Review: Recipes From My Mother

When I moved into a flat of my own, one of the first things I did was call Mum to ask how to make carrot coins (aka honey glazed carrots) and call Dad to ask him how to make yellow rice (aka turmeric rice). Those were two of my absolute favourite things to eat when I was a kid, and I love making them to this day. There is nothing quite like the comfort and nostalgia of cooking things “just like Mum used to make.” So when I saw Rachel Allen‘s Recipes From My Mother: Delicious recipes filled with memories I was sure it would be just my kind of cookbook.

Cover of Recipes from my mother

And I was right!

It is a beautiful book, full of family photographs, memories of mouth-watering  meals cooked by loving mums and grandmas, and, of course, a multitude of delicious-sounding recipes that I just couldn’t wait to try.

There are simple ones, like “Scrambled eggs back in the shell,” and “Sweet eggy bread” (which is a souped-up version of french toast). Classic ones, like “Kedgeree” and “Apricot and cardamom bread and butter pudding.” Fancy ones, like “Amma’s icelandic kleiner” a sort of knotted doughnut, and “Lemon meringue pie.”

I find it fascinating that although Rachel Allen grew up in Ireland with her Icelandic mother and Irish father, many of the dishes she remembers loving as a child sound so familiar to me though I grew up here in New Zealand, with my Scottish mother and English father.  The first thing I learned to cook was semolina, back when I was small enough to need a chair to stand at the stove. Mum created a recipe for me that included beautiful pictures for instructions, because I struggled to read till long after I was a dab hand at making semolina. And what do you know, Semolina is the dish Rachel remembers most from when she was very young.

Still now I find a bowlful of this rib-sticking pudding the most comforting food of all.

You and me, both, Rachel! Her recipe includes a instructions for making raspberry jam to dollop on the top. I wasn’t making jam with mine as a little girl, but it does sound lovely!

The “Beetroot and hazelnut slaw” reminds me of the delicious beetroot salad my foster mum used to make; while “Baked creamy vanilla rice pudding” reminds me of the tasty meals I enjoyed while boarding in my first year of University.  Although I’ve never liked cauliflower cheese, Rachel’s description of the memories it invokes makes me wish I did!

For me, cauliflower cheese is serious comfort food. It comes with a shed-load of nostalgia, too, as I think of the round terracotta dish it was always cooked in at home. It would come out the Aga golden and bubbling.

Doesn’t that sound delish?

There are so many recipes in this book, I’m sure that you too will find something that takes you back! Not to mention something delicious!

Recipes from my Mother 
by Rachel Allen
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008208172

Slave Power by Raewyn Dawson

CoverKate R, a Year 11 student at Riccarton High School – read the new book Slave Power by Christchurch author Raewyn Dawson. Here’s what she thought:

Slave Power by Raewyn Dawson is an exhilarating, exciting and breathtaking book about a young girl named Melo who fights to save the riders of the Wild Horse Tribe from her old rival and fellow rider Mithrida from attacking and destroying their tribe.

Suddenly Melo is kidnapped by the City Slave Traders she finds herself on the Holy Island as a slave. While Melo and the other slaves are being trained as fighting soldiers, they make friends with each other and try figure out a plan to escape being slaves when they get back to the mainland.

On the Holy Island, Sofia, a young priestess in training, wonders why strangers have landed suddenly on their small island. As she tries to find out , she becomes friends with Melo and the other Slaves and tries to help them connect with the Black Rock and overpower their kidnappers.

Back in the Wild Horse Tribe, Mithrida has destroyed the plains and has forced the Wild Horse Tribe and their fellow Eagle Tribe to join forces and try to take Mithrida down forever.

In the end, the slaves make it back safely to the mainland but have sadly lost Lady Tutea (leader of the Eagle Tribe who joined them in battle ), and finally found Mithrida and sentenced her to execution.

Slave Power is an amazing book with good descriptions but there are some quite sad and descriptive parts in this book that may be disturbing for children to read. The age this should be recomended for is between 14 and above.

Altogether moving: Together by Juliet Cohen

On a seemingly ordinary morning, eighty year old Robbie leaves his partner Emily, sleeping in bed, changes his clothes, feeds their dogs then does something that will completely shatter Emily’s world. ‘Together’, begins on this day, the last day of Robbie’s life, and slowly tells Robbie and Emily’s story backwards, from 2016 back to 1962. As Cohen unfolds their story, Robbie’s motives for his actions that morning slowly become clearer as a secret emerges which even their beloved son can never know, and which the couple have spent their lives running from.

