Thursday, September 27, 2012

{misc.} library bollards

Another bookish thing seen on my holiday in the UK: 
book bollards outside the Cambridge University Library.

 The imposing phallic magnificence of the UL.

Book bollards. I really want these!

Monday, September 24, 2012

{review} consider the oyster

M. F. K. Fisher Consider the Oyster (1941; 1954)


Oh M. F. K. Fisher, how I do love your writing.

I am not even particularly fond of oysters, yet MFKF makes me want to knock back a couple of dozen - despite knowing exactly what would happen should I do so - so seductive is her case for being 'broadminded' about that alarming mollusc "and its fine salt juices, more like the smell of rock pools at low tide than any other food in the world".

I was amused to read MFKF on the topic of "the smoked oysters people give you now at cocktail parties, excellent little shriveled things on toothpicks which make your mouth taste hideous unless you drink a lot, which may also make your mouth taste hideous." I prefer oysters raw, on the shell, which I think may have something to do with once having bravely consumed a repulsive canned smoked oyster on a camping trip as a child. In aside: as a result of camping, I also cannot stomach canned ham, certain varieties of cup-a-soup, dehydrated vegetables, 4WDs, and a large chunk of the Australian desert. 

Consider the Oyster, like so much of MFKF's writing, is a quasi-memoir of her eating and cooking experiences, combined with a lively overview of - always from her quirky viewpoint - of the history and myths of oysters: you know, oysters and months with 'R', oysters and lust (linked with "an oyster's odor, its consistency, and probably its strangeness"!), bad oysters, oysters and pearls, and so on. Interwoven with this are recipes and descriptions of what could have gone into a dish MFKF ate and what would definitely go into a dish should MFKF turn her hand to it.
A good tartar sauce can be bought in a bottle, like several other things, but a better one can be made from this recipe, which is easy if you have an herb garden, and impossible, but still fun to think about, if you do not...
(This sort of sort-of-cheating is also a marker of MFKF's recognition that her readers may well be time-poor working women, like herself. She was ahead of her time).

MFKF is so good at investigating her own sense of nostalgia about food - why she feels like she does about certain foodstuffs, and whether it is possible to recreate what is essentially something between a feeling and a memory about a perfect dish - "an almost affectionate nostalgic liking". So, her quest to find a recipe that resembles a story that her mother told her about the perfect boarding school oyster loaf midnight feast (!), leads her a recipe that I think I might even dream about a little:
Oyster Loaf
Cut off the top of crusty loaf of bread, and hollow out the center. Brush with butter, and put into a hot oven to heat through and toast slightly. While this is going on, coat medium-sized oysters with egg and crumbs, and fry them brown in deep or shallow fat. Fill the loaf with the oysters, pour melted melted butter over them, put on the lid which also has been toasted, and it is ready to eat. . . or to wrap thickly in wax paper and take on a picnic. A small loaf to serve two people is most convenient for serving.
Wow. Fried things inside bread and all soaked in butter. Marry me, MFKF!!

MFKF, despite investigating all of the best ways to consume the oyster, wants her reader to break the rules and to discover the magic of the oyster for herself. So, on wine bores who insist it is Chablis or nothing with oysters - 
On the other hand, I have had Pouilly-Fuissé, various kinds of champagnes nature, a pink Peau d'Onion, and both bottled and open wines of Anjou with oysters in France, and whether they were correctly drunk or not, I was. Nobody knew it except my own exhilarated senses and my pleased mind, all of which must enter into any true gastronomic experience.
I suspect that MFKF's writing may not be for everyone (just as oysters may disagree with some). Occasionally I think, 'ooooh that's pretentious', but MFKF's wit and naughtiness make bearable her occasional inaccessibility. I think she'd be a terrifying dinner companion.

If you liked this... a good starting place is her Alphabet for Gourmets which can be read online at the Gourmet archive.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

{misc.} learn to fly like biggles

I was sorting out some photos of my trip to the U.K., and this one made me laugh. It was in the window of The Haunted Bookshop in St Edward's Passage in Cambridge.  

The book is summarized here. W. E. Johns is given the rank F/O (Flying Officer) on the cover. The book dates from 1932, the year the first 'Biggles' book appeared (we've just missed the 80th anniversary of The Camels Are Coming). Johns published as "Captain", but never in fact held that rank. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

{review} variations on the great game

A mound of unreviewed books teeters precariously on the edge of my desk, their teeter aided by one of my little helpers who also likes to sit in judgment on my desk.


Here are three vaguely themed on the Great Game - espionage. 

