Book Review: Gennaro: Slow Cook Italian by Gennaro Contaldo

Gennaro Contaldo Slow Cook ItalianSlow Cooking is one of Gennaro’s favourite ways to cook: it’s simple, stress-free and allows you to get on with other things safe in the knowledge that slowly, slowly the stove-top or oven is doing its job. Stews and sauces bubble on the hob, a roast cooks in the oven with herbs gently infusing the meat, breads and cakes bake, all filling the house with mouth-watering smells and creating that special warmth which nothing else can.

A classic Italian cookbook and kitchen essential, Gennaro: Slow Cook Italian brings together more than 100 recipes for rich soups and stews, slow-cooked pasta sauces, braised meats, tender roasts, soft breads and sticky desserts and sweets. Unfussy, effortless and often inexpensive, the gutsy and sumptuous dishes are mostly quick to prepare, and let the oven or slow-cooker do the work – so that you don’t have to.

I received an extract of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a review. The full book is published by Pavilion Books

Delivered to my ipad with Kindle software, this had lovely colour photographs, with several dishes (including meat, vegetables, breads and pasta), with both slow cooker and standard cooking directions available.

The recipes aren’t overtly complicated with loads of hard to get ingredients, and with the slow cooking lending itself to cheaper cuts of meat, this should help towards the household budget.

I wasn’t really aware of Italian slow cooking before now, but will certainly keep an eye out for this book in paper form (I also have a thing about  cookbooks, but that’s another story!) – as a excerpt, rather than the full book, it certainly gave me a taster (ahem) for the real thing!

About the Author:

Gennaro Contaldo, is an Italian chef and restaurateur, known for his association with his protégé, Jamie Oliver, and his partnership with fellow Italian chef Antonio Carluccio and their BBC Two television series Two Greedy Italians.

This book is featured on Gennaro’s website and can be brought from most booksellers, including the publishers here

Book Review: The Jump Artist by Austin Ratner

jumpartistThe novel is based on the true story of Philippe Halsman, a man who Adolf Hitler knew by name, who Sigmund Freud wrote about in 1930, and who put Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Life magazine.

The story begins in September 1928, when Halsman and his father were hiking in the Tyrolean Alps. While Halsman went ahead on the trail, his father was attacked and murdered. The Jewish 22 year old would be falsely accused of killing his father. The Jump Artist follows his life story from the murder and trial in Austria, into the depths of Halsman’s despair in prison, to his rise in Paris and New York as one of the world’s most renowned photographers.

Received my copy from the Penguin Books UK Proof Readers circle.

This is a fictionalised account of a little-known event in history – Halsman is accused of patricide after the death of his father whilst the pair are walking in the Alps. He is found guilty, spends several years in jail, but is finally pardoned on condition that he leaves Austria, never to return.

He recovers from Tuberculosis whilst in France, trains as an engineer, but ends up taking photographs. His talent increases and he starts to become well known for portrait photographs (doing the covers of Vogue etc). Finally, WWII starts, and he and his family escape France for America, where he finally achieves fame as a photographer of the famous.

This is not a dry, non-fiction biography. Especially in the first section of the book, there are jumps in narrative time, sometimes in the same chapter, once in a while the same paragraph. Slightly disconcerting, it however makes the story telling quite fluid.

I didn’t feel emotionally connected to Halsman very much throughout the book. I don’t know whether that was on purpose or not by the author. Halsman did come across as rather emotionally restrained, feeling the need to punish himself if he felt his emotions were too out of control. There were times where he comes across as OCD and almost autistic in not being able to react the correct way towards others (and especially girls).

The title refers to a series of portraits (including Monroe) where he takes their photos whilst they are jumping.

Book Review: Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick

Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1875 the beautiful widow Florence Ricardo married the handsome and successful young attorney Charles Bravo, hoping to escape the scandals of her past. But Bravo proved to be a brutal and conniving man, and the marriage was far from happy. Then one night he suddenly collapsed, and three days later died an agonizing death. His doctors immediately determined that he had been poisoned. The graphic and sensational details of the case would capture the public imagination of Victorian England as the investigation dominated the press for weeks, and the list of suspects grew to include Florence, her secret lover the eminent doctor James Gully, her longtime companion the housekeeper Mrs. Cox, and the recently dismissed stableman George Griffiths. But ultimately no murderer could be determined, and despite the efforts of numerous historians, criminologists, and other writers since (including Agatha Christie), the case has never been definitively solved. Now James Ruddick retells this gripping story of love, greed, brutality, and betrayal among the elite — offering an intimate portrait of Victorian culture and of one woman’s struggle to live in this repressive society, while unmasking the true murderer for the first time. Simultaneously a murder mystery, colorful social history, and modern-day detective tale,

This book covers a true life Victorian death under suspect circumstances and the Author’s attempt to discover the true murderer.

