Friday, 24 February 2017

Book Reviews: 24 February

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


in-the-great-green-roomIN THE GREAT GREEN ROOM by Amy Gary (Flatiron Books, £21.97)
This is the first biography of Margaret Wise Brown, whose children’s book Goodnight Moon has captivated readers for years. Amy Gary is a Brown enthusiast and had access to her unpublished manuscripts, personal letters and diaries.

Born in 1910, in New York, Brown had a difficult childhood: a depressive mother who was fascinated with spiritualism, and a father whose expectations she could not match. After school and doing odd jobs, brown found herself at the centre of a publishing revolution within the children’s genre – this gives the biography a lot of scope when exploring the writing scene of 1940s New York.

Not only did Brown write unique books, she lived the life of a nonconformist and had affairs with both men and women, including the ex-wife of John Barrymore. within the text of this biography, one can sense the exploratory process Gary has undertaken, not only in her prose but in relation to her subject too. There is a distance here between Brown and the reader – as was the case during her life.

What is certain, though, is that Brown was a forceful character who knew her own mind and she reaped the rewards in the end, albeit too briefly. A revealing portrait of a mysterious woman.
Lyndsy Spence

the-chalk-pitTHE CHALK PIT by Elly Griffiths (Quercus, £16.99)
This ninth book in the popular murder mystery series featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson does not disappoint.

Griffiths yet again delivers on plot tensions, evocative settings and authentic characterisation. As the heat rises in the Norfolk summer, Ruth and Nelson find themselves embroiled in murder and missing persons cases. The discovery of boiled human bones in Norwich’s underground tunnels propels them into the discovery of ancient, dark secrets – and gruesome contemporary ones.

Add to this the complex, developing relationship between Ruth and Nelson, and everything is set up for a thrilling read, with a surprising personal twist for the main characters in a story that has more than its fair share of plot turns. While each book in this series stands alone, readers who have engaged with ruth from the beginning will be reassured to know that the mysteries have not gone stale: the author manages to inject her usual humour and strong evocation of place into this novel, as in its predecessors, and yet again has provided an original storyline that will hook the reader in from the very first chapter.
Julie Hall


the-female-fewAces with graces

THE FEMALE FEW: Spitfire Heroines by Jacky Hyams (The History Press, £12.99)
The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was formed in the Second World War, tasked with delivering military aircraft from factories and maintenance facilities to operational units. Often flying with no radios or navigational aids, its pilots were at risk from crashes, collisions and enemy attack. They were mostly drawn from commercial airlines and medically downgraded air crew, giving rise to the alternative name of the unit – Ancient and Tattered Airmen. But since the ATA’s inception, women pilots were allowed to join too, flying first training aircraft and then all types of frontline aircraft including the legendary Spitfire and Lancaster.

This entertaining and moving book tells their story through five brief biographies. They include female pilots who had been true aviation pioneers in the interwar years, and those who joined the ATA as raw trainees, learning to fly under wartime conditions. Equally inspiring are their varied postwar careers and how their lives were changed by their time in the ATA. While the 168 lady pilots of the ATA formed less than 15 per cent of its flyers, they were fêted in the media, with glamorous images appearing on the cover of Life magazine. This book is a timely tribute: the last surviving member, Mary Ellis, turned 100 this month.
Stephen Coulson


UGLY, LOVELY: Thomas’s Swansea And Carmarthenshire of The 1950s In Pictures by Ethel Ross, edited by Hilly Janes (Parthian Books, £20)
Dazzling, hell-raising and self-destructive, Dylan Thomas was one of the brightest literary stars of the 20th century. This fascinating photo- memoir, compiled in the 1950s by Hilly Janes’s aunt Ethel Ross, a friend of the poet, captures his favourite haunts in Swansea and Carmarthenshire. Accompanied by quotes from the poet’s work, these atmospheric images are a visual document of the people and places that inspired him.
Ugly Lovely CamarthenshireMumbles Pier, Swansea Bay

As a young man, Thomas became a member of the local bohemian circle, including the artist Fred Janes, Hilly’s father, who hung out at Swansea’s Kardoman Café. Also portrayed is the charming Boathouse in Laugharne, where Dylan composed much of his late poetry, including his iconic Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. An enchanting book. RW


WHEN THE SKY FELL APART by Caroline Lea (Text Publishing, £8.99)
Caroline Lea’s debut novel is an ambitious portrayal of the German occupation of Jersey during the Second World War. As German brutality towards the islanders increases, the plot builds to a powerful climax, knitting together the fate of four very different Jersey residents in their efforts to overcome oppression: herbalist Edith, young Claudine, English doctor Carter and local fisherman Maurice. Lea’s fondness for Jersey brings the landscape to life with vivid descriptions, which are one of the novel’s highlights. An intriguing depiction of life under nazi occupation, the book explores a time and place rarely covered in fiction. it is an engaging narrative, and lea should be applauded for a successful portrait of resilience and the strength of friendships during the challenges of wartime. Lilly Cox

SPRING GARDEN by Tomoka Shibasaki, translated by Polly Barton (Pushkin Books, £7.99)
Set in present-day Tokyo, this Japanese novella, winner of the Akutagawa Prize, tells the story of divorced Taro, who lives alone in a condemned block. Since his father’s death he rarely goes out. Naturally reclusive, Taro prefers to observe people at a distance. One summer, he sees Nishi, the mysterious woman upstairs, climbing over the wall next door and becomes drawn into a strange relationship. Twenty years before, Nishi discovered Spring Garden, a book of photographs of a beautiful ‘light-blue mansion’ which has intrigued her ever since. Soon, Taro shares her obsession with the house’s shadowy past and a romance blossoms. Although puzzled by the main characters, I enjoyed this delicate, intimate novella. It is full of interesting details of Japanese life – pine and plum trees and a stone lantern in the garden, what they buy from the supermarket and what they eat. Rebecca Wallersteiner


Two cookbooks celebrate the power of food to shape our memories and identity. By Juanita Coulson


ADVENTURES OF A TERRIBLY GREEDY GIRL by Kay Plunkett- Hogge (Mitchell Beazley, £12.99)
Award-winning food and drinks writer and former fashionista Kay Plunkett-Hogge grew up in 1970s Bangkok, with Western food at home and Thai cuisine on the city’s streets. So global flavours and a taste for adventure are in her blood. A member of the Gin Guild who, in the words of chef Heston Blumenthal, ‘shakes a damn good cocktail’, Plunkett-Hogge’s zest for life has taken her on (mostly unplanned) journeys around the world, martini glass in hand. All this combines to make her memoir-cum-travelogue- cum-cookbook a riveting, moreish read. Her twenty-five recipes are pinpoints in the fast-paced, colourful map of her peripatetic life.

MAMMA: Reflections On The Food That Makes Us by Mina Holland (Orion, £20)
In this inspiring hotpot of essays, memoir, interviews and – last but not least – great recipes, the editor of the Guardian’s Cook magazine explores the relationship between the food of our childhood and our adult tastes, the interplay of tradition and innovation. Her themed chapters cover topics like nature, Women and Eating Meat, which she discusses with the likes of chefs Jamie Oliver and Yotam Ottolenghi, psychotherapist Susie Orbach and actor Stanley Tucci. There are accompanying recipes for Eggs, Pulses, Vegetables, and so on. A childhood vegetarian, pulses are still ‘the beating heart’ of Holland’s cooking. An engaging book that blends thought-provoking writing and brilliant recipes.

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