Monday, 30 November -0001

Book Reviews: 5 June

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


Books-Jun05-HistoryOfMoney-176A History Of Money by Alan Pauls (Melville House, £17.99; offer price, £16.19)
A young man looks back on his life growing up in 1970s and 1980s Argentina, starting with a defining event in his youth: a family friend died in a helicopter crash, while carrying a suitcase full of cash to settle an industrial dispute. His body is found, but not the money.

The arc of the protagonist’s life – from childhood holidays to the highly charged psychodrama of his relationship with his divorced parents and a failed marriage of his own – is played out against a backdrop of economic instability.

The characters’ relationship with money defines them more than any other trait. But nowhere were the meaning and value of money more shifting than in Argentina in this particular period of its history, when soaring inflation saw the price tags on everyday items become meaningless by the hour.

Pauls captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of a dysfunctional family in perfectly pitched, slow-moving prose. His complex sentences can run to whole paragraphs, swirling out into erudite or humorous digressions. But, challenging as they are, they repay the reader’s sustained focus and stamina. By showing how a country’s turbulent political and economic history interweaves with the personal, he gives his story a universal appeal.
Juanita Coulson

Books-Jun05-AskThePast-176Ask The Past: Pertinent And Impertinent Advice From Yesteryear by Elizabeth P Archibald (Square Peg, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
Historian Elizabeth Archibald has raided the pages of rare books and manuscripts from the Middle Ages to the 19th century in search of advice for every eventuality. From how to look good on a budget (things haven’t changed that much since the 13th century: it’s the accessories that make an outfit) to how to ride a horse politely through town, the entries will delight the reader with their quirkiness or bemusing specificity (pink pancakes, anyone?). We may turn our noses up at a 12th-century slimming treatment of cow dung, but latemedieval dog-care tips are eminently sensible.

This compendium has all the qualities of a well-curated cabinet of curiosities: some of it is still relevant, some of it hilariously quaint or obscure, but nothing fails to fascinate. Take this gem from the Early Middle Ages: ‘While your enemy is emptying his bowels, do not seek revenge against him; it is detestable to harm someone while he is squatting.’


BookOfWeek-Jun05-176Lost or stolen?
The Improbability Of Love by Hannah Rothschild (Bloomsbury, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
While searching for a present for her unsuitable lover in a junk shop, Annie, a young cook, comes across a dusty picture. After spending all her savings on the work, she finds herself drawn into the murkier side of the international art world. She is pursued by people who would sell their mother to possess the painting: from an unscrupulous art dealer to an American collector – and even Adolf Hitler.

Part detective story, part romance, the gripping narrative moves between contemporary London and Nazi Germany, examining along the way the meaning of love and loss, morality and greed, sacrifice and decadence. As Annie searches for the painting’s true identity, she will uncover some of the darkest secrets of 20th-century European art history.

The most fascinating (fictional) character is the talking ‘masterpiece’ of the title, by Jean-Antoine Watteau. The picture recounts anecdotes about its previous owners, Voltaire, Catherine the Great and Napoleon, all of whom enjoyed energetic love lives. There is little about the ecstasy and disappointments of love that this cynical observer hasn’t witnessed.

Although keeping up with the many different voices becomes a trifle confusing at times, the central theme of Nazi art theft is deftly handled. An excellent and very funny debut.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


A Rothschild Renaissance: Treasures From The Waddesdon Bequest by Dora Thornton (The British Museum Press, £30; offer price, £27)
When Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild died in 1898, he bequeathed to the British Museum a unique collection of Renaissance treasures. This beautifully illustrated book accompanies the opening of a new room at the museum to showcase these objects.


Baron Ferdinand – charmingly pictured with his beloved dog, Poupon – was an avid collector of medieval and Renaissance reliquaries, precious jewels, enamels and majolica. Like many Victorians he also had a quirky side: he enjoyed dressing up in historical costume and collected ‘curiosities’. Ideal for dipping into, as reading it all at once is like eating all the chocolates in a box.


The Woman Who Fell In Love For A Week by Fiona Walker (Sphere, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
When divorced teacher Jenny agrees to housesit for a famous author and her husband, she expects a relaxing break at their beautiful home. But instead, she must contend with their unruly dog Gunter and a mysterious artist called Euan. When he persuades Jenny to sit for him, she starts to open up to him about her life. Unfolding over two hot summer weeks, this tense tale of scandal is rife with flirtation, desire and witty one-liners.
Rebecca Maxted

Grumpies On Board by Carol E Wyer (Safkhet Publishing, £7.99; no offer price available)
Older travellers are more adventurous today than ever before, rediscovering their long-dormant wanderlust once nests are empty and mortgages are paid. Wyer catalogues a genuinely interesting and inspiring collection of mature holidaymakers’ experiences, ranging from the sublimely relaxing to the downright dangerous. Whether out rambling or at Pamplona’s running of the bulls, age is no barrier, only attitude.

It makes for an enjoyable read, if somewhat marred by factual inaccuracies and grammatical errors on virtually every page. Slipshod editing undermines the author’s expertise and interrupts the flow – just the thing to turn the reader into a ‘grumpy’.
Richard Tarrant

Do Less , Get More: How To Work Smart And Live Life Your Way by Sháá Wasmund (Portfolio Penguin, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
It took a remark from her young son – ‘Mummy, you’re always so busy!’ – to give Wasmund the inspiration she needed to change her hectic life. While learning to prioritise what really matters, she discovered that ‘the secret of happiness is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less’.

Her cleverly illustrated book offers guidance and inspiration for those of us living frazzled lives under the tyranny of endless to-do lists.
Patricia Marie


Our pick of this summer’s essential reading, no matter where you are enjoying a well-deserved break. By Victoria Clark


The Penny Heart by Martine Bailey (Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99; offer price, £11.99)
Set in the 18th century, this is a tale of deceit, revenge and murder. Centring on Mary Jebb, transported to Botany Bay for theft, and Grace Moore, imprisoned by her father’s bankruptcy and alcoholism, it is an exciting novel in the Gothic tradition. When Grace marries she’s manipulated into employing Mary as a cook – and her life starts to unravel…

Russian Tattoo by Elena Gorokhova (Windmill, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
This is a memoir of a Russian’s journey from the food queues of 1980s Leningrad and her overwhelming mother to a pleasant existence in New Jersey. Leaving the past behind is not so simple, though, and soon her mother joins her in the US. By turns entertaining and sad, the book reveals how Gorokhova’s life was shaped by her Russian upbringing and how it informs her new American self.

Lundy, Rockall, Dogger, Fair Isle by Mathew Clayton and Anthony Atkinson (Ebury Press, £9.99; offer price, £9.49) This offers an enchanting trip around the unique and wonderful islands that lie beyond our shores. Filled with quirky facts and charming woodcuts, it is more of an appreciation than a travel guide, but it will introduce you to places unheard of outside of the Shipping Forecast and inspire you to holiday here in the British Isles.

Tweet us your holiday reads @TheLadyMagazine using hashtag #ladyholidayreads

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