Friday, 30 October 2015

Book Reviews: 30 October

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


books-Natural-HistoriesNatural Histories: 25 Extraordinary Species That Have Changed Our World by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss (John Murray, £25; offer price, £22.50)
Accompanying the popular BBC Radio 4 series presented by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss, Natural Histories takes us on a journey to meet some of the world’s most strikingly weird animals and plants. Dive into the ocean with a 40ft-long giant squid with ‘an eye the size of your head’ and a ‘parrot beak that can rip flesh’. Catch a burbot – the ‘ugliest fish’ that ever swam.

Dig deep down into the Arctic ice (or, more astonishingly, the Thames mud) to uncover a frozen mammoth. Marvel at fleas, immortalised in poetry by John Donne and dressed in miniature costumes by Mexican nuns. Wonder at the delicate wings of Red Admiral butterflies, thought to have flown up from hell by medieval artists, who depicted them ‘perched on a faded bloom’ or ‘decaying fruit’ and often juxtaposed with white butterflies, symbols of ‘innocence, purity and hope’. Meet 17th-century butterfly enthusiast Eleanor Glanville, who was ‘considered insane’.

This quirky and beautifully illustrated book is packed with extraordinary insights and facts. Some chapters took me back to school; others, exploring dinosaur eggs, fossils and corals, reminded me of a Victorian cabinet of curiosities. A great Christmas present for an armchair naturalist, or for teenage grandchildren.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

books-Edward-IVEdward IV: Glorious Son Of York by Jeffrey James (Amberley, £25; offer price, £22.50)
In the genre of popular history, this well-written look at the Wars of the Roses makes a welcome change from yet another book on the Tudors. Unlike most modern accounts, which take the usurpation of Richard II as the start of the division between Lancaster and York, James begins with the quarrel between Richard, Duke of York, and the mentally ill Henry IV . This point coincides with the birth of Richard’s son, later Edward IV , the only king in English history to win his crown, lose it and then redeem it all in battle.

Edward’s life and the political upheavals of the time are told with clarity, but where James really excels is in his descriptions of latemedieval battles. His comments on how English armies had adapted from lessons learnt during the Hundred Years War are insightful.

Similarly, his use of contemporary terms, such as scurriers for reconnaissance forces, conveys some appreciation of what campaigning might have been like for soldiers of the time.

Let’s have more readable accounts of medieval warfare like this, please – although better referencing and greater use of primary sources would improve the usefulness of the book to anyone who wants to know more.
Stephen Coulson


books-book-of-the-weekHER LAST HURRAH
FEAR OF DYING by Erica Jong (Canongate Books, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)

When Jong’s groundbreaking, feminist classic Fear Of Flying was published in 1973, its explicit treatment of casual sex caused controversy in an era when it was not wholly acceptable to speak openly of women’s sexuality. Fast forward four decades and her new book is just as bold, only this time the taboo she tackles is love and sex in older age.

Sixty-year-old Vanessa struggles to cope with her much older, critically ill husband. Feeling no guilt, she advertises online for no-strings liaisons, believing the excitement will rejuvenate her. But her encounters challenge this; Vanessa may be searching for sex, but only because she is running from death.

Vanessa also finds difficulty facing the decline of her aged parents, both in palliative care. ‘It doesn’t matter how old they are. You are never prepared to lose your parents,’ she laments. On the death of her father, Vanessa finally begins to understand him: ‘Alive, he was closed and careful. Now he is dead, we talk until the early hours and share everything.’

Jong will attract new fans and impress her many followers with her brave contemplation of a difficult subject. The explicit sexual references are somewhat overused and may offend some readers, but this is a powerful exploration of old age, desire and mortality.
Patricia Merrick


AN ANTHOLOGY OF DECORATED PAPERS by PJM Marks (Thames & Hudson, £38; offer price, £34)
From endpapers for books to counterfeitproof markings on banknotes, the uses of decorated papers are astonishingly varied. Yet with their exquisite patterns and craftsmanship, they often go unnoticed. Drawing on the Olga Hirsch collection at the British Library, this delightful book features decorated papers from around the world, dating from the 16th century to the present day.

books-coffee-table-bookLate 19th-century Japanese chiyogami (origami papers)

Full-page illustrations showcase techniques, such as marbling, block printing and brocade papers. Marks, curator of bookbindings at The British Library, writes with erudition and passion. An inspiring book for creative types – or just the sheer pleasure of losing oneself in intricate, swirling patterns.



IN THEIR SHOES: Fairy Tales And Folktales illustrated by Lucie Arnoux (Pushkin Children, £6.99; offer price, £6.64)
This beautiful book brings together some of the most enduring and best-loved tales from around the world, along with some lesser-known gems – all united by the common thread of shoes.

Puss In Boots, an early Chinese version of the Cinderella story or the adorable French children’s classic The Pair Of Shoes, a romance in which said shoes are the main characters – this cleverly assembled selection explores the role of footwear in the popular imagination.

From princesses’ dancing slippers to an ogre’s seven-league boots, shoes can give their wearers magical powers or lead them seriously astray.

Accompanied by Arnoux’s quirky, expressive drawings, these are stories you will want to read time and again – aloud to your children or grandchildren, or quietly to yourself.
Juanita Coulson

THE NEW WORLD by Andrew Motion (Vintage, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Andrew Motion’s sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island kicks off with a handy summary of the story so far. Having returned to the island in the company of Long John Silver’s daughter Natty, Jim Hawkins Junior has retrieved the loot he set out to recover. But after a catastrophic storm, the couple are shipwrecked off the coast of Texas.

It’s at this point that Jim and Natty are swiftly imprisoned by Native Indians and their subsequent escape is the catalyst for a scenic – if patchy – adventure in which the theme of greed is central.
Stephanie Cross


More than pretty pictures, every week we will be casting a culinary and critical eye over the new batch of cookery books. By Juanita Coulson


DELICIOUSLY ELLA by Ella Woodward (Yellow Kite, £20; offer price, £18)
For months I sneered at this unopened book. Woodward advocates a diet free from all meat, dairy, sugar, gluten and anything processed, claiming this approach to eating helped her overcome a rare illness. But here’s the thing: if you ignore the smug missionary zeal, the recipes are useful and delicious. Instead of the cardboard-tasting fare found in supermarkets’ ‘free-from’ ranges, they offer nutritious ingredients that can be cooked easily and imaginatively. It ticks all the trendy boxes (chia seeds, coconut everything), but approach with an open mind and you will discover enticing flavours and great additions to your repertoire, without going the whole holier-than-thou hog.

DELICIOUSLY WHEAT, GLUTEN & DAIRY FREE by Antoinette Savill (Grub Street, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
Aimed at those suffering from food allergies, such as coeliacs, this book has appealing ideas for a whole array of dishes, from everyday lunches to sweet treats. Alternative ingredients, such as coconut milk and gluten-free flours, are clearly explained and many recipes have variations so you can, for example, use real cheese or a soya replacement, depending on health needs. This can become a trifle confusing, however, and is compounded by the busy layout. But a great feature is that recipes are marked ‘slow’ or ‘quick’, so you can select accordingly. Puddings are especially good: lemon and lavender cake, and damson and honey ice-cream are bound to become firm favourites.

Tweet us your recipe reads @TheLadyMagazine using #ladyrecipereads

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