Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
I Capture the Castle is told in the first person by Cassandra Mortmain - a 17 year old aspiring writer. She lives in a rundown castle with her father, eccentric stepmother (Topaz), sister (Rose), brother (Thomas) and family friend (Stephen). Her father was once a well known author - having published a novel called Jacob Wrestling which did particularly well in the US. Unfortunately, he has written nothing since. Consequently, the family lives in less than genteel poverty.
Rose and Cassandra dream of wealth. They would like to live in a Jane Austen novel (well 50 per cent Jane and 50 per cent Charlotte). Following a wish on a gargoyle (on the roof of the castle), two wealthy American brothers, Simon and Neil, arrive on their doorstep. Rose pursues Simon - with success. As the story unfolds Cassandra becomes increasingly disillusioned. She is in love with Simon, but he only has eyes for Rose. Cassandra copes with this until she learns that Rose does not love Simon only his money.
I thought it was particularly interesting the number of references to literature that were made in I Capture the Castle. One which struck me was La Belle Dame Sans Merci - the John Keats poem. I recall learning this at school, though I only remember the first line " What can ail thee Knight-at-arms".
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Thanks for recommending it Simon. I commend I Capture the Castle to all.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
It was my husband's birthday last week, but he was away. As he requested a Black Forest Cake for his birthday I whipped this one up for him for our family party last night.
So anyway .... to get back to the books..... what is the best book you have read about food, not including a cookbook? Or perhaps, what is your favourite food quote? I loved the book Return to Paris: a memoir with recipes by Collette Rossant about her childhood and adolesence in Egypt and Paris.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
The Death of Faith – by Donna Leon: I have heard Elaine saying good things about Donna Leon’s writing over on her blog (?) so I snatched it up when I saw her name.
Hard Times by Charles Dickens – Given how much I enjoy Monica Dickens’ writing I feel I should give her antecedent Charles more of an audience.
Clair de Lune by Pierre la Mure – this is a novel about Claude Debussy. Could be interesting?
Doctor at Large and Doctor at Sea by Richard Gordon - these would be those two black books that you can’t read the titles on! These are meant to be humorous; and were recommended by my Mother who visiting from Perth.
White Gardenia by Belinda Alexandra – I must admit I picked this one up purely because I had heard reference to it before. According to the blurb, it is set in Shanghai and Russia during the 1960s.
Round Ireland in Low Gear by Eric Newby – I read Slowly Down the Ganges back in January and enjoyed it. I think he has the art of the travel narrative down-pat. The perfect balance between his experiences and the history and culture of the places he visits.
Hester’s Story by Adele Geras – my Mum bought this for me. She noticed it was about a ballerina and since I do ballet thought I would enjoy it.
James Herriot’s Yorkshire – when I was about thirteen I loved the All Things Bright and Beautiful series and so I couldn’t resist picking this up.
50 Easy Party Cakes by Debbie Brown – ok, so I don’t have kids and am not likely to have them for a while, but now I am prepared!
Stephanie’s Australia by Stephanie Alexander – Stephanie is an icon of the Australia cooking scene. She published The Cook’s Companion, a 1000 page monolith (the reprint of which is on my cookbook shelf), in the late 1980s and is widely respected in the food industry. I look forward to learning more about her perspective on the food regions of Australia.
I picked up Half of Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a Borders 3 for 2 deal. I was keen to read it after I heard it had won the Orange Prize for Fiction this year. I read a previous Orange Prize winner (Small Island by Andrea Levy) earlier in the year and enjoyed it; ergo, I thought the Prize might be a sound indicator for a good read.
I found the novel interesting. Owing to my birth being in the mid 1980s, I wasn’t around in the 1960s to have been aware of the civil war in Nigeria during that period. Consequently, this was educational – not just a ‘fiction’ read. I must admit I struggled initially to get into Half of a Yellow Sun but my perseverance was rewarded and it proved itself a really worthwhile read.
Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of three lives intersecting during the Nigeria – Biafra civil war. Ugwu is a poor boy who works as a houseboy for a university lecturer, Odenigbo (or Master as Ugwu refers to him when he is the narrator), and his wife, Olanna. Olanna has a twin sister, Kainene who is involved with a shy Englishman, Richard. Obviously, with the exception of Ugwu, they are all used to a fairly high standard of living.
