning of this wonderful novel, Cecilia seems to have everything going for her: she is young, intelligent, charming, good-looking, and to top it all of: as soon as she will come of age (which is at the beginning of the novel just a matter of months away), she will inherit a large fortune. There is however one condition: she cannot give up her name, should she marry and take her husband's name she loses her inheritance. To us this may appear at first to be a minor detail, but in the patriarchical society England then was, it will turn out to make all the difference. Until she will come of age Cecilia is placed under the care of three guardians, none of whom she has ever met: Mr. Harrel, married to a childhood friend of Cecilia, Mr. Delvile, and Mr. Briggs. So at the beginning of the novel Cecilia travels to London to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Harrel until she comes of age...

So where and how does it all go wrong for Cecilia? Well, there's nothing much I can say without this review turning into a spoiler so I can only urge you to find out for yourselves, and hope you'll enjoy this novel as much as I did. Admittedly, it's long (941 pages) but it's never boring or long-winded, with lively dialogues and captivating characters, with action ranging across all layers of society, and you'll find yourself rooting for Cecilia from the very start. At times this novel reminded me of Vanity Fair (Wordsworth Classics), with its depiction of how 'man is wolf to man', and it is definitely a very critical study of the high cost to women (even young and wealthy ones) of a patriarchical society. As one of the characters early one in the novel says to Cecilia: 'Poor simple victim! (...) knowest not that thou art destined for prey!'.


The Mill on the Floss (English Library)
The Mill on the Floss (English Library)
by George Eliot
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Deservedly a classic, 10 Jan. 2014
I steered clear of George Eliot for a long while (afraid - too afraid it now turns out - of her reputation for 'heavy', intellectual novels). However, Silas Marner (Penguin Classics) Reissue Edition by Eliot, George published by Penguin Classics (2003) Paperback cured me of that, and having much enjoyed that novel I resolved to continue my effort and try 'The Mill on the Floss', and I am glad I did. Indeed, 'The Mill on the Floss' is much longer than 'Silas Marner', but apart from that it displays the very same qualities.

'The Mill on the Floss' is the story of two siblings: Tom Tulliver and his younger sister Maggie, who, though born from the same father and mother, could not be more different in character: Tom is straightforward, honest, upright and - for lack of a better word - conservative. Like most inhabitants of St. Ogg's, change is a threatening thing to Tom. Intellectually and emotionally far inferior to Maggie, Tom simply cannot conceive of anything 'larger' than the simple life cut out for him as future owner of the mill which has been in his family for generations. And though he may love Maggie in his own way (after all, that is what a brother is supposed to do and if anything, Tom adheres to tradition), he finds it increasingly hard to empathize with her and her - to his mind - irresponsible behaviour.

Maggie is completely different: she has an innate curiosity about the world around her, feels increasingly stifled by the middle-class narrowness of St. Ogg's, and Maggie has, above all, an emotional depth that Tom is incapable of and which leads her (forces her) to do things Tom cannot help but condemn.

I found 'The Mill on the Floss' an absolutely captivating book, and George Eliot a writer with a unique style. On the one hand, one could say that nothing much happens: there are large sections where Eliot simply describes - often in minute detail - daily life for Maggie, Tom and their family. But then again, these are interspersed with parts where Eliot as omniscient author reflects, also in great detail, on the inner life of her characters, and this at first sight perhaps bizarre mix works wonderfully well, allowing one as a reader to get to know the characters, and why they act as they do, extremely well. I have found in the past with other fictional characters that, after a couple of years, I have quite forgotten much, if not all, about them. Somehow I am convinced that even many years from now I will still vividly remember Maggie, Tom, their father and mother, and most other characters in this wonderful book.

All in all, a magnificent book which I heartily recommend.


Silas Marner The Weaver of Raveloe (Oxford World's Classics)
Silas Marner The Weaver of Raveloe (Oxford World's Classics)
by George Eliot
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical, 30 Dec. 2013
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Years ago (how many I try to forget), as a student of English Literature, I had to read Eliot's Middlemarch (Penguin Classics) by Eliot, George ( 2003 ), and that proved to be a daunting task. I remember struggling through the novel, trying to make sense of it. But perhaps I simply was not ready for it? Anyway, the experience didn't stimulate me to read more of Eliot's novels, so I shirked away from them for many years. Now, however, I resolved that this simply could not do, but to sort of easy my way in I started by reading 'Silas Marner', as it is not only short but also reputedly one of her more accessible works.

And so it proved to be, and then some! From page one onwards I was captivated - as countless other people before me I'm sure - by the tale of 'the weaver of Raveloe'. It is in a way a strange mix: there 's a resemblance to fairy tales (with a golden-haired child suddenly and mysteriously appearing) but at the same time the story is firmly anchored in time at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and though in terms of place all the action is limited to a single small village, to whose inhabitants the next village seems mentally so far of it might as well be on the moon, yet it resonates as universally applicable and feels as if this could happen anywhere and anytime.

This is no doubt due in large part to the subtle but very penetrating characterization. Each character is so superbly drawn it becomes quite easy to identify with. Though each of us personally might have reacted differently, the effect on Silas of being falsely accused is described in such a manner that one can fully 'understand' his reaction. Some of the characters are transformed by their experience, others aren't, but each is entirely credible.

In short, if you're new to Eliot - as I was - this seems indeed like a very good place to start as 'Silas Marner' is truly a very gripping story. Should it end there you'll have benefited from a thought-provoking book, but I for one feel very motivated now to read more of George Eliot's works, perhaps starting with The Mill on the Floss (Wordsworth Classics)


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