Mary Stewart Airs Above the Ground (1965)

(This is the cover of the copy from my university library, 
donated by a former Professor of English).

Yes, I have been guilty of suggesting that all Mary Stewart books are alike. But, don't get me wrong, the reliable alikeness of their travel-mystery-romance is the drawcard. Airs Above the Ground did not start prepossessingly: I don't particularly like books about horses (except the Jill books by Ruby Ferguson: but that was way back in my 'pretend my bicycle is a horse' pre-teens, so that doesn't count...); I'm not particularly keen on blushing youths in adult books; there were also a fair few jibes aimed at plumper women. Stewart heroines do not carry a spare ounce, of course. My private theory is that declining cream cakes explains why they often feel weak enough to express thoughts of the sort of "it helps occasionally to be made to feel that it is little short of marvellous for anything so rare, so precious, and so fragile to compete with the tough world of men." [Short pause while I barf into my rubbish bin]. Interestingly, this heroine - Vanessa - is a veterinary surgeon, although she dumped a career for marriage. Anyway - anyway - the plot soon starts barrelling along with mistaken identities, circus performers, dancing horses (Xenophon gets a look-in!), jewels, castles, the Cold War, and a lot of treacherous Austrian mountain scenery. There's even some sex. 


Kim Newman Anno Dracula (1992 [2011])


Anno Dracula is a Victorian 'Great Game'/fantasy/alternative history/thriller novel with a vampire twist. It's 1888 and Queen Victoria is married to Count Dracula. Vampires live openly in the community, and to get ahead in the new administration it is almost obligatory to undergo the transformation (as Inspector Lestrade has done). Those who disagree with the new movement have been sent to prison camps. Among their number is Sherlock Holmes, which provides a neat excuse for his absence from the scene during that most horrendous of crime sprees, the Jack the Ripper killings. This book cleverly blends history, alternative history and fiction. It is also very funny if you like Victorian in-jokes and references. Dr Jekyll and Dr Moreau are conducting experiments together (though Dr Jekyll is acting rather oddly); Professor Moriarty (obviously) heads up a huge criminal organisation with the aid of Raffles; Dr Seward, still pining for Lucy, runs a hospital/refuge for the East End poor with the assistance of our nearly 500 year old heroine Geneviève Dieudonné; Basil Hallward is sketching the vampire Prime Minister; everyone dreads the possibility that Tennyson might remain Poet Laureate for "dreary centuries. Egads, imagine Locksley Hall Six Hundred Years After"! Ruddigore was written to entertain vampires. Rupert of Hentzau, Joseph Merrick, Madame Corelli… This is a book with an excellent sense of history and of humour. In sum: hero-spy Charles Beauregard (of the Diogenes Club) and vampire-heroine Geneviève set out to sort out the Jack the Ripper crimes, but their investigation will bring them up against the greatest of ancient evils, Count Dracula himself. It's the first of a series in which its long-lived protagonists work on cases throughout the 20th century. Fun, but really perhaps a bit long. Annoying pedantic note: I suspect that, along the lines of anno domini, Anno requires the genitive of Dracula (which I'm guessing is Draculae); but I can see that's not so perky. 


P. D. Martin Body Count (2007)
P. D. Martin Hell's Fury (2012)


Body Count is procedural rather than espionage, but I'll squeeze it in. The heroine is an Australian behavioural analyst and cop in the serial killer unit at Quantico. I overestimated my ability to deal with women being kidnapped, raped, murdered and dumped, so this serial-killer book with an E.S.P. twist (the first of a series) didn't work for me. Personal judgement only here, obviously - it's an interesting concept. I have also read P. D. Martin's Hell's Fury, which I liked a lot more. The heroine of Hell's Fury is a real toughie who has survived a horrific experience while spying for the CIA. I thought the plotting of this book was well done, notably the slow revelation of the heroine's ordeal set against her struggle to rehabilitate herself. She is strong, clever and determined never to be a victim again, and her world is one where justice matters. This was a solid spy-action-mystery story. I found some of the dialogue a little stilted in places, but I'm keen to read the next one in the series (don't think it's out yet). P. D. Martin is an Australian author

If you liked these: well, my favourite espionage story set in a circus in the Cold War is Alistair McLean's Circus; the most memorable vampire book I've read recently is Florence Marryat's The Blood of the Vampire {REVIEW}; and for decent CIA stuff it has to be anything by Charles McCarry. Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has recently caused me to remember my resolution to re-read Helen MacInnes too.