In 1875, the wealthy widow Florence Ricardo marries ambitious barrister Charles Bravo. Less than six months later he was dead, as a result of poisoning by antimony.

Florence’s first marriage was to a heavy drinker who was such a vile character that she left him and returned to her family, only to be put under terrible pressure by family and friends to return to the marriage for the sake of appearances. She does, but it’s not long before he drinks himself to death and she retires to Malvern to recover under the direction of Dr James Gully. Older than her, they however have an intense affair which scandalises society. He aborts the baby that she ends up carrying.

She marries Charles Bravo as a way of restoring her social position. It was not a good marriage – she was headstrong, wishing to control her own substantial finances, and be in control of her own body (and knowing that the abortion had already weakened her system). He was a bully and typical Victorian male – seeing his wife, and her money and body as simple possessions that he could do with what he wanted. He drank heavily, sexually abused her (both raping and sodomising her), and demanding “relations” whether or not she was physically or emotionally ready for it after the failure of two subsequent miscarriages.

The inquest determined that Antimony (a remedy still used today to make people sick when they’ve drunk alcohol) was used to kill Bravo, essentially in such a large quantity that it burned his insides. It was never determined who killed him, mainly because there were too many suspects. Ruddick attempts to pull things together, including the original inquest transcripts, letters to/from some of the suspects and their families, and testimony from their descendants. He presents what he believes is those responsible for the murder (and their motives) and it’s up to you to decide whether he’s correct.

Book Review: The 8:55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames

The 8:55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1928, Agatha Christie, the world’s most widely read author, was a thirty-something single mother.  With her marriage to her first husband, Archie Christie, over, she decided to take a much-needed holiday; the Caribbean had been her intended destination, but a conversation at a dinner party with a couple who had just returned from Iraq changed her mind.  Five days later she was off on a completely different trajectory.

Merging literary biography with travel adventure, and ancient history with contemporary world events, Andrew Eames tells a riveting tale and reveals fascinating and little-known details en route in this exotic chapter in the life of Agatha Christie.  His own trip from London to Baghdad—a journey much more difficult to make in 2002 with the political unrest in the Middle East and the war in Iraq, than it was in 1928—becomes ineluctably intertwined with Agatha’s, and the people he meets could have stepped out of a mystery novel.

Picked up as an Audiobook from Audible, and read by the author, who does a decent job of it.

This book’s concept started out as a “let’s follow Agatha Christie’s journeys to the middle east by train” story, but morphed into part travelogue, part history lesson and part Christie autobiography.

Eames attempts to do a trip between England and Baghdad, previously done several times and almost completely by train by Agatha Christie (and much on the Orient Express). This book is the result of when Eames tries to recreate this trip. The Orient Express, as was, was shut down in the 1970s, and has been recreated in part by some willing investors who, as a labour of love, have gathered the remaining rolling stock and put on some level of service. Lack of rolling stock, multiple local and global wars, and shifting borders (and that England is no longer a regional strong man in the area) has meant that such a trip undertaken by a solo Englisher is no longer really possible.

However, Eames does as he can, describing his various adventures through Europe and the Middle-East, and some of the more interesting people he meets. He goes through what remains of Yugoslavia, and finds out how some people are coping 10 years after the war that split the country in three.

His attempts to reach Baghdad on a bus with a motley crew of Westerners is tense, where noone really knows who is who, the English continue to have a stiff upper lipped colonial approach to travel, the Americans can be dodgy and everyone is trying to guess who the CIA agent is. This part of the trip reflects the tension and conflicting views of the potentially coming war. Eames’ journey concluded on a bitter sweet note in Baghdad in 2003, with post-9/11 tensions running high and the Allied airplanes beginning to do bombing sorties in the skies.

At the end of the book is a !more straight! version of Christie’s trips in the Middle-East in her guise as the wife of an archaeologist and her continuing work as a worldwide known writer – several of her books, including “Death in Mesopotamia” and “Murder on the Orient Express” were written during her second marriage.

So a decently narrated audiobook, that manages to conjur up an exotic travel experience that is now faded with the passage of time and the vagaries of people’s attitude to others

Book Review: Papillion by Henri Charrière

papillionHenri Charrière, called “Papillon,” for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, was convicted in Paris in 1931 of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana, he became obsessed with one goal: “escape.” After planning and executing a series of treacherous yet failed attempts over many years, he was eventually sent to the notorious prison, Devil’s Island, a place from which no one had ever escaped . . . until Papillon. His flight to freedom remains one of the most incredible feats of human cunning, will, and endurance ever undertaken.