A warning though, ‘Together’ requires a constant stash of Kleenex from page one. In the first part of this story Robbie and Emily are celebrating 43 love filled years together along with their beloved son and grandchildren in Maine. They have been grounded and highly successful in their professional lives – Emily as a doctor and Robbie as a boat builder- but with Robbie showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s, it is clear that their time together is drawing to a close. From then on, Cohen takes us back to each integral moment in the couple’s relationship, from their meeting, to their decision to very much sacrifice everything to be together, to the final big reveal that will leave you stunned, rapt, and thanks to Julie Cohen’s beautiful writing, ultimately moved.

‘Together’ is frequently being referred to as a love story, but Cohen’s gift for brilliant characterization and unique story telling make this so much more. If you love David Nicholls ‘One Day’ or Jojo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ this compelling and unpredictable story is an ideal match for you.

Like Em and Dex in David Nicholls ‘One Day’, Robbie and Emily are complex, fun and vivid characters that are a joy to read about. Readers very much love and invest in them from page one.
Cohen’s understated yet passionate and moving writing very much helps to create this, and while some may find the reversed timeline a little difficult to get their head around at first, this unique structure works perfectly for Cohen’s story. The narrative is well thought out and I found myself going back and rereading passages again, immersing myself in the couple’s memories and story more and more, as moments seemed to take on whole new meanings.

Robbie and Emily have stayed in my mind for days since reading this beautiful novel. I loved every moment of my time with them and was left wanting more. Beautifully written, thought provoking, and clever in so many ways, ‘Together’ is a book that will leave you gripped from start to finish. Just remember to grab that stash of Kleenex and put aside a solid day to get through this wonderful novel because trust me, once you start you won’t be putting this down.

Together
by Julie Cohen
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781409171744

Review: The Fox and the Ghost King

Cover of The Fox and the Ghost KingWhat do you get when you cross foxes with football and the ghost of King Richard III?

Give up?

Well, I’ll tell you. You get Michael Morpurgo’s The Fox and the Ghost King, that’s what. It’s a pretty odd sounding combo, I know, but the result is a really sweet against-the-odds, underdog (or should that be underfox?) story.

It’s a little bit of fairy-tale blended with a little bit of history, and a whole lot of pluck.

Cover of The Tale of Jemima PuddleduckI don’t know any foxes personally, but think they have a bit of a bad rap. They are usually portrayed as villains – the Sandy Whiskered Gentleman in Jemima Puddleduck, for example.  But they are so darn cute, I’m sure they don’t really deserve it, do they? The fox family in this story are definitely on the cute side, anyway.

What I didn’t know about foxes is that they are football fans. And no matter where they live, their favourite team is Leicester City, otherwise known as The Foxes (naturally). Now, what I didn’t know about foxes is far surpassed by what I didn’t know about football. I know now that Leicester City have long been the underdogs of the Premier League, till in 2015-16 when a little bit of magic turned things around for them. This bit of the story really is true. The other bit of truth in the story is the discovery of Richard III’s body – under a carpark if you recall.

The magical bit is the way that Michael Morpurgo weaves these threads together, telling the tale through the eyes of a cute and cheeky little fox cub. Odd combo it may be, but it definitely makes a fabulous read for a small person.

Further reading

Finding Gobi

I was so glad I got the chance to read Finding Gobi as I have been following Dion and Gobi’s story via the news and social media for some time.

Cover

Written in the third person, the story almost has a fiction feel, even though you know it is true. It is a light and easy read, suitable for young and old.

It tells the story of Dion, an ultramarathon runner, who is competing in a gruelling 155 mile race across the unforgiving Gobi Desert. A stray dog chooses Dion as her owner, even though Dion didn’t realise it at the time. After the first day of running beside Dion, crossing rivers, sharing his food and bed, It didn’t take long for the determined little yet to be named “Gobi” to melt his heart.

There really isn’t a lot to say, other than if you love heart-warming stories about, dogs, determination, resilience, love, and  friendship, this book is for you.  A truly heart-warming story for all dog lovers.