Monday, September 10, 2012

{review} beautiful for ever


This is the first book that I've read by Helen Rappaport, but it most certainly will not be the last. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and quick read and - even better - it tied in really nicely with some other reading I've done. It's always good to add a few facts to fiction, I say. 
'How frequently we find that a slight blemish on the face, otherwise divinely beautiful, has occasioned a sad and solitary life of celibacy, unloved, unblessed, and ultimately unwept and unremembered.' [from a Madame Rachel advert, c.1859] 
Madame Rachel was an infamous purveyor of dubious potions and lotions to the well-heeled ladies of London. Her most famous beautification sell was 'enamelling' which involved coating her willing victims in Heaven knows what to make them all whitely stuccoed for - generally - the ball. But Madame Rachel had another lucrative sideline in fleecing sillier sorts of every penny they possessed. Whether she was merely facilitating the meetings of ladies with their paramours, or actually running a knock-shop, isn't entirely clear. Perhaps there are hints that she was helping ladies get rid of other embarrassing problems than just bad skin. Certainly she seemed to making ridiculous amounts of money simply from cosmetics that made one Beautiful For Ever (but, then, what's a pot of Crème de la Mer go for these days to an equally silly market? AUD$250 for 30mL). Oh, and then there was that nice source of income in allowing gentlemen to watch ladies receiving her full body Turkish bath services... 

Madame Rachel and the ‘before and after’ hard sell (source

This book is good on the sensational aspects of the various legal trials in which Madame Rachel and her victims became enmeshed. Rappaport also has a good handle on the less savoury aspects of Madame Rachel's own treatment by a anti-Semitic media and establishment. Other interesting themes weave through the biography: contemporary concerns regarding cosmetics and female amorality; debate surrounding the much-delayed Married Women's Property Act (why allow women to control their money when they just spent it running up huge bills at Madame Rachel?); contemporary bias towards women in court for any reason whatsoever. I particular liked Rappaport's use of the 'popular culture' ephemera (racy song, cartoons) surrounding Mme. Rachel's run-ins with the law. Mme. Rachel also featured in Wilkie Collins' Armadale (his 'Mother' Oldershaw is close-to-libellously based on Mme. Rachel) and there is a reference too in Mrs Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (one of my favourite sensational reads).

Rating: a very entertaining historical read, even more so if you love a good legal trial or two.

If you liked this... definitely Armadale. I can't remember why on earth I didn't review it when I read it a few years back, especially since it has the heroine-villain to end all heroine-villains in it. Teresa and Jenny at Shelf Love sum it up nicely.

Monday, September 3, 2012

{review} soulless

Gail Carriger Soulless [The Parasol Protectorate, Book 1] (2009)
He kissed as though he needed her to subsist. It was unbearably intimate. Worse than allowing one’s ankles to be seen.

This was fun. I read it on the plane to Europe, and it is perfect for that sort of ordeal - light and funny and rather silly. But! - if you don't like vampires, werewolves and anachronistic Victoriana, turn away now...
Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening. Private balls were never more than middling amusements for spinsters, and Miss Tarabotti was not the kind of spinster who could garner even that much pleasure from the event. To put the pudding in the puff: she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire.
Alexia Tarabotti is a preternatural - she has no soul. This is a little tricky for her, although it is not causing her as much social difficulty as reaching a dangerously unmarriageable age for a young lady. Being soulless affords good protection against the vampires and werewolves who openly roam this alternate England where the supernatural mingle openly with the human population. Being a spinster is making her home life hellish. And then she discovers that someone is intent on destroying the fragile peace between the supernatural and human worlds...
She was quite uncomfortable, for corsets, bustles, and all other accoutrements of a lady’s appropriate dress were not conducive to lying, bound, on a hard floor. She shifted, sighed, and stared up at the ceiling, trying to think about anything but Lord Maccon, her current predicament, or Lord Akeldama’s safety. Which meant she could do nothing but reflect on the complex plight of her mama’s most recent embroidery project. This, in itself, was a worse torture than any her captors could devise.
This really is over-the-top silly; but an enjoyable read. The heroine is strong and independent of mind (and wields a mean parasol "with purple satin pansies... and buckshot in its silver tip"), and not averse to getting to (all sorts of) grips with the handsome Lord Maccon, sent by the supernatural side of the civil service to sort things out.
She could not restrain herself; she did so like it when the earl’s Highland lilt came out. It was currently her second favorite thing he did with his tongue.
If you liked this... it was like India Black {REVIEW and REVIEW} meets vampires. 
And (bonus!)... if you like retro things, Gail Carriger has a blog on retro fashion.


{READ IN 2018}

  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore
Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository