Friday, 13 May 2016

Book reviews: 13 May

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


books-tudor-queensSIX TUDOR QUEENS: KATHERINE OF ARAGON, THE TRUE QUEEN by Alison Weir (Headline Review, £18.99; offer price, £16.99)
Thomas Cromwell said of Katherine of Aragon: ‘Nature wronged her in not making her a man. But for her sex, she would have surpassed all the heroes of history.’ The first of Alison Weir’s historical novels about Henry VIII’s six wives tells the story of Katherine, his first spouse and beloved Queen of England. Having undertaken extensive research into original sources, including Katherine’s letters, Weir offers a compelling portrait of a queen who was both loyal and kind, and whose only fault was her inability to produce a male heir for Henry, the man she loved. Far from the pious queen she is made out to be in previous books, Weir presents Katherine as a strong moral character who refused to bow to the pressure Henry put upon her.

Having declined to annul their marriage and declare their daughter, the future Queen Mary, illegitimate, Katherine sealed her fate. Divorced by Henry and ousted by the much younger Anne Boleyn, Katherine fell victim to his cruelty and yet she continued to love him – and forgave him.

Although presented as historical fiction, the authentic voice of Katherine rings true throughout. It is a study of a woman who inspires admiration as well as sympathy – a fitting tribute to a queen who was unduly wronged by history.
Lyndsy Spence

books-missing-hoursTHE MISSING HOURS by Emma Kavanagh (Century, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Drawing on her own experiences as a police and military psychologist, Emma Kavanagh has created a deeply engrossing thriller with a sinuous plot that twists and turns from start to finish. Alternating between several narrators, the storyline is complex and intricate, requiring total concentration from the reader throughout.

When Selena Cole, recent widow and mother of two, disappears, leaving her COFFEE TABLE BOOK two young daughters alone in a playground, alarm bells begin to ring. When Selena reappears 20 hours later with no explanation for her absence or knowledge of her former whereabouts, it is clear that things are about to become very complicated.

Kavanagh quickly establishes an atmosphere of suspense and mounting tension, enhanced by her combination of fastpaced prose, concise chapters and sharply switching narrators. It is testament to Kavanagh’s skill as a writer that, aside from her ability to apply her inside knowledge of police and military operations so effectively, she is also able to create a compelling set of characters.

Though the opening chapters may initially overwhelm, stick with Kavanagh as she will keep you guessing until the very last page. A classic thriller and highly enjoyable.
Lilly Cox


books-book-of-the-weekForgotten victims
ONE DAY IN FRANCE: Tragedy And Betrayal In An Occupied Village by Jean-Marie Borzeix, translated by Gay McAuley (IB Tauris, £18.99; offer price, £16.99)
On 6 April 1944, four men were taken from the hamlet of L’Echameil in central France by the occupying German Army to the nearby town of Bugeat. After a brief discussion with the town clerk, the men were driven out of town and murdered by the side of the road. They were all suspected of having sons in the Maquis, the rural resistance.

On the same day, an SS unit rounded up 11 Jews from Bugeat for deportation to Auschwitz. One of them, Chaim Rozent, a refugee violinist and barber and a member of the resistance, was shot by the roadside.

Such events were common across France in the spring of 1944, as both Germans and the collaborating Vichy government realised that invasion by the Allies would come soon. None of those murdered on that day were particularly important, nor had the local resistance achieved anything of military significance. Instead, Borzeix explores memory: how countries and communities remember and how individual recollections can sit awkwardly with collective narratives.

This is not purely a history, but rather a reunion, bringing together Borzeix and the surviving families of the victims. An impressive memorial and a deeply personal description of the struggle between remembering and forgetting. Stephen Coulson


MARIA MERIAN’S BUTTERFLIES by Kate Heard (Royal Collection Trust, £14.95; offer price, £12.95)
Accompanying the exhibition at Buckingham Palace, this book tells the story of 17th-century German entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian. Like Gerald Durrell, Merian got the insect ‘bug’ in childhood and never lost her obsession, educating herself and recording her discoveries in watercolours.

books-coffee-table-bookThe Achilles Morpho butterfly by Merian

Aged 52, she left her unhappy marriage and sailed to South America with her daughter. There she created a stunning set of illustrations, later acquired by George III. More than 300 years later, they still startle with their freshness, brilliance and vibrant colour.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


LAST DANCE IN HAVANA by Rosanna Ley (Quercus, £7.99; offer price, £7.49)
Massage therapist Grace has an unhappy relationship with both her father and husband. Her life is sent into turmoil when she falls in love with her best friend Theo, and learns the truth about her mother’s untimely death. Meanwhile, Grace’s stepmother Elisa is dreaming of her lost Cuban love Duardo, whilst trying to keep her family together.

Set in between 1950s Cuba and modern-day Bristol, Ley keeps the reader hooked with a fast-paced, intense narrative that digs deep into the scandalous and romantic history of two very different women. A perfect holiday read to be devoured in one sitting.
Rebecca Maxted

WHILE MY EYES WERE CLOSED by Linda Green (Quercus, £7.99; offer price, £7.49)
Parental anxieties and obsessions come under the microscope in this skilfully crafted psychological thriller. Lisa, juggling a job, older parents, a husband and three children, takes her eye off the ball while playing hide-and-seek with her youngest, four-year-old Ella, in the park. When the child goes missing, Lisa is plunged into a web of secrets, guilt and skewed perceptions.

Her story intersects with that of Muriel, a seemingly respectable piano teacher with a delusional streak, who has never got over the fact that her only son has grown up. Thanks to Green’s naturalistic style and sharp observations of family dynamics and domestic detail, no scene in this complex story feels less than lifelike and compelling. She writes child characters particularly well. An ambitious premise, brilliantly executed.
Juanita Coulson


Barbecue season is upon us and for this year’s enthusiasts, it’s all about smart smoking. By Juanita Coulson
GRILLSTOCK: The BBQ Book by Jon Finch and Ben Merrington (Sphere, £20; offer price, £17)
The duo behind the successful Grillstock Smokehouse restaurants that are spearheading the Americanstyle BBQ trend in the UK have written a comprehensive guide to ‘low ’n’ slow’ cooking. Centred around staples such as pork, beef, chicken and ribs, recipes also include sides, sauces and all the trimmings for the perfect barbecue feast. The book is, as you’d expect from its trendsetting authors, upbeat, snazzily designed and vibrantly illustrated. The pair also host the eponymous music and food festivals, where cooks test out their skills in the King of the Grill competition. A great guide to summer barbecueing, if you don’t mind the overwhelmingly American and hipster vibe.

GRILL SMOKE BBQ by Ben Tish (Quadrille Publishing, £25; offer price, £21)
This smart new cookbook by the chef/ director of Soho’s Ember Yard bar and grill claims that ‘you can make any food on a barbecue… all you need is the simplest barbecue with a lid and some charcoal’. And skill, obviously. So his recipes are not just about chunks of grilled meat, but include exquisite vegetarian dishes such as smoky eggs with asparagus and sweet shallots on sourbread, and more surprisingly, desserts, breads and even cakes. His introduction, Taming the Flame, is required reading for barbecue novices, but has much to teach the expert too. The inspiration here is Spanish and Italian, so there are tapas-style sharing dishes, delicious vegetables and more nuanced flavours.

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