Saturday, 20 February 2010

Book review: Love Poems

By Carol Ann Duffy
Published by Picador

Carol Ann Duffy’s Love Poems, a poetry collection published by Picador at the beginning of the year, will conquer you from the moment you lay eyes on its book jacket, deliciously decorated with dream-like patterns.

However, you need to beware: the contents of this little volume are not as romantic as the cover might suggest. Or at least, not romantic in the conventional meaning of the word.

The thirty-four poems selected were drawn from previous collections, such as The World’s Wife and Rapture, as well as the forthcoming The Bees, to be published in 2011. All the poems are joined by a common thread: love. This however, can take many shapes and appear in different nuances and combinations.

Love and desire, as in Girlfriends: ‘That hot September night, we slept in a single bed/ naked, and our frail bodies the sweat/cooled and renewed itself’. Love and truthfulness, as in Valentine: ‘I give you an onion/ Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips/ possessive and faithful/ as we are/ for as long as we are’.

And then love and adultery, as in Correspondents: ‘When you come on Thursday, bring me a letter. We have/ the language of stuffed birds, teacups. We don’t have/ the language of bodies. My husband will be here’. Love and its end, as in New Vows: ‘New vows you make me swear to keep -/ not ever wake with you, or sleep/ or your body with my own worship.’

Desire, betrayal, longing, solitude. Carol Ann Duffy gives a voice to all the forms that love can assume and she does it in her unmistakable style. Every poem is a little jewel, its words conjuring up beautiful images in a way that makes her poetry accessible and fully enjoyable.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Book review: Pebble on the Beach

By Tony Diamond
Published by QueenSpark Books

On 28th April 1965, Barnardos took a group of children to Australia, in search of a new life and better opportunities. Aged 16, Anthony Roy Bates was one of those children and this is his story.

Through the pages of Pebble on the Beach, that same boy, now in his sixties and with a new name, Tony Diamond, recalls his adventure. He might have only spent 9 months away from his home in Hove but they were most certainly 9 action-packed months.

After the flight from London Heathrow, young Tony spends a few days in Sydney before being sent to work on a farmhouse at Scone, New South Wales. That is only going to be the first of several jobs and several places that see him becoming more and more determined to go back to England, even if that means having to stow away on a ship, failing in his escape plans and being arrested in New Zealand.

You will follow him to the other end of the world and back, you will meet all the people that enriched his experience and you will increasingly root for him to achieve is ultimate goal.

This is a precious morsel of history and the fact that Tony has written it himself makes it even more endearing. The writing style distinguishes it from a literary piece but it is pleasant nonetheless and you will almost be able to imagine his voice telling you his story as your eyes follow every word of this epic journey.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Competition time: 3 copies of Clan

For a chance to win a copy of CLAN by David P Elliot simply follow me on Twitter and RT my competition-related message. (or you can follow the link on the right).

For one extra entry become a follower of this blog too!

Three copies available. The competition ends on February 28th at 14:00 GMT. Winners will be chosen at random and contacted on the same day.

If you missed my review of the book, please click here:

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Book review: My Favourite Ingredients

By Skye Gyngell
Published by Quadrille

After the success of A Year in My Kitchen, the chef of Petersham Nurseries Café in Richmond, Surrey, comes back with a new and delightful cookbook, My Favourite Ingredients. A great addition to every kitchen that will ensure the success of any dinner with family and friends.

Skye Gyngell explains her ‘produce driven’ approach to cooking and introduces us to sixteen of her key ingredients, which include asparagus, cherries, tomatoes, nuts and cheese. From the first few words of a beautifully written introduction, we learn about her development as a chef and her continuous discovery of new varieties and nuances of known ingredients.

The recipes that make up this classy volume have clear instructions and follow a popular and healthy concept of sustainability. Admitting that fresh produce tastes better than fruit or vegetables that have flown around the world before landing on your kitchen table, the talented chef shows us how to skilfully match ingredients that grow in the same time of year. ‘Nature,’ she writes ‘cleverly provides perfectly balanced partners’.

Page after page you can find chick pea and chard soup, squash and tomato curry with lime and coconut, aged pecorino with raw sprouts, celery and speck and many other delicious sounding meal ideas. And if the names of these recipes were not mouth-watering enough, the splendid photographs by Jason Lowe, with their warm colours, are the finishing touch that make this book a pleasure to browse and turn to for inspiration.

My Favourite Ingredients, with its simple and practical layout, is not only a collection of recipes. Skye Gyngell accompanies you during every step of the process, from selecting the best products in the shops to preparing them before cooking. Handy tips and mini lessons on the best practices are intertwined with anecdotes from her childhood in Australia and from her working life. It will be like chatting with a friend who won’t take the merit for your delicious meals!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Book review: Mr Pip

By Lloyd Jones
Published by
John Murray

In Mr Pip, New Zealand author Lloyd Jones takes us on a journey to a coastal village on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville. Once there, we enter the life of Matilda, a girl in her early teens, and her fellow villagers during the civil war of the 1990s.

At first, life goes on as usual. There might be a blockade imposed on the island but the village can still rely on its fish, chickens and fruit. The only difference is that the local mine has closed and all the white men have left. All but one: Mr Watts, aka Pop Eye, whose wife, Grace, is a native of the island. With the departure of the white men, the school is left unattended but children are soon called back to the classroom as Mr Watts decides to be their teacher.

The fact that Mr Watts has never taught before and that he has admittedly ‘no wisdom’ doesn’t prevent him from understanding what the children need: a distraction from talk of gunfire, ‘redskin’ soldiers, rebel fighters and horror. Aided by his precious copy of Dickens’s Great Expectations, he intends to set the children’s minds free and give them a place to escape to.

From the opening lines, Matilda, the narrator of the story, is captivated by those words that conjure up a faraway country. She builds a very strong bond with Pip, the main character of the book, a bond that her Christian mother disapproves of, as she disapproves of Mr Watts and his godless ways. Her attempt at protecting her daughter’s mind, however, has tragic consequences as the ‘redskins’ arrive at the village and, having found the name of Pip written in the sand, they want to know who he is. Proof of his identity can only be found in Mr Watts’s book... but where is it?

Fiction and reality start to blur together and Mr Watts finds himself taking first the name of Mr Dickens and than that of Pip himself, when the rebel fighters take the place of the government soldiers. In a bid for time, Mr Watts, now called Pip, starts telling his own version of Great Expectations. With the book now lost, he combines the original story with elements of his own life and anecdotes that he has learnt from the villagers.

But the story doesn’t reach its end as it is interrupted by the tragic return of the soldiers and the disappearance of everything that Matilda had loved. Will she find the will to keep living? Will she find the truth about Mr Watts? Will she find her friend Pip again, the orphan whose destiny seems to be so similar to hers?

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize as well as shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, this story-within-a-story deals with a difficult subject matter in a delicate and simple way and is populated by characters that you will grow to love. Page after page you will marvel at their strength, their courage and the ability of one little girl to transform her life thanks to literature and an improbable friendship that goes beyond culture. Great expectations indeed!