20 Feb 2018

DELIZIA! THE EPIC HISTORY OF THE ITALIANS AND THEIR LOVE OF FOOD.

DELIZIA! THE EPIC HISTORY OF THE ITALIANS AND THEIR LOVE OF FOOD by JOHN DICKIE.


Everyone loves Italian food. But how did the Italians come to eat so well?

The advertising industry tells us the answer lies in the vineyards and olive groves of Tuscany - among sun-weathered peasants, and mammas serving pasta under the pergola Yet this nostalgic fantasy has little to do with the real history of Italian cuisine.

For a thousand years, Italy's cities have been magnets for everything that makes for great eating: ingredients, talent, money, and power. So Italian food is city food, and telling its story means telling the story of the Italians as a people of city dwellers.

In DELIZIA! the author of the acclaimed COSA NOSTRA takes a revelatory historical journey through the flavours of Italy's cities. From the bustle of Medieval Milan, to the bombast of Fascist Rome; from the pleasure gardens of Renaissance Ferrara, to the putrid alleyways of nineteenth-century Naples. In rich slices of urban life, DELIZIA! shows how violence and intrigue, as well as taste and creativity, went to make the world's favourite cuisine.
- Inner Front Cover Blurb

A drive through the country between Siena and the sea in the sunshine of an autumn evening.
- First Sentence, 1: Tuscacy; Don't Tell The Peasants ...


Bartolomeo Scappi had come all the way from Lake Maggiore, and climbed all the way up the long career ladder of Renaissance cookery, accumulating more gastronomic knowledge than anyone had ever done before, only to spend what should have been his glory years doing nothing more creative than making broth for a saint - Pius V was canonised in 1712.
- Memorable Moment, Page 132

SOURCE ... Ex-library stock.

READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... Yes.

  • What's In A Name? 2018; 'A Nationality In The Title' category.
  • Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018; 1 of 12 books.
MY THOUGHTS ...  More than just a book about cuisine. Delizia! covers the origins of food as the author takes us on a journey that examines the cultural, economical, historical, political and social considerations that shaped the various Italian region's dining experiences over the centuries from 12th century Palermo to 21st century Turin by way of amongst other places 20th century Milan and Genoa.

More than just about pizza and Spag Bog (AKA Spaghetti Bolegnase), Delizia! expels so many myths, concentrating on 'Italian' food that was influenced by the tastes of so many nations (the French, South Africans included) reliant on local produce.

Weak when it came down to certain periods (his take on the Medieval period is oddly foggy given how well researched other aspects of the book were) and missing out the period covering World War II altogether .... surely a time influenced heavily by the reliance of allied and US Food Aid in places such as Naples. It wasn't however these slight annoyances that spoilt what could have been a fascinating read so much as the writing. Disappointingly (almost) making up in enthusiasm what it was lacking in passion (for me passion being of prime importance when it comes to all matters gastronomical). Dry at best, dull at worst, to me (and Mr T who read part of it before me) it read as a dissertation might.

14 Feb 2018

THE ARCHITECT'S APPRENTICE.

THE ARCHITECT'S APPRENTICE by ELIF SHAFAK.


Sixteenth century Istanbul -
a city of wonder and danger.

When a young boy, Jahan, arrives with a gift for the Sultan - a white elephant called Chota - the pair are sent to the palace's menagerie. There they learn to guard against the scheming of animal tamers, gypsies, deceitful courtiers and the mischevious Princess Mihrimah.

Welcomed into this foreign land, Jahan and Chota travel to the furthest corners of the Sultan's kingdom - and to war. But one day when Jahan meets the royal architect, Sinan, he is given the chance to rise in court. To accept is to enter the marble halls walked by Princess Mihrimah, where the treacherous also plot - a true place of wonders and dangers ...
- Back Cover Blurb

It was past midnight when he heard a fierce growl from the depths of the dark.
- First Sentence, Istanbul, 22 December 1574

'What've you done, imbecile!' Jahan hoollered from the stretcher he was being carried on. 'They'll chop off your balls ... send you to the slaughterhouse, cook you with cabbage and onions. And they will cast me into the dungeon!'
- Memorable Moment, Page 122

SOURCE ... A reading group read.

READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... No.

MY THOUGHTS ... More used to finding myself in the court of Tudor England, it made a refreshing change to find myself in the Ottoman Empire of sixteenth century Turkey.

Based loosely on historical events, fact and fiction blended seamlessly. The Michelangelo of his time, the architect of the title, Sinan actually existed, not so his architect.

