Monday, 03 October 2016

Book Reviews: 30 September

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy or download now


Cartes-PostalesCARTE POSTALES FROM GREECE by Victoria Hislop (Headline Review, £19.99)
A young wavering  Londoner is mistakenly sent several smudged postcards from Greece, along with a notebook containing stories that convey the country in all its vibrancy, and movingly reflect on the heritage and passion in which the Greek psyche is steeped.

Individually, some of these stories-within-a- story are stereotypical and romantic, but others take an upfront look at the country today – together they describe a proud, melancholy and wonderful place. Hislop has sat in many a sunny square while producing these tales, which come with much energetic imagination and an array of intriguing photographs. We hear about a woman who works in banking and has an epiphany; monasteries situated up in the clouds; the light that bathes churches among streets of permanently closed shops. We are taken over the thresholds of stone houses and see the souvlaki lip stains on church icons.

Despite the occasional cliché, this is a discerning fly-on-the-wall view of the country, a heady mix of poetic licence and gravitas. Movement and colour fill the pages. It is easy to predict the results for the recipient of the notebook – suffice it to say that Greece works its magic in Hislop’s latest ode to the country.
Philippa Williams

The-Comet-SeekersTHE COMET SEEKERS by Helen Sedgwick (Harvill secker, £12.99)
After receiving the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2012, Helen Sedgwick does not disappoint with her debut novel.

Róisín and Francois first meet at the Halley VI research station in Antarctica, but it soon becomes clear that their destinies have been intertwined for centuries. Each comet that weaves through the lives of Róisín’s and Francois’s ancestors marks a particular time, place and moment in the protagonists’ lives. Just as a comet ‘travels from light to dark, from intense heat to the frozen edge of the solar system’, so too do the protagonists, as they trek through great love and painful heartbreak.

Sedgwick’s balance of scientific accuracy (she has a PhD in physics), artful use of language and storytelling skill makes this tale glow. While the theme of comets threads the story together, the novel is also an exploration of the present as a product of the past.

In a fast-paced world that hurtles towards an uncertain future, it not only reminds us of the significance of our ancestors, but also conjures up a comforting image of a timeless bond: no matter when, where or who we are, we are all joined together through the expanse of the skies. A timeless, intimate and magical book.
Abigail Etchells 


Margaret-LockwoodRise of a wartime star
MARGARET LOCKWOOD: Queen Of The Silver Screen by Lyndsy Spence (Fantom Films Limited, £19.99)
British actress Margaret Lockwood is best remembered as the imperious socialite in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 classic The Lady Vanishes, but her off-screen persona couldn’t have been more different, as this compelling biography shows. From Margaret’s uprooted infancy – her mother moved the family from India to London – to her early stage career and hard-won rise to stardom, spence immerses us in her subject’s world.

Margaret carved her own path under the conflicting pressures of a domineering mother, a restrictive husband, a young daughter and tyrannical studio bosses. Her steely work ethic emerges as a standout trait. An un-starry teetotaller, Margaret was never late and rarely threw a tantrum. She somehow managed to navigate a divorce and a live-in lover without a whiff of scandal – quite a feat at the time. Her troubled relationship with her mother – supportive of her career but utterly lacking in warmth – is another theme. There are priceless encounters, too: Margaret lunching with Agatha Christie as the queens of screen and crime collaborated on a play.

Drawing on contemporary records and an extensive bibliography, Spence pieces together the actress’s private and professional life with the perfect blend of factual accuracy and sympathetic imagination.
Juanita Coulson


ATLAS OF IMPROBABLE PLACES: A Journey To The World’s Most Unusual Corners by Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield (Aurum Press, £20)


‘Few of us believe the world is flat,’ writes Travis Elborough, ‘but an hour or so on Google Maps or TripAdvisor… can definitely make us feel that it is flatter.’ Thanks to the forces of globalisation, cities are becoming ever harder to tell apart – but, as this volume proves, there are still places under the sun that can enchant and amaze.