A difficult book to read and I would have abandoned it had it not been that month’s choice for a book club I belonged to.  I know that some people enjoyed it and some have even found it inspirational – I found it boring and tedious. And I dont care if Steve McQueen was in the movie, that didnt make me hate it any less.

In principal, it should be a great book: Man imprisoned for a crime he didnt commit, escapes from one penal colony, has a great time on an island pretending to be something he’s not, gets captured again, incarcerated again, years of solitary confinement, the rations and abuse that prisoners get, to be let go as an old man, long after his original sentence has finished.

Oh but such tedious writing! The boredom! Page after page of this drivel! Again I dont know whether this is down to the original writer or the translator (quite a few of the books I’ve had trouble finishing have been written in another language first).

Birmingham Literature Festival (3-12 October 2013)

Just a quick post about the Birmingham Literature Festival which is running from 3-12 October 2013

What does this year’s Festival have in store?

You can expect over forty events over ten days (3-12 October), using some of the city’s most interesting venues, including Birmingham Cathedral, Ikon Gallery and of course the wonderful new Library of Birmingham. We are delighted to be working with many partner organisations, including Ikon, Sampad, Four Colman Getty, The Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University, The Asian Writer Magazine, Birmingham REP, The RSA, The Writers’ Guild, West Midlands Readers’ Network and numerous publishers, both regional and national.

Their event diary has just come out and can be seen here.A Quick scan through and I’m not sure I’ll be going to anything, but I might change my mind



Book Review: Verdue: Simple Recipes in the Italian Style by Gioietta Vitale

Verdure: Simple Recipes in the Italian StyleVerdure: Simple Recipes in the Italian Style by Gioietta Vitale

From artichoke frittata to zucchini soup, Vitale offers simple and nutritious recipes dedicated entirely to vegetables. Providing tips on selecting fresh ingredients and bringing out each dish’s unique flavor, Verdure represents the best of northern Italian cuisine, and is a must-have for anyone seeking no-frills meals using the best that any local produce market has to offer.

Given to me in ebook format by

The book translates well into an ebook format, and there are chapter links at the beginning that allows the user to jump to that section, which is a useful addition. The book is split into chapters covering various vegetables (e.g. Artichoke and Peas), and there is a brief description of each vegetable before the recipes are presented, detailing when they are best in season, and giving approximate cooking times.

There are few images in the book, which is a good thing when presented in a black and white format of an ebook. However the image clarity is excellent where they do exist. Font size is good, making the book easy to read, and is easily adjustable for those that require it.

Each recipe is short and to the point, requiring very few ingredients – this allows the cook to work with a small budget and also build up a set of smaller plates of vegetables (westerners would class them as side dishes). The recipes make sure to show vegetables at their best without drenching them in heavy sauces. The brevity of the recipe does assume a certain knowledge of basic preparation and cooking techniques, so this is not a book for an absolute beginner just starting out (for that, go look at Delia!)

Where possible, the book also provides suggestions to lift the dishes into a “main” dish such as using the dish as a sauce for pasta. Most of the dishes are immediately suitable for vegetarians, or can be after a small amount of modification (e.g. by replacing the cheese with a vegetarian equivalent).

In summary: a useful and interesting addition to the cookbook range especially for those who wish to add new and interesting vegetable recipes to their repertoire!

Book Review: 1421: The Year China Discovered The World

1421: The Year China Discovered The World by Gavin Menzies
On 3/8/1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China. Its mission was “to proceed all the way to the ends of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas” & unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. When it returned in 10/1423, the emperor had fallen, leaving China in political & economic chaos. The great ships were left to rot at their moorings. Most records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost in China’s long, self-imposed isolation that followed was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America 70 years before Columbus & had circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. Also concealed was how the Chinese colonized America before the Europeans & transplanted in America & other countries the principal economic crops that have fed & clothed the world.

This book looks bigger than it really is – the last 200 pages being appendices….

Whilst the story itself was interesting, I still had difficulty with the way of writing. Plenty of references to “when I was in the Navy” and “When I was in command of xxx submarine” (oh get over yourself!). Also the publication seemed a little rushed as there was plenty of mentions to “investigations are ongoing blah, details will be on the website (the details of which get mentioned the first and possibly the only time buried somewhere in the postscript). Dont know what the rush for the publication was for, or where he got all the money to fund the research