Tania Cook

Finding Gobi: The True story of one little dog’s big journey
by Dion Leonard
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008244521

Gardening in the best possible taste

Cover of Grow for flavourNothing makes my day like a “hold available” notification from CCL for a crisp new garden book, and this week I got my hands on a real gem. Grow for Flavour by James Wong (of Grow Your Own Drugs fame – not nearly as dodgy as it sounds) is a fresh ray of light in a forest of glossy gardening books that look pretty, but can sometimes be a bit guilty of repeating much the same information.

Don’t get me wrong, Grow for Flavour is very a attractive volume indeed (who can resist an author who photographs his Star Wars figurines in his garden shots?), but it’s not just a pretty publication. It’s full of interesting facts and innovative ideas for getting the best flavours out of your home produce.

Wong argues that much of our gardening ‘wisdom’ is based on (British) Victorian gardening practice – essentially the time when yield was beginning to be prized over flavour, a sad trend that’s come to its lacklustre fruition in our supermarkets today. This book is a strike back in defense of taste. It’s full of simple ways to boost flavour in all sort of fruit and vege crops – and the thing I love best is that all of its tips are firmly rooted in science. (You see what I did there?)

Yep, Wong is a scientist as well as a herbalist and a gardener, which means that his observations, remedies and treatments all have solid scientific research behind them – a nice change in this subject area, where solutions are so often presented without a lick of evidence stronger than “Well my great Aunt Hilda swears by it!”

It’s one of those books I think my partner secretly hates. Inevitably, when I get hold of a volume like this, his quiet evening will be peppered with interruptions along the lines of “Hey, did you know I hate coriander because I have the OR6A2 gene that makes it taste like soap and bleach?” or “Can I turn the laundry bin into a fungus farm?” It’s not uncommon for these exclamations to turn completely nonsensical, like “Aspirin and molasses on tomatoes? Genius!” (Well, it made sense to me…)

We’re well into planting season now, so grab a copy today. You too can be making inscrutable garden related exclamations in no time…

The Atomic Weight of Love

Book cover of The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J ChurchThe Atomic Weight of Love is the debut novel of Elizabeth J. Church and I hope we see a lot more books from her. This book is an ideal Christmas present. It appeals to a wide audience and will make a great holiday read and is not without a little racy love interest.

Meridian has won a place at the University of Chicago where she studies ornithology working towards a graduate degree and eventual doctorate. Just as her wings are opening and she starts to glimpse new horizons she falls in love with a college professor two decades older than herself and her wings are clipped.

It is written in a memoir style following Meridian as a woman growing up in the 1940s through the fifties and sixties into the seventies and the emergence of women’s liberation. You will find yourself reflecting at times how so much has changed yet still remains the same.

Meri marries Alden and follows him to Los Alamos where she attempts to fit into the group of ex-academic wives she meets there. It is the era when a wife is expected to follow their husband and make the best of it. She struggles to be a good wife while salvaging something of her studies by continuing to study Crows, having left her graduate study dreams behind her.

The novel’s dual strands, the place of women with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, and the atomic bomb with its resulting anti-war Vietnam and Korean war movements, almost splits it characters by gender over its two themes.

Some of the characters could do with more development – they feel a little clichéd. It seems women have little to say on war in this novel and men little say on the home front. Even for the times this feels a little stretched. She skims over the women who Meridian meets in Los Alamos except her best friend Belle, a strong woman who urges her not to minimise herself yet when it comes to the crunch still tells her to stay in her marriage and try to make it work.

That being said bird studies draw amusing parallels between human and bird society. Each section of the novel starts with an ornithological reference “A Parliament of Owls”, “A Deceit of Lapwings, “A Murder of Crows”. When Meridian meets Clay, a young hippie ex-marine about two decades younger than her, it seems they are about to repeat past mistakes. Her husband seems not to understand her sacrifice while her lover urges her to soar again.

Read the novel to find out if she does.

It is an enjoyable debut novel with a poetical style and reminds me of The Guernsey Potato Peel Literary Society, The Light between Oceans and The Shipping news. If you like nature and have a slightly scientific bent you will enjoy it and even learn a little physics on the way.

The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008209292

A magnificent disaster, or a really good read?

Cover of Crinoline: Fashion's most magnificent disasterI’m a sucker for Victorian fashion, the sillier the better – and it’s hard to beat the Victorian crinoline for ingenuity, ridiculousness, and sheer presence. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on a shiny new copy of Crinoline: fashion’s most magnificent disaster.

