Friday, 07 April 2017

Book Reviews: 7 April

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


writer-sailor-soldier-spyWRITER, SAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY by Nicholas Reynolds (William Morrow, £20)
A titan amongst American novelists, Ernest Hemingway was as active politically as he was a writer. This new study by a former CIA officer and historian sheds light on his political activities, exploring his involvement with the KGB and the American secret service, and how this may have affected his mental state. The result is a unique history lesson set against the backdrop of 20th- century American literature, which captivates and shocks in equal measure.

Private papers and a rare cache of Hemingway’s letters help piece together his complex political life. We learn how a fervent anti-establishment editorial in a left-wing newspaper leads to Hemingway’s recruitment by the KGB on ‘ideological grounds’. There is evidence of secret meetings with KGB officials and confirmation of the writer’s code name, Argo. Reynolds writes with authority and conviction, but is mindful to distinguish fact from fiction. This is an intricate study of one of America’s most revered literary icons.
Elizabeth Fitzherbert

revolutionsREVOLUTIONS: MOMENTS IN HISTORY THAT CHANGED THE WORLD by Clare Hibbert (British Library Publishing, £12.99)
So expansive is the scope of world history that it is taught in modular form from primary school all the way through to postgraduate level. With the curriculum for eight- to 11-year-olds typically focusing solely on the Roman Empire, the Vikings and the Tudors, this colourful title aims to provide the inquisitive middle-school pupil with a broader overview of the most momentous events from the dawn of civilisation to the Second World War.

Particularly impressive is the geographical sweep, with the construction of Persepolis and the Samurai Wars taking their place in its pages alongside the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution.

The ‘bite-size’ nature of the facts presented may elicit some exasperation at the truncated attention span of the smartphone generation – but, with history increasingly ignored by GCSE and A level students, the truth is that anything that encourages interest in this traditional, essential subject at an early age is extremely welcome.
Richard Tarrant


goneWarp and theft

GONE by Min Kym (Viking, £14.99)
At the centre of this compulsive memoir is an experience that is at once impossible and all too easy to imagine. In November 2002, Min Kym was with her boyfriend at euston station when her case was stolen. But this wasn’t a case full of clothes and cosmetics: it was the case of a virtuoso violinist, containing a 1696 stradivarius worth £1.2 million.

This is a tale of two halves – before the theft and after. It is also a love story of sorts: according to Kym, the strad was her glass slipper and she Cinderella. But then the fairytale turned ugly in ways that no one, least of all Kym, could have foreseen. For although her violin was eventually found, the two, like lovers in a Shakespearean tragedy, were denied their happy-ever-after.

The memoir is both intensely raw – Kym’s agony is at times so vivid that it’s hard to read on – and beautifully crafted. It is a thriller, a swooning romance and an eye- opening insight into the unique (and mostly unenviable) life of a former child prodigy. Indeed, one of the most memorable moments in the book comes when Kym meets another precociously gifted youngster: ‘As soon as you get into your teens, they start comparing you with yourself,’ he observes knowingly. Riveting from first page to last.
Stephanie Cross


American businessman, collector and politician William Waldorf astor fell in love with Italy while he was US ambassador in Rome. He purchased the villa that now bears his name in the early 1900s, and spent a decade restoring it, creating its beautiful gardens and filling it with an eclectic collection of art and objects. The house’s pedigree goes back to Roman times: the ruins of a first-century villa still stand in the grounds.


This lavishly illustrated book, introduced by The Rt Hon the Lord Astor of Hever, showcases its exquisite interiors, opulent gardens and dramatic location – it’s perched on a cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples. Layers of history and bold but sensitive refurbishments make this property a fascinating subject for lovers of art and interiors. JC


A HOUSE FULL OF DAUGHTERS by Juliet Nicolson (Vintage, £9.99)
Having a great eccentric like Vita Sackville- West as a grandmother is a promising start for a family biography, and Nicolson’s book on seven generations of women does not disappoint. No ordinary female bloodline, this: it also includes a feisty flamenco dancer great-great-grandmother, and great-grandmother Victoria, who dazzles Washington DC with her looks and social graces. The mother-daughter relationship is examined with real insight and compassion, as are the themes of addiction and maternal jealousy. Taking us from the back streets of 19th- century Málaga to the splendour of Knole and Sissinghurst, the tone then shifts from elegiac to confessional as Nicolson turns to herself and her mother Philippa. Chapters on her daughters and granddaughter end the book on a redemptive note. A compelling read that captures the spirit of places as much as people. Juanita Coulson

THE LAST BELL by Johannes Urzidil, translated by David Burnett (Pushkin Press, £12)
Set in Prague, these stories by a friend of Kafka’s explore the darker, unpredictable side of human behaviour and combine the humdrum with the fantastic. In one, a bachelor clerk begins a love affair and a conversation with a portrait he has stolen from a gallery. In another, a maid adopts her Jewish employers’ lavish lifestyle after they flee the Nazis, leaving her their money and apartment. My favourite revolves around a fantasist travel agent, who has never travelled and seeks to impress a woman by retelling his customers’ adventures in exotic places, such as Monte Carlo’s casinos or Hawaii’s ‘gleaming white beaches.’ A little far-fetched, but full of unexpected twists that leave you guessing. Rebecca Wallersteiner

THE SILENT FOUNTAIN by Victoria Fox (HarperCollins, £7.99)
Escaping the aftermath of a tragic love affair, Lucy Whittaker takes up a post at the remote (and hauntingly named) Castillo Barbarossa, near Florence. However, beneath the beauty and grandeur of her new surroundings, Lucy soon realises that all is not as it seems. The reclusive owner, Vivien Lockhart, may not be the only secret hidden behind the grand walls and palatial gardens. This is nouveau gothic fiction at its finest –not a serious read, but the perfect buy for some summer holiday fun. Helena Gumley-Mason


Chocolate eggs are all very well at Easter, of course, but let’s not forget the real thing. By Juanita Coulson 

ALL ABOUT EGGS by Rachel Khong and the editors of Lucky Peach (Clarkson Potter, £21.16)
They’re one of the most versatile ingredients, eaten worldwide, often the first thing a novice cook will tackle. But, as this quirky cookbook- cum-treatise asks, ‘how did eggs conquer the world?’ It is quite a bizarre journey: from a chicken’s insides to family kitchens and michelin-starred restaurants. It’s a voyage the authors embark on with gusto, along with a chapter that baffles with biology and risks being off-putting with its forensic details. But there are amusing anecdotes and great recipes (the perfect poached egg, winning breakfasts, unusual omelettes). Light-hearted, eccentric and informative, although the puns are overcooked: ‘eggknowledgments’ – really?

EGG SHOP: THE COOKBOOK by Nick Korbee (William Morrow & Co, £28.49)
For Korbee, chef at New York’s 24-hour brunch and cocktails haunt, Egg Shop, eggs are not just the perfect breakfast staple: they star in the whole menu, partnered by local produce. His cookbook takes us from the basics of frying, poaching and scrambling to a variety of recipes, from easy classics to sophisticated concoctions – and inventive but suspect flavour combinations (truffled eggs basted with chocolate bacon butter, anyone?). Highlights include eggs caviar on sourdough rye bread (a lesson on the importance of a perfectly cooked egg). There is a lot of cognac-curing, quinoa in bowls and low-carb – so set hipster tolerance levels to max. Worth it for excellent tips and some great dishes, though.

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