Just as the actual architectural wonders are explored, so too are the metaphysical as the author probes the constant renewal; the constant construction (and destruction).

Wonderfully atmospheric, I closed my eyes for a moment and found myself actually able to see the sights, smell the smells and hear the sounds as the characters told not only their own stories but that of Istanbul itself. 

What should have been a good read, and yet ...

Arguably too many elements of the story were too superficial to carry it through its 450 (or thereabouts) pages meaning the story dragged at times. 

Likewise there were certain elements of the story when things happened a bit too conveniently to be credible meaning the historical aspect wasn't always sustained. 

Sad to say the love interest just didn't do it for me. Perhaps more about my expectations than anything else BUT, hoping it would be more pivotal to the story, I'm afraid, to use my niece's expression, I found this aspect of the story all a bit, well, meh.

So, all in all, what I felt was an OK read but not one I can see myself returning to.


10 Feb 2018

BAD HAIR DAYS.

BAD HAIR DAYS by J.M. FORSTER.


F.R.E.A.K

 For Mallow, every day is a Bad Hair Day. 

Wearing a wig means Mallow can hide her hair loss. But now someone’s sending her creepy messages. It’s a race to stop them before everyone discovers her secret.

Losing her hair was hard enough – but will she lose the people she cares about too? 
- Back Cover Blurb

Injections: check
- First Sentence, Chapter One

A 'sleepover' at Faye's house conjured up nightmare images of her German shepherd, Duke (more wolf than dog by the look of the photo on her Chat-Scape profile), waking me up as he mauled my wig. I could just see the looks of sheer horror on Faye's and Em's faces.
- Memorable Moment, Page 56.

SOURCE ... Received with thanks from the author.

READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... No.

MY THOUGHTS ... Proof, as if there were ever any doubts after the author's award winning debut novel, Shadow Jumper, that J.M. Forster gets right into the heart of stories featuring young people who just so happen to have health issues.

A mystery (someone knows Mallow's 'secret' but who?) but, for me, firstly a foremostly, a novel of discovery, of coming to terms with being you. 

Bad Hair Days is a wonderful read but more than that its inspiring. Its main character, 14 year old Mallow, a revelation to all those who feel as if they don't fit in, that they too are different.

Marketed at an audience of 10 to 12 year olds, its a gripping, emotional, sensitively written read featuring so many issues including bullying, family, friendships, insecurity, all wrapped up in a story about a teenager who as well as dealing with all the 'usual' teenage angst is having to cope with the emotional (and practical) issues of having the hair loss condition, alopecia.

In short, its exactly the sort of thought provoking story that I'd encourage all children to read. 

3 Feb 2018

HANS MY HEDGEHOG ...

HANS MY HEDGEHOG: A TALE FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM retold by KATE COOMBS (With illustrations by JOHN NICKLE.


Meet Hans.

Half hedgehog, half boy.

One lonely soul with a magical fiddle.

Add two promises, two princesses,

and a herd of loyal pigs.

The final ingredient?

One true love who will change

everything. 
- Inner Front Cover Blurb

Once upon a time in a village just past yonder, there lived a prosperous farmer and his wife.
- First Sentence, Page Unnumbered

They upset the cooks and muddied the king's bedclothes and frightened the princess.
- Memorable Moment, Page Unnumbered

SOURCE ... A Christmas gift.

READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... No.

MY THOUGHTS ... A story, well known from the  Brothers Grimm collection of stories I read last year and, before this, one of my teenage self's all-time tv programmes, The Storyteller as created by Jim Henson. To be honest this isn't one of my favourite folk stories and probably isn't a book I would have chosen if it wasn't for my collection of hedgehog themed books.

Here retold by Kate Coombs and aimed at (according to several website) those aged five to eight years old. 

Hmm! Five to eight?

Perhaps not if this had been the original telling of the story which is altogether darker but there has been tweaking aplenty to make it more sanitised for a younger (and arguably more delicate) audience. That said, like many other tales similar in nature, read enough into it and its still rife with misogyny and objectification but then that's not necessarily something that will be picked up by your average five to eight year old who doubtlessly will view it as just another story (albeit perhaps that little bit weird) with colourful and fun illustrations.

For myself (putting the original version aside and judging this retelling on its own merits), from something of a hideous oddity to a spirited protagonist, here portrayed as a contemporary character in the ilk of Beauty and the Beast, Hans is an OK read. The illustrations, whether in vibrant colour or done as silhouettes, humorous and with something new to be found every time you look at them, for me they are the main attraction of the book.