All four Nigerian characters are part of the Igbo racial minority (Christians). First there is coup by Igbo members of the Nigerian Army, then they themselves are overthrown by the majority Muslim racial groups. There is widespread slaughter of the Igbo population in the north of the country. They retreat to the south establishing the independent state of Biafra. Civil war ensues and the characters, with the rest of the populace, struggle to survive (battling starvation). Relationships are tested and as Biafra’s demise becomes more evident they try to cope with their displacement to the bottom of the Nigerian social order.
If you would like to more about the character of Maisie Dobbs please see an earlier post of the 24th of August. Owing to time constraints this evening, I am just going to give a brief summary of the plots here. First, Birds of a Feather. Maisie is asked by Joseph Waite, a well-to-do food merchant, to find his daughter Charlotte who has run away from home. I should mention that Charlotte is a 30 year old woman. Maisie becomes concerned for her safety when she discovers that a growing number of the female friends of Charlotte’s youth have died in suspicious circumstances. Each time, a small white feather is found at the death scene. I can’t really say anymore without giving away the ending but, given that these books are set after WW1 I picked up on the significance of the white feather fairly early!
The third in the series is Pardonable Lies. Sir Cedric Lawton made a promise to his dying wife that he would find their son Ralph; shot down on a flying mission in France in 1917. His wife had always believed Ralph was alive, Sir Cedric asks Maisie to prove he is dead. Maisie’s good friend from her Cambridge days, Priscilla, also makes a personal request that Maisie find out what happened to her brother Peter Everndon who was reported missing, presumed dead. Shortly after her investigations commence, Maisie has attempts made on her life. Undeterred, she travels to France and soon realises that her two cases are interlinked…. Again, in the interests of not spoiling the ending for someone who might chance on this blog and decide to read the book; I say no more.
I love these books. They are gentle and imminently readable. They are the sort of book you look forward to work finishing for the day for; so you can be enveloped, once again, in a slowly unravelling yarn. On that note, I am taking my latest Maisie Dobbs and I am off to read…
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Again, this story is set at the end of WW2. Isabel Brocken, a childless widow, lives at Chipping Lodge a Victorian manor on the outskirts of London. She offers a home to her conservative elder brother-in-law while his home is rebuilt (it having been bombed in the blitz). Also sharing the house is Jacqueline, a former ATS, who acts as Isabel’s companion, and Isabel’s young, recently demobilised, nephew Humphrey. All is going well until Isabel’s rector gives a sermon on the “passage of time not making a base action any less base”. Isabel is filled with remorse about something she did to her cousin/cum-companion, Tilly Cuff, in their youth. To make amends for this she asks Tilly to come and stay; and decides to give her all her money. No-one, least of all Simon, can convince her to do otherwise. Tilly takes up the invitation and is tiresome in the extreme. A gentle tale unfolds as Isabel tries to ‘like Tilly’; while the others try to survive her/ get rid of her.
A favourite passage:
On Mr Brocken (Simon) – “It was his habit to avoid people whenever possible, in case they became a nuisance. For Simon was profoundly convinced that all people became a nuisance sooner or later: logic and arithmetic informed him that the fewer people one became involved with, the less danger one ran of being annoyed. Carrying his inviolability like a precious cup of water, Mr Brocken returned up the hill to Chipping Lodge”.
The Happy Prisoner is set at the close of WW2 and is taken from the point of view of Oliver. Oliver is a former soldier confined to bed; having had his leg amputated following an injury suffered in France. He observes his family’s antics from there. The characters are classics! His sister Vi is a tomboy, incapable of elegance – the family is horrified when she decides to marry Fred Williams, their tenant farmer. Heather, the other sister, is dissatisfied with life. Even the return of her husband John from a Japanese POW camp doesn’t cheer her up. Mrs North, their mother, just tries to keep the peace.
Another favourite character for me was Muffet, John’s mother, who comes to stay while her apartment is renovated. She is a kleptomaniac who steals particularly enthusiastically from those she doesn’t like!
We found these interesting lemons when we stopped at a Winery for a tasting. They are called Buddha’s Hands. I have never seen anything like them before. You may have to turn your head side ways to get the full effect:)
This past weekend, my husband and I took Friday off work and went down the NSW south coast….