Co-authored by Denis Pellerin and Dr Brian May (yes, that Brian May – no stranger to extreme fashion himself), Crinoline documents the rise and fall (metaphorically!) of this most capacious of undergarments through a rather unexpected record – stereoscopic images. It’s a sumptuous boxed set, containing a richly illustrated history and a stereoscopic viewer (designed by May, patent pending). This nifty little fold-up apparatus allows you to see the images in the book in 3D, as they should be viewed.

Victorian crinoline
Crinoline, circa 1869, United Kingdom, by W.S. & E.H. Thomson. Gift of Elizabeth Ridder, 2000. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH007988)

The second work by the pair on this subject, the book is meticulously researched and very readable. Through 3D images and other documentary history, we get a real sense of the outrage, amusement, and titillation the undergarment caused in Victorian “social media” – cartoons, pamphlets, periodicals, and that hugely popular parlour entertainment, the stereoscopic viewer.

The crinoline was actually a huge (sorry!) improvement on previous womenswear fashions, replacing the layers of heavy petticoats needed to achieve fashionably bell-shaped skirts. Its lightness and ease of movement was a liberation (and also an excellent personal space generator – I can attest to this, having worn a couple to fancy dress events). However it also had its hazards: there were many cases of women being horrifically injured, or even killed, when their crinolines caught fire, became caught in trams, or suffered other wince-inducing vehicular mishaps.

When I first came across mention of Crinoline, I thought the combination of topics could be a little forced or gimmicky, but this really isn’t the case. Pellerin and May have actually hit upon a very real convergence of two tremendously popular coexisting technologies that, when looked at together, provide a vivid and altogether fascinating glimpse of Victorian fashion and attitudes.

More information

Mockingbird Songs

There are very few books that I would give five stars to in a review, however Mockingbird Songs is one.

Cover of Mockingbird SongsR. J. Ellory is one of my favourite authors and I have enjoyed many of his award winning novels. However with his latest novel Mockingbird Songs I felt he had taken his writing to a different level due to the descriptive prose and the depth of characterisation.

This novel is set in a small town in West Texas and is essentially a tale about two brothers, Ethan and Carson, who have had a complex relationship from early childhood because of one parent favouring one brother over the other. The ill feeling that comes from this one-sided relationship simmers throughout their teenage years  and is further complicated as a result of their ongoing rivalry for their childhood sweetheart.

A powerful story unfolds, about keeping a promise no matter the outcome because of loyalty to a friend. A very dark tale, a tale of  revenge, hidden secrets of a lost daughter. At times it felt like a very long journey, a saga as well as a mystery.

Cover of I Know This Much Is TrueCompelling reading. R. J. Ellory hooked me in from the very beginning. I found this to be a ‘can’t put down’ novel and was very fortunate to be able to read it when I had time on my hands; otherwise there may not have been much done around the house for a few days and takeaways may have been on the menu!

Another absorbing read about two brothers is I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb. This story is about twin brothers, with one brother feeling totally responsible for the other and how that affects his life. I would rate I Know This Much Is True as a four star novel.

Are there any novels about siblings that you’d particularly recommend?

A rollickin’ good yarn

Cover of The Fair FightAfter reading two bleak stories I needed a complete change. For this reason I chose an historical first novel by Anna Freeman titled The Fair Fight. It turned out to be a rollickin’ good yarn from beginning to end.

When I read historical fiction I want to be transported to another time and place. I want true characters that I can commit to and stories I can believe in. I want real voices and language that evokes the period of the time. I was lucky as Anna Freeman skilfully and naturally blends these elements to create a story that comes alive.

From the first pages I was immersed in 18th century Bristol where pugilists, brothels, brawling and gambling rule the day. I enjoyed discovering and absorbing new/old words like “mollies”, “pugs”, “cullies”, and “swells”.

Three of the main characters, Ruth, Charlotte and George, are the storytellers with each voice adding suspense and vibrancy to the drama. This is a well realised and oftentimes brutal tale.

elizabeth stokesBy the end I wanted to know more about women and boxing during these times so turned to the 17th – 18th Century Burney Collection of Historical Newspapers available from the library.

I found an advertisement from Oct 1st, 1726, about a Mary Welch and Elizabeth Stokes. They talk up their fighting skills to excite readers and announce they will “mount at Four” and “fight in cloth Jackets, short Petticoats coming just below the Knee, Holland Drawers, white Stockings, and Pumps”. Cor blimey!

A fascinating account that all started with historical fiction.