Some of the locations referenced are familiar – portmeirion; the manmade palm Jumeirah Island near dubai – but many are not. There are abandoned tunnels in Berlin, Beijing and Canada, built for refuge, espionage or illicit trade; an underground river shaped like a dragon’s mouth in the Philippines; a drained port and a concrete Stonehenge. There are deserted cities and an eerie church, sole survivor of a city sunk in lava. It is a book of places, but also of the intriguing stories behind them: tales of achievement, catastrophe or loss. With its minimalist maps and striking black-and-white plates, this is an elegant, atmospheric remedy for creeping world-weariness. Stephanie Cross



RECKLESS I: The Petrified Flesh by Cornelia Funke (Pushkin Children’s Books, £7.99)

This beautiful new edition, updated and revised by the author, should bring the first instalment in her much-loved reckless series to a wider audience – and delight old fans, too. As a reader, young or old, one can never tire of Jacob’s thrillingly recounted adventures, as he travels through the mirror to an alternative world of stone men, water fairies, awful ogres and evil-plotting dwarves. Alongside him on his quest for treasure and trouble are the shape- shifting girl Fox, and his younger brother, for whom Jacob must risk all to save from a dangerous curse of petrification. magical and full of surprises – find a child to read it to as an excuse, or just indulge.

THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY by Hazel Gaynor (Harper Collins, £7.99)
In the wake of the First World War, Dolly Lane, a maid at London’s Savoy Hotel, dreams of swapping her life of bed linen and drudgery for the stage. An unexpected miracle turns her fortunes around and she soon finds herself mixing with the likes of West End sensation Loretta May. A master of vivid detail, Gaynor manages to capture the essence of 1920s London, without losing her grip on the tragically romantic and heart-warming narrative. Addictive, charming and gleaming with Jazz age glitz.

FRANCIS BACON IN YOUR BLOOD: A Memoir by Michael Peppiatt (Bloomsbury Paperbacks, £9.99)
Peppiatt first met Bacon in 1963 and they became inseparable for the next 30 years. This intriguing memoir throws a highly personal light on Bacon’s ‘gilded gutter life’ and his raffish, artistic friends, including Lucian Freud, John Deakin and Sonia Orwell, who whirled around Soho’s louche drinking dens. Part diary, part art history, part love letter, this book captures what it was like to know the brilliant, bitchy, camp genius Bacon, who was by turns wildly exuberant and depressed.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


Frare herbs, mushrooms, edible flowers… foraging is having its moment, even in the inner city. by Juanita Coulson

THE EDIBLE CITY: A Year Of Wild Food by John Rensten (Boxtree, £12.99)
Most city-dwellers will think foraging is beyond their reach. But London-based expert John Rensten opens up a surprising world of urban foraging opportunities. Including an illustrated guide to aid identification of edible plants and herbs (and their poisonous counterparts), this is an inspiring invitation to see your familiar urban environment in a different light: ‘from somewhere to be hurried through to a place to be lingered over’. Learn how to find chickweed, wild garlic, sorrel – and infuse your cooking with unusual flavours. Turn annoying stinging nettles into delicious tempura nibbles. Foraging: check, mindfulness: check – how on-trend can a cookbook get?

RECIPES FROM THE WOODS: The Book Of Game And Forage by Jean-François Mallet (Phaidon, £29.95)
The acclaimed French chef’s recipes are deliciously evocative of crisp, wood-scented air and hedgerow flavours. Berries, wild mushrooms, nuts and herbs can be foraged during leaf-crunching autumn walks (but always seek expert advice when it comes to mushrooms). They are perfect partners for furred and feathered game (sautéd venison with port and chestnuts; pheasant and pine-nut pastillas), but can also take centre stage in vegetarian dishes (wild mushroom and herb loaf). His simplified recipes aim to bring traditional ‘game and wild produce into an everyday kitchen in a light and refined way’. An indulgent, very Gallic take on the wild-food movement.

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