Friday, 11 November 2016

Book Reviews: 11 November

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


Riviera-SetTHE RIVIERA SET by Mary S Lovell (Little, Brown, £25)
Renowned for her biographies of great figures from the 20th century, Lovell has now focused her attention on a building: the modernist Château de l’Horizon at Vallauris on the French Riviera. Built for and presided over by actress Maxine Elliott, it was a haven for the famous and infamous alike.

Elliott played hostess to Winston Churchill during his ‘wilderness years’. Noel Coward and Cecil Beaton were habitués, as were naughty society girls Daisy Fellowes and Doris Castlerosse. Lovell describes the lively atmosphere of the riviera’s 1930s heyday as a playground for aristocrats, heiresses and artists. After Elliott’s death in 1940, Aly Khan bought the Château and it was from there that he wooed Rita Hayworth. It then became a hideaway for Hollywood stars and playboy moguls.

Lovell expertly chronicles two worlds: the past when those with wit, background and breeding dominated the scene, and the present when everything has the shiny veneer of the nouveau riche. Although a host of characters flit in and out of the text (too many to name), Lovell dissects their lives and curates the interesting parts, bringing together the crème of high society. A sparkling group biography that brings to life a bygone era.
Lyndsy Spence

Mr-GandyMR GANDY'S GRAND TOUR by Alan Titchmarsh (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99)
Having taken early retirement at 55, Timothy Gandy is at a loss. His wife has a separate bed and a separate existence, and two of his three adult children are mysteries. But then fate intervenes and Timothy finds himself unexpectedly free to pursue his desires – although quite what those are, he’s not sure.

Embarking on a tour of europe’s cultural capitals, he also finds himself on a voyage of self-discovery – one that (needless to say) concerns his heart as well as his soul. Titchmarsh’s signature themes – of nature vs nurture, and the elements of a good life – add substance to this gentle tale.
Stephanie Cross

THe PLAGUE CHARMER by Karen Maitland (Headline Review, £20.99)plague-charmer
Superstition and dark deeds drive the plot of this novel set in Medieval England. When the sun disappears for a moment, the residents of an exmoor village believe it’s a bad omen. The trouble begins with a shipwreck: its sole survivor warns of a second plague (the village is still recovering from the Great Pestilence) and announces that she can save them.

But her warning comes at a price that no one will pay. Based on real people and events, this atmospheric novel delves into a world of black magic, fables, murder and doomsday cults. Written in dark but engaging prose, it is historical fiction with an apocalyptic twist.


autumnSeason of Change

AUTUMN by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99)
Widely billed as the first post-Brexit novel, Autumn is also at least as much about Pop Art. Or rather, about one of its neglected British proponents, Pauline Boty, who died aged 28 in 1966. Boty is the subject of a dissertation by the novel’s lecturer heroine, Elisabeth. Years before, she also captured the heart of art collector Daniel Gluck, a boyish centenarian whom Elisabeth has known since her childhood. Now, in mid-2016 with the nation in turmoil, Daniel is entering his final days. However, with Elisabeth at his bedside, his drifting mind remains sharp.

One of the many pleasures of a novel by Smith is that its characters tend to share with her an intense delight in language and a passion for the stranger-than-fiction business that is everyday life. Tipping its hat to the artistic movement at its centre, this is a colour-saturated collage of a novel, full of unexpected juxtapositions that, with time, reveal their significance.

As for Brexit, there is no doubt as to where the author’s sympathies lie, but smith is not interested in hand-wringing: her aim is to capture a moment in time, to give voice to a chorus of mixed feelings. She succeeds brilliantly – and she gives Keats a run for his money when it comes to the titular season, too.
Stephanie Cross


GOING ONCE: 250 Years of Culture, Taste And Collecting At christie’s (Phaidon, £39.95)
Auction house Christie’s has seen many extraordinary artefacts pass through its halls: Lord Nelson’s portrait of his mistress, Emma Hamilton; a Rothschild Fabergé egg; Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels; Van Goghs, Holbeins and Picassos; Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and even a meteorite that crashed to earth in 1803. This book marks Christie’s 250th anniversary.

Things have come a long way since 1766, when James Christie auctioned sheets, hay bales and even a bespoke coffin no longer needed by its recovered owner, but as Lord Rothschild writes in the foreword, ‘the appetite for collecting… works of art and objects of the highest quality and interest remains as consuming now as when James Christie started out’. Although a little dry in places, it is nevertheless a fascinating read.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (768-814) was renowned for his conquests and crusading, but his legacy spread from the battlefield to the page: he became a (much embellished) character in later medieval texts. Most famous of these is the influential French epic Chanson de Roland, inspired by the heroic defeat of his army at Roncevaux, as seen through the eyes of his fictional nephew. An intriguing blend of history and legend, the exquisite patterning of its verses is anchored by detailed descriptions of people, weaponry and horses, and it gives a unique insight into the (male, aristocratic) medieval mind, with its notions of chivalry, religious faith and heroism. This edition is the first to present a new translation of the poem alongside two lesser-known texts from the period, which show the king and his retinue in a very different, less eulogistic light. Juanita Coulson e planters, pickers and breeders, to name a few – turns what could otherwise have been a dry treatise into a surprisingly zesty read. JC

A MOTIF OF SEASONS by Edward Glover (The Oak House, £9.99)
The last in a trilogy that follows two powerful families, the German von Deppes and the English Whitfields, across two-and-a-half centuries, this historical novel examines reconciliation amidst mistrust. The descendants of Arabella Whitfield, who married into the von deppes, react with suspicion when Robert Whitfield tries to bring the two families back together in 1854. The fates of the families are imagined through the lives of three beautiful and musically gifted ladies across Europe, from Victorian times until the nadir of the Somme. This is an ambitious novel that is too constrained by the weight of its own structure to read naturally. Stephen Coulson


Two enterprising women are making culinary waves – on both sides of the pond. by Juanita Coulson


NADIYA’S KITCHEN by Nadiya Hussain (Michael Joseph, £20)
She was 2015’s Great British Bake Off sensation, the self-taught girl from luton who turned her flair for cooking into a TV career – and a fairy-tale job: baking Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday cake. Now she has produced a charming, un-cheffy cookbook featuring her favourite ‘simple family recipes’. But this being Nadiya, there is nothing workaday about them. There are nods to her Bangladeshi roots (cod and clementine curry) and her take on British classics (the ultimate fish-finger butty). The bakes and puddings are exquisite but (mostly) achievable for the non-star baker at home: blueberry and vanilla clafoutis, scotch pancakes with berry and lemon thyme compôte – and of course, the Queen’s cake.

EVERYTHING I WANT TO EAT: Sqirl And The New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow (Abrams Books, £21.99)
Tiny jam business that koslow started in 2011 has grown into one of la’s favourite eateries. ‘Bacon-serving but vegan-friendly’, with a seasonally driven menu, sqirl is ‘attuned to the rhythms’ of the city, serving breakfast until a civilised 4pm. Zinging with Californian enthusiasm, koslow shares some signature recipes and new creations. Her cooking balances healthy and indulgent, punctuated with unexpected taste combinations: Valrhona chocolate and fleur de sel cookies; sorrel pesto rice bowl with poached egg; lemon verbena and peach pie. With accessible recipes and a striking design, this book brings a touch of la’s sunshine and laid-back style to our wintry shores.

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