We spent Friday in Bowral…birthplace of Don Bradman (famous Australian cricketer) and E.L. Travers (of Mary Poppins fame). We went to the Bradman museum. This is the oval where Don Bradman played as a young cricketer.
We tasted pastries at the award winning Gumnut Patisserie, and shopped at the many second hand bookshops in Bowral.
We travelled on to our campsite, with the dogs (Abby - tan and Monty – white) for company. They both arrived on my lap after a freak hailstorm!
We saw these cool geese on the roadside at Robertson.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Mistress of the Art of Death is set in medieval Cambridge. Several Christian children have been killed and the Jews of the city are being blamed. The King recruits a doctor who specialises in dead people from the School of Medicine in Salerno (relying on a favour from his friend, the King of Sicily). She (in the 12th century?) travels to the city and slowly deduces that (WARNING-possible spoiler) the killer must have been a crusader - and hence solves the mystery. I have mixed feelings about this book. The plot was interesting but it was too bloody in its descriptions for my liking. I like ‘clean murders’ where the emphasis is on the mystery rather than the death.
I have been meaning to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for several years; ever since I printed off Rory’s Reading List – I am a huge Gilmore Girls fan. For those who are not familiar with the programme, Rory was avid reader and there were regular references to literary classics and contemporary fiction. The book list compiled all those books which were referenced in the show. I have all 6 seasons on DVD, and one of the only positives I can see of my husband being away so much is that I can watch episodes without complaints!
Anyway, to the book! I enjoyed it. Amir grows up in Afghanistan. His mother died when he was born, and he and his father live with their servants Ali and Hassan (his son). From a young age Amir can sense that his father (Baba) disapproves of him. He is determined to win the annual kite fight to gain Baba’s approval. He succeeds and Hassan promises to run for the kite so Amir can present it to his father.
Having retrieved the kite, Hassan is caught by the local bullies who demand that he give it to them. Hassan will not and they rape him as punishment (also, in part, because Hassan is racially a Hazara -considered inferior by the dominant Pashtuns). Amir witnesses this but does not intervene. The rest of the story deals with how this lack of action affects him (mostly through the intense guilt) and the other characters in the story.
As a side issue, I read in the NYT last week that The Kite Runner has been made into a movie. It was filmed in Afghanistan. Apparently racial tensions are so heated between the Hazaras and Pashtuns that it is feared that the ‘rape scene’ is inflammatory enough that it might risk the lives of the young actors and their families. They are going to be relocated out of the country before the film is released!
Friday, October 5, 2007
One Pair of Feet is about her time as a nurse at the Queen Adelaide hospital during WW2. It is a lot of fun. Dickens’ was a brilliant character writer – they really come alive. My favourite description is of Siddons, a Gastric patient on one of Dickens’s wards.
“He was short and stocky, with hair like a carpet brush, and all the hospital dressing-gowns were too long for him. He flip-flapped about in a pair of carpet slippers, pouncing on any job that was going and looking after the other patients like a mother. The men called him ‘Auntie’. He would do anything for anybody, but he kept them in order. He had been there so long that he regarded the ward as his own, and was determined to see that it was properly conducted”.
Well worth hunting out a copy!
I read Robert Goddard’s Past Caring as part of the Cosy September Mystery Challenge. I really enjoyed this, though I struggled with the size of the print. Vast chunks of the novel are the journal entries of an early 20th century politician (Strafford) and are in italicised font - I had to find really good light to be able to read at my usual speed!
The plot is interesting, with lots of references to the politics of the Edwardian period. Churchill, Asquith and Lloyd George all make an appearance. There are two main characters in the novel; Martin – a disgraced former history teacher, and Strafford – the politician. Martin is charged with investigating why Edwin Strafford’s unexpectedly resigned from politics at the height of his career. And, why his fiancée, the young suffragette Elizabeth Couchman, broke off their engagement. Edwin himself certainly never knew. The circumstances of the past prove to be so explosive that investigating them puts Martin’s own life (in the 1970s) in danger.
I don’t want to give anything away so I shan’t say much more, but I think anyone who has an interest in history and likes a mystery/suspense novel would enjoy this.